My Top Ten of Everything: A Drive through Ireland’s Model County

And the Model County is?

Wexford

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.

1.Tintern Abbey

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)

2.Curracloe Beach

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)

4.Kilmore Quay

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!)

5.The Saltees

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 ashorebest bring spare shoes.

6.Wexford Town

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…

7.Strawberries

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.

(Irish National heritage Park Ferrycarrig – geograph.org.uk – 3358912.jpg)

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!!!

A Drive through Ireland’s Marble County

Decoding the Ultimate Irish Response!

Things you MUST taste in Ireland

Mosel Valley

Two-centre minibreaks in Europe

Jordan

Sri Lanka

Newfoundland

Ancient Sites around the Med

The Yucatan

23 thoughts on “My Top Ten of Everything: A Drive through Ireland’s Model County

  1. I was confused when I saw your first item was on Tintern Abbey, having visited the Welsh one several times! There certainly seems plenty to see here and the beaches look gorgeous! I can see why Vinegar Hill was chosen as a rebel base, yes, but do you know how it got that strange name?

    1. It’s an English Interpretation of Cnoc Fhiodh na gCaor Cnoc = Hill / Fiodh = Wood / Caora = Berries ….Wood of the Berries. If you say Fhiodh na gCaor quickly it actually sounds like Vinegar!!! That happened a lot all over the country – when place names were finally written down, they were recorded as they sounded to the English ear…

  2. Every time we wanted to escape the city and spend time on the many beaches dotting the coastline, we drove to Ireland’s “sunny southeast”. At the time I had a soft spot for the Hook Lighthouse – it is a true gem situated in the South East corner of Ireland’s Ancient East. I loved the 115 well-worn steps of the tower, stepping back in time and exploring the thick-walled chambers. It always amazes me that there are people who despite a lengthy drive of almost two hours to the capital, choose to live in Wexford and commute daily to the big city – a trade-off they’re prepared to make for the region’s stunning scenery and quality of life. Thanks for the memories and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

    1. I think house prices might also be part of that trade-off, Aiva but you’re right – people are drawn to that corner of the country. And, thinking back, any Wexford people we knew from our college years in Dublin all eventually ended back there…Then of course there were all the families who disappeared from Dublin for the summer and spent all their holidays on the mobile home sites along the coast… You’ll have to revisit Aiva – and introduce Madara Lilly to all these places!!!

  3. I love learning the origins of phrases and idioms. The picture of The Saltees really entices me to visit but reading there are puffins there makes it even better 😊 Maggie

    1. I’d actually forgotten the ‘By Hook or by Crook’ reference until the other day….I was delighted to be able to include it… As with the whole of the country, this place is lovely once you get the weather – never a guarantee alas, even in the south east…

  4. Another beautiful post Marie, which makes me reconsider Ireland position on our bucket list🙂 Just wondering, can you give me a hint or two where should a first time visitor start to roam in Ireland? thank you!
    Best regards, Christie

    1. OOHHH….. There’s a challenge! For a first timer you’d have to go to the south west – West Cork and Kerry are beautiful and cater well for visitors – towns like Dingle have great nightlife also so make for a good base. Drive the Ring of Kerry and Slea Head and try to book a boat out to Skellig Michael… A bit further up that coast is County Clare – with the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher and then on to the city of Galway… You could easily pass a few weeks in the region… with more time you can continue up along the Wild Atlantic Way. A visit to Derry or Belfast is really interesting and gives insight into the ‘Troubles’ – well worth taking a tour in either… There’s plenty also if you just want to stay close to Dublin – Newgrange to the north of the city with its amazing neolithic passage tomb and Celtic Glendalough to the south. And that lot, Christie, is just off the top of my head!!!

      1. Oh Marie, my head is spinning already🙂 There is so much beauty on those coastal shores, but we definitely need to start from some place. Thank you for the ideas, a lot of food for thoughts!
        Have a lovely day!
        Christie, xx

    1. And more to come I’d say – we’ve no trips abroad planned for the moment so I’ll be concentrating on places close to home….XXXMarie

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