The Hook Peninsula
The Hook Peninsula, culminating in Hook Head, commonly called The Hook, is said to be the origin of Oliver Cromwell‘s famous vow to take Waterford City “by Hook or by Crook” in reference to this headland and a village on the western side of Waterford Harbour.
The peninsula, jutting southwards into the Celtic Sea, was the landing area for successive waves of newcomers from prehistoric to medieval times, but has remained largely off the beaten track since the fateful Norman invasion of 1169, and has a mixed maritime and bucolic atmosphere all of its own.
Rolling hills and peaceful river valleys have long been home to grazing cattle and sheep, while bracing sea air permeates the entire landscape. The coastline famously offers a beach a day for a fortnight, where swimming, snorkelling, sailing, canoeing and kayaking are popular summer pursuits. Picturesque fishing villages provide deep-sea angling facilities, and restaurants in the area offer superb fresh seafood daily. Bird watching is rewarding, and there is always plenty of movement in Waterford Harbour.
The most extensive book on the area is Billy Colfer‘s The Hook Peninsula published by Cork University Press.
Clonmines village, originally an important Norman trading settlement granted a Charter by William Marshal, used to send MPs to the Irish Parliament but was abandoned in the C 18th when the estuary silted up (though still worth a solatium of £15,000 to the local Tottenham / Loftus landlords when disenfranchised by the 1800 Act of Union).
The ruins, including the remains of two churches, an Augustinian Priory and a Tower House, are locally referred to as “Clonmines Castles”, and may be the origin of the legend of the The Buried City of Bannow. The site is privately owned and there is no public access.
Tintern Abbey, a beautiful Cistercian monastery on the eastern side of The Hook Peninsula, was founded in 1209 by William Marshal to give thanks after almost perishing at sea. It originally accommodated monks from the foundation of the same name in Wye, Monmouthshire (famously celebrated by William Wordsworth) and was known as Tintern Minor or Tintern de Voto (of the Vow).
After King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey and its estates were granted to an army officer called Anthony Colclough. He and his descendants extensively modified the abbey church, converting the crossing tower and later, the nave, chancel and Lady Chapel to domestic quarters.
A later Anthony Colclough was a prominent member of the Catholic Confederacy of Kilkennny, the Tintern Abbey estate was confiscated under Cromwell, only to be regranted by King James II, and no less than 14 Colcloughs around the country suffered under the Williamite confiscations as “Irish Papists.”)
Although officially Anglicans, the Colclough family of Tintern Abbey were famously careless about religion, switching back and forth between denominations according to convenience, and had no qualms in supporting Roman Catholic clergymen on their extensive lands during the period of the Penal Laws.
In the C18th “Sir” Vesey Colclough built many of the crenelated walls seen around the abbey today, together with the battlemented bridge. Vesey, grandson of “the Great Caesar” Colclough of Dunfry Hall near Eniscorthy, was no saint, and had over 30 illegitimate offspring; his heir later complained that he had filled the Abbey with “strumpets and bastards“. Having found how easy and cheap it was to get convincing title-deeds forged, he had many sets made to mortgage the estate (in which he had only a life interest) over and over again. In the case of Colclough v. Bolger, the first of many brought after his death to fight off his victims, the judge with great restraint described him merely as “a dissolute and intemperate character led astray by the steward of the Tintern estate, Garrett Cavanagh, a greedy, extravagant and impecunious man who was his constant guide in dissipation.” Another of his cronies was the barrister Caesar Colclough, who may not have been party to his criminal activities but must have known what was going on and as a lawyer was in a position to give him sound if immoral legal advice.
In the 1790s, John Colclough established a flour mill, the ruins of which stand on the south bank of the stream close to the upper bridge. At this period also, a thriving weaving industry had developed in Tintern village, located across the stream south-west of the abbey.
John Colclough was killed in a famous duel at Ardcandrisk in 1807 by William Alcock, his opponent in an election that was about to be held. His funeral at Tintern Abbey was attended by a huge crowd, as he was the people’s candidate. He is commemorated by a plaque honouring his membership of the United Irishmen.
Following John’s death, his brother Caesar (a minor participant in the French Revolution) inherited the estate and shortly after 1814 built the village of Saltmills to replace the old village of Tintern, which was then demolished.
The Colcloughs were generally popular and considered liberal landlords. Miss Lucy Marie Biddulph Colclough donated the Abbey to the Irish nation in 1963.
The surrounding estate contains several well-signposted Tintern Trails through lovely scenery, and is home to the rare Whiskered Bat.
St. Kearns, Saltmills was where the greatest number of casualties occurred during the War of Independence in Co. Wexford. On 12th October 1920 5 men were killed and 9 others were injured by explosives being prepared by the IRA that accidentally detonated.
Dunmain House, an impressive slate covered C17th mansion with a complicated family history, is said to have two ghosts roaming its atmospheric old corridors.
The house has been the setting for a number of plays and novels, including Sir Walter Scott‘s Guy Mannering.
Guided tours of the premises, available during the summer months, take in both towers, the entrance hall, the dining and sitting rooms, a private oratory, a jail cell and the restored servants kitchen.
Fethard-on-Sea (Co. Wexford / South)
Fethard-on-Sea (not to be confused with Fethard in Co. Tipperary) is a quiet little resort on the eastern side of The Hook Peninsula, convenient to many fine sandy beaches. Amenities include all types of sea fishing, sub aqua and water sports.
Fethard, the site of a ruined C9th church, was granted by the Prior of Christchurch at the beginning of the C13th to Richard de London, who constructed a castle. A C15th L-shaped fortified hall house was built on the site of the castle as one of six Episcopal manors in the diocese of Ferns, and was acquired by the Loftus family in the mid-C16th. The present castle was built by the Sutton family of Ballykerogue.
Fethard-on-Sea was once a town of some importance, being made a borough in the reign of King James II. Although by the time of the 1800 Act of Union the place was almost deserted, due to C18th emigration to Newfoundland, its landlords received £15,000 to compensate for its disenfranchisement.
In May 1957 Time magazine announced the addition of a new word to the English language: “Fethardism – to practise boycott along religious lines“.
That year’s shameful sectarian boycott of Fethard-on-Sea’s Protestant community, led by the Roman Catholic curate, arose from a Church of Ireland member’s decision to bring up the daughters of her mixed marriage in her own Anglican faith, contrary to the terms of the Ne Temere Papal decree to which she had been forced to submit on her wedding day.
Protestants in the Republic, already much reduced in numbers due in part to this pernicious Roman Catholic doctrine, were further intimidated and traumatised, while those in the North and indeed worldwide were given additional evidence of bigotry and discrimination south of the border.
Eamonn DeValera had to intervene to end the boycott.
Fr Sean Fortune was a local Roman Catholic priest who committed suicide in 1999, having been exposed as a child molester with a long history of raping small boys; the children’s complaints fell on deaf ears due partly to many locals’ mindless reverence for their clergy, but also to lack of response from the alcoholic Bishop of Ferns or any other Church authority.
Baginbun Head is where Stronbow‘s second-in-command Raymond “Le Gros” de Carew FitzGerald, landed with an advance party of 600 archers and cavalry from the ships Le Bag and Le Bun on 1st May 1169 to establish a beachhead for the Norman invasion. Shortly thereafter they were joined by more men under Henry de Marisco. They built the earthen ramparts still visible on the nearby beach, where they defeated 3,000 men from Waterford, before joining forces with Strongbow to march on and overrun the city.
The site’s strategic importance was marked in the Napoleonic era by the construction of a prominent Martello Tower.
Kilcloggan (pron. “Killogan”) is the location of a fairly well-preserved castle keep / Tower House. According to tradition, Kilcloggan Castle was built by the O’More clan of Laois in the late C12th, but King Henry II granted the Manor of Kilcloggan to the Knights Templar in 1172. The order engaged in lengthy litigation with the abbot of Dunbrody Abbey; the suit was eventually decided in their favour after they had been suppressed in 1307 and supplanted by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, who are also known to have occupied Kilcloggan Castle. In any event, the structure visible today was probably built in the C15th. It was later taken over by the Loftus family.
Slade Castle, overlooking tiny Slade Harbour, has three parts.
The massive late C15th tower, 56ft high and gracefully tapered, was probably built by the Laffan family, who forfeited it in the aftermath of the 1641 Rebellion; it has an intramural stair in the south-east angle, barrel vaults over the second and fifth floors, and a room with a fireplace, a latrine, and a cupboard on the third storey.
The lower C16th or early C17th house has simple moulded windows on the first floor; strangely, the three ground-floor rooms cannot be entered from the living quarters above, and may have been intended as a warehouse on the quay.
The annexe with corbelled roof was probably associated with the extensive salt works which adjoined the site in the C18th.
This is a good point from which to set out on a walking tour of Hook Head (1 – 2 hours).