And the Model County is?
The nickname comes from its model farms and progressive agricultural methods (rather unexciting!).
They mightn’t have the best nickname but they claim the best weather with a higher sunshine average than the rest of us. Located in Ireland’s sunny south east (well – relatively speaking of course!), Wexford has long been a popular getaway destination for Dubs who can reach the northern part of the county in an hour or less.
In 1200, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, set sail for Ireland from Wales on his first visit as Lord of Leinster. Threatened with shipwreck during a treacherous sea crossing, he vowed to found an abbey wherever he could safely land. Upon reaching Bannow Bay on the south-west coast, he bequeathed some 9000 acres for a Cistercian abbey. The new establishment was colonised by monks from its mother abbey at Tintern in Wales (that of Wordsworth fame) and was known as Tintern de Voto (Tintern of the Vow). It remained one of the most powerful Cistercian foundations in the south east until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.
After Dissolution, the abbey and its lands were granted to Anthony Colclough, an officer in the army of Henry VIII and were to remain in the family until 1959. Taken into government care, conservation works started in the 1980’s, exposing many features of the original abbey as well as establishing walking trails and protective measures for local bat colonies!
(Open March – October)
Backed by endless sand dunes and marram grass, Curracloe Beach is perfect for swimming or surfing. However, for all you landlubbers, the white sandy beach stretches for over 11 kms so not a bad place for a walk!
There’s obviously plenty of space for everyone here but you might come across the odd film crew on occasion. Most famously, it was used to recreate the D-Day Normandy landings in Saving Private Ryan. More recently, you might recognise it from the beach scene in Brooklyn.
3.Ring of Hook Coastal Drive
Less than one hour in length, Ring of Hook Coastal Drive offers stunning coastal and rural scenery. Hook Head boasts 14 beaches and you might catch sight of a Peregrine Falcon or a Humpback Whale on your way out to Hook Lighthouse – a mere 800 years old, it is one of the oldest functioning lighthouses in the world.
The phrase BY HOOK OR BY CROOK is said to have originated here. Oliver Cromwell vowed to take Waterford City either by Hook (on the Wexford side of Waterford Estuary) or by Crooke (a village on the Waterford side)!
(Lighthouse Visitor Centre open year round with tours every half hour)
This small fishing village is renowned for its thatched roofs.
The Kilmore Quay Walking Trail (4.5km) is worthy of an hour of your time. Starting next to the harbour, the trail leads past a memorial garden dedicated to those lost at sea and onto Ballyteigue Burrow with its kilometres of sand dune systems abundant with flora and fauna (especially birds). You can turn back here or continue on to the end of the Burrow (which will make for a 16km walk – probably a tad more than an hour!)
Puffins, Gannets, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Manx Shearwater, Gulls….. Over 220 species of bird have been observed on the Saltees but you don’t have to be a committed ornithologist to appreciate the islands.
Just 5 kms offshore, the Great and Little Saltees were formed when St. Patrick chased a devil from Tipperary all the way to Wexford. Trying to escape, the devil took a big bite out of a mountain and made his way through the gap. He eventually spat two mouthfuls in the ocean off Kilmore Quay. Great story but it doesn’t, alas, explain the archaeological evidence of Neolithic occupation – ah those pesky archaeologists – always in the way of a good yarn!
Little Saltee cannot be visited due to hazardous landing conditions. Farmer Michael Neale bought Great Saltee in 1943 and proclaimed himself Prince Michael the First, declaring the island an independent microstate! The family is happy to offer free access to the island. Ferries depart daily (weather permitting) from Kilmore Quay in season, the journey taking a mere 20 minutes. Note – there is no landing stage and you may need to wade ashore – best bring spare shoes.
Wexford Town has a wonderful – although rather bloody – history. It’s strategic location – close to the busy shipping lanes in the Irish Sea – made for a rather desirable destination for invaders. Founded by Viking raiders circa 800AD, it was named Veisafjoror meaning ‘inlet of the mudflats’ so the present form of the name isn’t terribly different. (The Irish name however is Loch Garman – The lake of Garman – Garman being a legendary thief who drowned in the mudflats while escaping with his loot!). The Normans arrived in 1169 and Cromwell nearly destroyed the place in 1649.
You can still wander its medieval lanes and along the river quays while enjoying all the mod cons of a bustling arty town…
From the May bank holiday weekend, on through the summer, main roads in the south east are dotted with roadside trailers and huts – all peddling the renowned Wexford strawberries!
There was no strawberry tradition here. Up to World War 2, the fruit was imported from Britain and Holland. When imports ceased during the war, cultivation began. The industry began small – a few hectares and a very short season. But the mild climate, paired with shale soil, made for optimal strawberry growing conditions and nowadays, thanks to technology and experience, the Wexford strawberry season lasts from May to October. Large scale producers supply the supermarket chains but the smaller farms invite you in for strawberry picking or the purchase of strawberry products – jams, etc. from their farm stores.
8.Irish National Heritage Centre
Heritage Parks are not for everyone but they do have a place and a value and this one, covering 35 acres, includes settlements representative of various periods of our cultural history. There are replicas of prehistoric campsites, ring forts, crannogs, Viking houses and other reconstructed sites.
9. Enniscorthy Riverside Trail
This easy 3km trail makes for a pleasant scenic walk along the bank of the River Slaney. There are views up and down the valley and, as part of a Special Area of Conservation, the meadows, marsh and scrub support numerous fauna and flora species
10. Vinegar Hill
We can’t leave County Wexford without mentioning the 1798 Rebellion!
The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was an uprising against British rule in Ireland. The main organising force was the Society of United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group greatly inspired by the recent American and French revolutions. The Society was actually formed by Presbyterian radicals – angry at being shut out of power by the Anglican establishment – who were joined by many Catholics. At first the organisation was looking for equal representation for Irish people but it became more radical as the years passed. Things finally reached a peak in the summer of 1798, when they launched an uprising. The aim – overthrow the British government in Dublin, sever all connection with Britain and found an Irish Republic.
The authorities were aware of the plans and arrested most of the leaders on the eve of the rebellion. The rising flared up only in localised and disorganised clusters which were quickly crushed by government forces. However, in Wexford, the United Irishmen had more success and established control over most of the county. Having resumed order elsewhere, government forces turned towards Wexford.
The main rebel camp was at Vinegar Hill and, on June 21st, over 13,000 troops faced some 20,000 men, women and children. The battle lasted just 4 hours, leaving 1,500 dead. The majority of the rebels and civilians managed to escape the hill but the rebellion was all but over and petered out in the following weeks.
As a result of this rebellion, the Act of Union was passed in 1800, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Irish Parliament, in existence since the 13th century, was abolished and Ireland would be ruled solely through the British Parliament at Westminster until 1922.
Looming over the town of Enniscorthy, the panoramic view from the top of the hill explains why it was chosen as a rebel base…
Before you go…..
10 of my Top 10’s!!!