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With a population of 105,000, the county of Wexford has four main towns, Wexford, Enniscorthy, Gorey and New Ross. The land area comprises 2,354 square km (909 square miles) and includes 200 km (124 miles) of coastline with 120 km (75 miles) of beautiful sandy beaches. The unique landscape ranges from rolling countryside to mountains, and from forests to rugged natural landscape.
Wexford is a county well known for its history and legends. It's also known as the land of laughter and music, of legend and romance, where the locals take life easy and the warmth comes from the heart.
County Wexford is nestled in the south eastern corner of Ireland, with a long coastline on both the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea. On the north it is bounded by the hills of County Wicklow and on the west by the River Barrow and the Blackstairs mountains. The River Slaney waters its fertile central plain.
The description of the Sunny South East has been associated with County Wexford for a number of years and is due to the fact that Wexford consistently enjoys more hours of sunshine per year than any other part of the country. Wexford's average is 4.48 hours of sunshine per day while the nations average is 3.75 hours per day.
The county's nature reserves are renowned worldwide. The landscape is so varied that there is something for everyone, from the lowlands in the South to its rugged granite foothills in the North. The county enjoys a rare mix of mountains, valleys, flora, fauna and breathtaking beaches spanning 200 km (124 miles) of coastline. This delightful melange provides for active resorts, scenic villages and pretty harbours dotted around the coast. There's something for everyone: countless picturesque villages, sunny seashores, national heritage attractions and gardens, a thriving nightlife, traditional Irish music pubs and even the odd high-energy club. The long coastline and rivers offer outstanding sea and game angling as well as scuba diving, pleasure boating, and other water sports. Wexford is a county which can cater for everyone interests from swimming to power-boat racing, from horse riding to sewing, from golf to bird watching.
The county is host to one of the busiest ferry ports in Ireland at Rosslare, servicing both the UK and mainland Europe. Wexford is also within easy access of three major airports: Dublin, Cork and Waterford. Wexford's roads are a pleasure to drive on.
Wexford's history goes back to pre-Christian times. The first part of Ireland to be invaded by Anglo-Normans in 1169, Wexford was subjugated by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
The original name of Wexford was Menapia so called after a prehistoric Belgic tribe who occupied the area. The origin of Loch Garman, the Irish name, is lost in time, while the current name derives from the Viking Waesfjord - a norse word meaning estuary of mud flats.
The prehistoric Wexford is known only through the intriguing stone monuments and artefacts left by the shadowy predecessors of the Celts. From these silent witnesses of the past we can say that Wexford was occupied over 6,000 years ago and that primitive agriculture and stock rearing was the principal means of sustenance for the community. The only complete dolmen in the county is at Bree, south of Enniscorthy. This dates from the 3rd millennium B.C.
The Vikings invaded Wexford in the late 8th century. It was only when Brian Boru challenged and defeated a powerful Leinster and Norse alliance in 1014 that the rule of the Vikings was broken. Their presence remained in Ireland up to and beyond the coming of the Normans.
Less than two centuries later county Wexford was to be the springboard for an invasion by the Normans. Today we can still see evidence of this invasion around the town of Wexford, Barrack Street being a prime example where the Normans built a stone castle in the 12th century.
Selskar Abbey founded by the Roche family was dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul in the 13th century. The surviving parts of the nave are 15th century, the tower is 14th century, and the church dates from the 19th century. Henry 11 is reputed to have done penance here for the murder of Thomas a ‘Beckett.
Westgate is the only surviving medieval town gate from the original seven, which gave access to the town. Built in the early 14th century as a toll gate, the recesses where the toll collectors worked are evident as is the lockup, which was used to punish "rungates" - those who tried to avoid the toll. Westgate heritage Centre is housed within the tower, which presents an audio visual show on the history and development of Wexford. This show is presented every hour. The Centre also houses a collection of arts and crafts and many of the craft workers are on hand to demonstrate their work. Well worth a visit.
Cromwell visited Wexford in 1649. His campaign in Wexford included the capture of the castles at Ferns and Enniscorthy and the town of Wexford, where he exacted severe retribution on the inhabitants. The Cromwellians won their final battle in the county at Taghmon.
While travelling through Wexford many memorials to the Rebellion of 1798 will be encountered - it has a section to itself at the Enniscorthy Castle Museum. Wexford was one of the centres of the Irish rebellion of 1798. A short history of the rebellion and the events, which led up to it, may help to understand its place in Wexford history and folklore. The match, which sparked the rebellion in Wexford, was lit at Carnew when 36 prisoners were summarily executed. After his church and some houses in the village were burned down, Father John Murphy of Boolavogue led several thousand men and women armed with pikes and scythes into resistance and won an important victory on the hill of Oulart. They made their way to Ferns, burnt the bishop’s palace and them went on the overwhelm Enniscorthy where they established their base on vinegar Hill before taking Wexford Town. The insurrection eventually fell apart and the leaders and many other participants were rounded up and executed by the authorities. The conflict and the repression which followed in its wake left a deep scar on the psyche of the people for many generations
Like all towns, which have suffered and celebrated over many centuries, Wexford has learned to embrace friend and foe and has forged a people whose warmth is infectious and whose hospitality is generous and spontaneous. The long history is palpable as you walk the narrow streets and mingle with the good humoured crowds along the new quay front which is built on the site of what was known ass the Wooden works or Pilwharf erected in the 1800's. The colourful town can be seen at its best during the Hooves and Grooves Festival in August and, of course, during the heady weeks of the Wexford Festival Opera.
Ballyhack Castle is situated on a steep slope overlooking Waterford estuary. The Castle, a large tower house, is thought to have been built in 1450 by the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John. The Knights were one of the two great military orders founded at the beginning of the twelfth century at the time of the crusades.
Berkeley Forest House Museum
Located at New Ross, Berkeley Forest Museum houses 18th and 19th Century toys, costumes, toy carriages, embroidered textiles and rare dolls - many of them from Irish families. The property is that of the family of George Berkeley, in whose honour the University of California is named. The fine collection is housed in the main rooms. A small pretty garden is included in the visit.
Duncannon Fort is star shaped and built at a strategically important promontory in Waterford Harbour. It was erected in 1588 in the expectation of an attack by the Spanish Armada. There had previously been a Celtic fort and a Norman castle on the site. The fort is noted for its dry moat, exterior walls and the legend of the croppy boy.
Located opposite Churchtown, Hook Lighthouse was built in the thirteenth century as a navigation aid by William Marshal - Earl of Pembroke, as part of the development of his Lordship of Leinster. The massive structure has three stone vaulted chambers with a spiral stairway ascending through the thickness of the wall. According to tradition, a warning beacon was established at Hook Head in the sixth century by a Welsh monk named Dubhan, whose church still exists at nearby Churchtown. His successors were appointed custodians of Marshal's Tower and continued to keep the light for several centuries. Visitors to the oldest operational lighthouse in both Ireland and Great Britain will experience a journey through time from the story of the sixth century beacon up to present day light keeping.
The Irish Agricultural Museum
This Museum is located in the old farmyard buildings of Johnstown Castle, which were built about 1810. These have been restored and converted to provide facilities for Ireland's largest Agricultural Museum. There is also a new display of lawn and garden equipment. The exhibitions cover farm and rural transport, rural crafts, all the major farming activities as well as the activities on the farmyard and farm dwelling. A large permanent exhibition on the story of the potato and of the Great Famine of 1845-47 has recently opened.
John F. Kennedy Arboretum
Located at New Ross, the John F Kennedy Arboretum displays extensive collection of trees and shrubs from temperate regions of the world, dedicated to the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Arranged in botanical sequence, it covers 252 hectares of the Southern slopes and summit of Slieve Coillte. It includes 200 forest plots, rhododendrons, dwarf conifers, hedges, lake and viewing point.
Once owned by the Grogan family who were the biggest untitled landowners in Ireland. It was donated to the state after the death of the last resident Lady M Fitzgerald in 1942 on condition that it be used for agricultural education and research. The castle itself a gothic revival style masion is not open to the public but the wonderful 50 acre gardens are.
Located at Kilmore Quay, The Maritime Museum is housed on board the lightship Guillemot. There are two museums in one, since the lightship is the last Irish Lights vessel, complete with all its cabins (containing the original furniture, generations and fittings). It also houses many original and unusual artifacts. From the bridge desk both the book and the barrels lights can be seen, there are also excellent views of the Saltee Islands. Below deck there are model ships, a very extensive collection of pictures, and many sea antiques.
National Heritage Park
Located at Ferrycarrig, the National Heritage Park traces the habitation of man in Ireland, from the first settlers to the arrival of the Normans in the twelfth century. It demonstrates this through life size reconstruction of homesteads, burial modes and places of ritual. Your senses are sure to come alive with sites and sounds stretching back almost nine thousand years. Celtic Banquets are held on selected evenings where a lordly Celtic Chief fills vats with liquor, and prepares great quantities of food. Traditional Bards are also provided to entertain.
Tintern Abbey, Saltmills, New Ross
Located at Saltmills, close to New Ross, Tintern is a Cistercian abbey, founded at about 1200 by William Earl of Marshal, and named after Tintern in Wales. The remains of the Abbey consist of the nave, chancel, tower, chapel and cloister. It was partly converted into living quarters after 1541, and further adapted over the centuries. The Abbey was occupied by the Colclough family from the 16th century until 1960s. Guided tours are available on request.
Yola Farmsted Folk Park
Located at Rosslare Harbour, Yola Folk Park rediscovers the delights of eighteenth century village life in Ireland, taking in a restored farmhouse and dining in the old world surroundings of Granny's Kitchen with its authentic open fire. Watch and listen as the wind drives the sails on one of the country's few working windmills. Call into the schoolhouse, the Kennedy House with its adjoining aviary and visit the lofted Kilmore Cottage.