The above image is from the Wexford harbour website which gives you harbour navigation and other information.
Wexford Harbour is a large inlet near the southern end of Wexford Bay, forming a natural haven at the mouth of the River Slaney, long guarded by two sandy peninsulas to the north and south of the entrance, called the Raven and Rosslare Point respectively.
Loch Garman, the Irish name for this body of estuarine water (and Wexford town and all of Co. Wexford) derives from Garman Garbh, an obscure hero of conflicting legends about robbers and princess brides, who was supposedly drowned in a flood invoked by a wicked Enchantress.
The area is believed to have been occupied over 6,000 years ago, but little is known of its prehistory beyond a few intriguing artefacts left by the shadowy predecessors of the Gaels. The earliest Classical map reference is to Menapia, after a Belgic tribe who were believed by the cartographer Ptolomey to occupy the area.
The region was introduced to Christianity in the C5th by the missionary Saint Iberius / Ibar / Ivor, who almost certainly predated Saint Patrick.
The Vikings arrived in the C9th and called it Veisafjoror / Waesfjord / Ueigsfjord (“Inlet / Harbour of the Mudflats / Waterloged Island”), from which the English name Wexford is derived.
The Wexford Slobs were formed in the mid-C 19th when the north and south bays of Wexford Harbour were cut off from the tide by the construction of long dykes, rather like the Dutch polders. From early October through to the middle of April, they are home to thousands of ducks, geese, swans and waders, making this a site of major international importance for wildfowl, and now a Nature Reserve.
Wexford port developed problems of accessibility over the centuries due to shifting sands, currents and tides, until the 1906 construction of nearby Rosslare Harbour left its use to fishing boats and leisure craft. A discreetly located new Marina was added in 2000.
Wexford Town (pop. 20,000), the county capital, is a friendly place with lots of historical atmosphere, photogenic architecture and a vibrant music and nighlife scene. Exceptionally neat and tidy (for an Irish town) and surprisingly cosmopolitan, it makes a great base for touring the scenic surroundings.
The Quays, built on reclaimed land, run north-west / south-east along the waterfront.
The Crescent is the most central quay, notable for the statue of Commodore John Barry, presented to the town by the USA, where the Wexfordman is widely regarded as the founder of the American Navy (a claim disputed by supporters of John Paul Jones).
Keyser Lane is one of a number of tiny narrow alleyways linking the waterfront with the main part of the town; these lane, nowadays lined with quality boutiques, bars and eateries, are a remnant of the Viking era.
Wexford Town History
The Vikings founded the port settlement c.850 AD, and over several generations changed from marauders to traders and citizens, increasingly at ease with their Gaelic neighbours.
The town was still mainly Norse at the time of the late C12th Norman invasion, and resisted the newcomers determinedly. Strongbow gifted Wexford town and two adjoining cantreds to fellow barons Maurice FitzGerald and Robert FitzStephen; the latter was captured by the Ostmen and held hostage until the arrival of King Henry II, who exacted homage and effectively annexed the town for his loyal henchmen.
Over the next four centuries Wexford benefited from trade with England, surviving warring factions, plagues and the religious upheaval of the Reformation.
In the 1640s Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Wexford became a chief maritime base for the Kilkenny Confederacy, supporters of the Royalist cause. In 1649 Oliver Cromwell‘s army besieged Wexford, and when the town eventually fell, slaughtered over 2000 soldiers and civilians.
The C18th was a time of quiet prosperity, violently disturbed by the 1798 Rebellion. The town’s old wooden bridge was the scene of a notorious massacre of local Loyalists, mainly Protestants, by hate-filled sectarian peasants. This was a betrayal of the ideals of the United Irishmen, whose summarily executed leaders’ heads were impaled on the same spot as part of the savage reprisals taken by the British authorities as soon as they regained control.
The port reached its zenith in the C19th, with ships plying as far afield as the Black Sea, Africa, North & South America and the Antipodes. Trade increased dramatically, and the town became prosperous.
The Great Famine devastates the surrounding countryside, but did not prevent the growth of local industries ranging from whiskey distilling to engineering. The town’s population grew steadily and many new streets were constructed. In 1851, work began on the elegant twin churches that dominate the skyline. The railway reached Wexford in 1870.
The Redmond dynasty is of particular political interest. Redmond Square near the railway station was originally named after banker and magistrate John Edward Redmond, (1806-1865), Liberal MP for Wexford from 1859 until his death, whose statue remains prominent. Unlike later members of the family he did not advocate Home Rule for Ireland, finally achieved in principle by his grandnephew, another John Edward Redmond (1856-1918), leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, in 1914, only to be overtaken by tragic events.
In the early years of the C20th, Wexford agricultural machinery companies operated branch offices in cities such as Paris and Buenos Aires. However, prior to the industrial strife of the notorious 1913 Dublin Lock-Out, many of Wexford’s workers endured a lock-out for over six months in 1911/1912, to secure the right of trade union representation.
WWI also left its mark on Wexford. Being still part of the United Kingdom at that time, thousands of locals fought in the British army and navy, with many giving their lives. In 1917 a US Airbase was established where the present day Ely Hospital stands at the Ferrybank end of the bridge, and American aircraft patrolled St. Georges Channel to spot German U-boats.
Independence from the UK was economically disastrous for Wexford, as for most of the country, and it took 50 years for the town to regain any semblance of prosperity.
The medieval town wall along the length of High St is best viewed at Abbey Street and Mallin Street, near the Cornmarket and at the West Gate.
The West Gate is the only survivor of Wexford Town’s seven medieval entrances, and has been carefully restored.
The Westgate Heritage Centre presents a half-hour audiovisual show on the history and development of Wexford, shown every hour, and also has a galklery exhibiting collections of arts and crafts, with many of the artesans on hand to demonstrate their work. Upstairs in the tower there are beautiful Norman rooms, and a fine battlement walk leads to Selskar Abbey.
Selskar (Saint Sepulchre) Abbey, founded in 1190, and dedicated by the Roche family to SS Peter & Paul some sixty years later, is said to have been built on the site of an earlier monastery. King Henry II reputedly paid penance here in 1171 for the previous year’s murder of Thomas a Beckett. The ruins visible today, dating mostly from the C14th – C16th, stand beside the shell of a church erected in 1826. Keys are available from the Heritage Centre.
Saint Iberius church (CoI) was built in 1730 on the site of several previous churches, including the one supposedly founded by the eponymous pre-Patrician saint who first brought Christianity to Wexford. It has a particularly fine Georgian interior, designed by John Roberts, and is used occasionally for concerts.
The Franciscan Friary (1803) retains two walls from the original C13th foundation that Oliver Cromwell notoriously used for a bonfire. The Friary houses a relic of Saint Adjutor, a Roman boy martyr slain by his own father.
The twin churches at Rowe Street and Bride Street, both Roman Catholic, are fine examples of neo-Gothic Victorian church architecture, as is the magnificent chapel in St. Peter’s College, designed by AW Pugin.
Wexford County Hall, the Spawell Rd headquarters of Wexford County Council, is an extraordinary C19th castellated edifice.
The Bullring divides North / South Main Streets, the main shopping drag running roughly parallel to the river. Originally a beach on which boats were drawn up laden with produce bound for the town’s markets, it got its present name from the medieval sport of bull-baiting, introduced to the town by the Butchers’ Guild. From 1621 until 1770, bulls were baited twice a year and their hides presented to the Mayor.
According to tradition, this is where Oliver Cromwell‘s soldiers massacred much of the town’s civilian population following Wexford’s fall to the Parliamentary army in October 1649. Human bones thought to date from then have been disinterred over the years.
During the 1798 Rebellion, the Bullring became an open-air armaments factory, making and repairing pikes and other weapons for the insurgents.
To commemorate the Bicentenary of that terrible year in Irish history, the Bullring had a total facelift. A ‘Tree of Liberty” was planted in the centre, and embedded in the ground behind Oliver Sheppard‘s impressive bronze Lone Pikeman statue (1905) is a ‘time capsule’ metal cylinder containing items reflective of Wexford life in 1998.
Famous political figures addressing crowds in the historic Bullring have included Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, James Larkin, Eamonn de Valera and US President John F. Kennedy.
Wexford has a long tradition of drama, with a version of the Mummers Play known to have been performed locally in 1817. Local theatre groups include Red Moon and the buí bolg streeet performers.
The Wexford Opera Festival: Claudia Boyle as La Comtesse in the 2011 production of La Cour de Célimène by Ambroise Thomas (1811-96), performed on stage for the first time since its initial run in 1855. (Photo by Clive Barda, )
The Wexford Opera Festival (or Wexford Festival Opera as it insists on calling itself), held every autumn since 1951, has grown in stature over the years, and is now recognized as a premiere (if somewhat “alternative”) European event, attracting major performers to take part in spirited productions of less well-known works. For over half a century the main venue was the old Theatre Royal, built in 1832 and demolished in 2006.
The Wexford Opera House, designed by the OPW and inaugurated in September 2008, is a state-of-the-art facility with two auditoriums, intended not only as venues for the Festival but also for a year-round programme of concerts, recitals and plays.
Wexford Arts Centre is housed in an C18th building on the Cornmarket praised by John Wesley, the father of Methodism, as the best Irish venue he ever preached in; Percy French also entertained here. The Centre has a constantly changing programme of exhibitions and performances, and is home to the excellent D’Lush Café.
Major cultural figures from Wexford include Oscar Wilde‘s mother Esperanza (née Jane Elgee), writers John and Vincent Banville, Billy and Eoin Colfer and playwright Billy Roche. (Another famous person born in the town is the as yet umcommemorated Arctic explorer Sir Robert M’Clure).
The Cape Bar
Wexford has roughly 50 pubs, several good eateries and nightspots, a few good modern hotels (the traditional White’s and Talbot hotels have been drastically updated) and a wide range of Guesthouse / B&B accomodation facilities.
Wexford racecourse, at Bettyville just outside the town proper, is a popular venue where horses compete over hurdles, National Hunt fences and on the flat according to season, including several Mixed Cards.
Ferrybank on the northern side of the mouth of the River Slaney is linked to Wexford Town proper by the Wexford Bridge (1959), the longest in Ireland at almost 400m.
Ferrybank is within easy reach of both Castlebridge and Curracloe on ByRoute 1.
Ferrycarrig (Co. Wexford / East)
Ferrycarrig is a scenic riverside district to the west of Wexford Town.
Ferrycarrig Castle, erected by Robert FitzStephen c.1170, is thought to be one of the earliest Norman strongholds in Ireland. Excavations indicate that it was used intensively during most of the C13th.
The Irish National Heritage Park attempts to illustrate and provide insights into the history of Ireland over thousands of years.
The Park displays 16 life size reconstructions of historical living quarters and places of worship, representing the Mesolithic Period, the Neolithic Period, the Bronze Age, the Celtic/Early Christian Period and the Early Norman Period. Try to visit on a sunny day, as it is all outside!
The Fulacht Fia restaurant overlooking the Lake & Crannóg, is recommended for lunch (self-service).
The 85ft Round Tower on the south bank of the river is in fact a C19th monument erected by relatives and friends of County Wexford soldiers who fell in the Crimean War (1854-56). The Earl of Carlisle, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, laid the first stone in July 1858.
The Oak Tavern has a good bar and restaurant, and their Marina is open to all visitors.
Ferrycarrig is a good place to hire a boat and explore the sheltered River Slaney estuary.
Ferrycarrig is not far from Killurin on ByRoute 2.
Barntown House was the home of Edward Perceval, the Sheriff of Wexford during the 1798 Rebellion and a relative of Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister assassinated in the House of Commons in 1812. The house was replaced c.1820 by Slaney Manor, now a Guesthouse. The wooded grounds formerly contained a late C12th Norman castle, demolished in the mid-C19th and since replaced by Kinsella Castle, a modern mock-up used for wedding banquets etc.
Barntown Castle, a Tower House probably built by the Roche family, and later used as a watchtower and storehouse for Ferrycarrig Castle, now stands in ruins in the middle of a grazing field.
St Alphonsus church (RC), “the gem of the diocese of Ferns”, was designed by AW Pugin, financed by John Hyacinth Talbot MP and inaugurated in 1848. Although much altered, the building retains its most striking features, notable a magnificent stained glass window made in Birmingham in 1848 by Hardman & Co.
Forth Mountain (Sliabh Fothart) is the traditional boundary between the baronies of Forth and Bargy to the south and Shemaliere and the rest of the county to the north.
A Cross and a Marian shrine dominate one part of the scenic ridge (Photo by Athgarvan).
The Three Rocks at the eastern end of the ridge played an important part during the 1798 Rebellion. A column of artillery sent from Duncannon Fort to relieve the Wexford garrison was ambushed and routed here by musket and a massed pike charge, effectively leaving Wexford Town at the mercy of the rebels; a monument commemorates the role of Col. Thomas Cloney. Later, after their defeat at Vinegar Hill, many of the insurgents regrouped at the encampment on these slopes.
Forth Mountain / Shemaliere Forest Park is a Coillte amenity with lovely views over five counties.
Forth Mountain also overlooks Taghmon on ByRoute2.
Murrintown / Murntown is the location of Ballyconnor House, a restored stone cotage available for self-catering holiday rental.
Johnstown Castle & Gardens
Johnstown /Rathlannon was the seat of the Esmonde family from c.1170 until their dispossession in the Cromwellian redistribution of the 1650s. In 1692 it was acquired by John Grogan, whose decendant Maurice Victor Lakin presented the property to the Irish nation in 1945.
Johnstown Castle construction was begun c.1810 for the Grogan Morgan family. It is currently used as a Teagasc environmental research and conference centre.
The castle grounds were laid out and planted in the 1830s by the Kilkenny architect Daniel Robertson.
The famous Gardens feature a wide range of native and exotic species of trees and shrubs in a beautiful setting, including several very fine redwoods, noble firs, holm oaks, copper beeches, a huge Rhododendron arboreum, and Japanese, Atlantic blue, golden Lawson and some of the oldest and largest Monterey cypresses in Ireland. There is a four-acre walled garden with an arched Devil’s Gate decorated with gargoyles, an old melon yard, and a cemetery with very fine wrought-iron gates made in Italy. The sunken Italian Garden is jealously guarded by a troupe of feeble-minded peacocks. Three lakes in the demesne provide a home for a wide range of waterfowl – mute swans, moorhens, coots, little grebes, herons and a flock of mallards – all of which help to control the waterweeds.
Rathlannon Castle, a ruined medieval Tower House, forms a photogenically backdrop to the woodland garden.
The Irish Agricultural Museum is housed in the attractive early C19th farm buildings to the north of the lower lake. An impressive variety of old farming and horticultural implements are on display.
Unfortunately, the formerly excellent restaurant in the main castle appears to have closed. (HAS IT REOPENED YET?)
Rathmacknee church is a dramatically silhoetted and atmospheric ruin.
Rathmacknee Castle is an exceptionally well-preserved C15th Tower House with fully intact parapets.It was probably built by John Rosseter, Seneschal of the Liberties of Wexford, whose family had lived in this area since the late C12th. Although they recognised King Henry VIII, they remained staunch Roman Catholics, surviving several Reformation purges, but ultimately forfeited their lands in the Cromwellian confiscations of the 1650s.
There is a mural stair linking all five storeys, each having one apartment with closets or chambers in the thickness of the wall. The tower occupies the south-east corner of an almost complete five-sided bawn surrounded by a 23ft/7m high and 4ft/1.2m thick wall.
The castle remained occupied until the 1760s.
The Raven & The Slobs
The Raven is a long sandy peninsula protecting the north side of the entrance to Wexford Harbour from the Irish Sea.
The Raven Nature Reserve is important for its large number of dune slacks and is a site for four species of rare vascular plants and other interesting species including Helleborine, Wintergreen, Pyramid and Bee orchids as well as the richly coloured Northern Marsh-orchid.
The Raven is home to Ireland’s three amphibians, the Common frog, the Smooth Newt and the Nutterjack Toad, plus a wide range of butterflies, moths and other interesting insects.
One of Ireland’s rarest breeding sea birds, the Little Tern, nests on sand banks at the southern tip of the Reserve. The Raven also provides secure high-tide roosting places for large numbers of waders throughout the year.
Mammal species occurring at the Reserve include Ireland’s smallest mammal, the Pigmy Shrew, as well as two endemic species, the Irish Hare and the Irish Stoat.
Raven Wood is the starting / finishing point of an exceptionally pleasant Loop walk that takes in part of Curracloe Beach. (Photo – www.irishbutterflies.com)
The Raven is easily accessible from Curracloe on ByRoute 1.
Wexford Wildlife & Nature Reserve, part of the North Slobs, has an interesting Visitors Centre, an Observation Tower and well-camouflaged hides.
Over 260 avian species have been recorded here, many of them rare. (Photo – Heritage Southeast)
The variety of migrating birds in spring and autumn can be truly spectacular. In winter, as many as 10,000 Greenland White-fronted Geese, a third of the world’s population, feed here by day and roost on the Raven. Other habitués include Brent Geese, Bewick swans and widgeon.
Access is gained via Ardcavan Lane off the R741 north of Wexford Town.
Drinagh is a district between Wexford Town and the South Sloblands.
Killiane Castle, originally erected c.1470 by a branch of the Cheevers family, was annexed to a C17th house that was subsequently extended and altered on several occasions, is now Killiane Castle Country House & Farm, run by the Mernagh family as an exceptionally elegant Guesthouse offering full, B&B and self-catering accommodation facilities.
St Helen’s church, a small medieval edifice that was already in ruins by 1835, shares its enclosing wall with a cemetery reputed to be the burial place of the Cheevers family.
Rosslare Point, no matter what the maps say, no longer exists! It used to be a long spit of sand stretching northwards, almost touching Raven Point, giving Wexford Harbour a very narrow entrance. At the end of the spit was a small fort called Rosslare Fort.
In the winter of 1924-25 a storm breached the spit and it was gradually washed away. The fort was abandoned and now all that is left is an island at low tide. Most maps of Ireland, however, still show the long spit of sand.
Rosslare Point was the site of an early lifeboat station from 1838 to 1851, re-established as Rosslare Fort in 1859 following the wreck of the American emigrant ship Pomona, with the loss of 386 people. The station has since been replaced by a modern facility at Rosslare Harbour.
The section of Wexford Bay between Rosslare Point and Greenore Point has long been called South Bay / Rosslare Bay.
Rosslare and Greenore Point are on ByRoute 1.