Hook Tower, aka the Hook Light, at the tip of Hook Head, was originally a beacon put in place in the late C5th by Saint Dubhan, whose nearby church flourished until the Reformation, but is now in ruins. Raymond Le Gros built a new structure on arrival in 1170, and the site has been in continuous use since a more solid building was commissioned by William Marshall in 1245.
The current edifice was erected in 1864, and automated in 1972. Spectacular views can be enjoyed from the viewing platform at the top, very popular with wild life enthusiasts as whales, dolphins and seals visit from time to time.
It claims to be the oldest extant lighthouse site in Europe, and the 2nd oldest in the world; (these claims are disputed by Dover in England, where the lighthouse was erected on the orders of Caesar Caligula in 90 AD, and El Torre de Hercules in El Ferol near La Coruña in NW Spain, originally built in 20 BC and in continuous use since the reign of Trajan from 98 – 117 AD).
Notwithstanding the lighthouse, Hook Head is surrounded by numerous wrecks. Some of these were casualties of war, including Allied ships sunk by German torpedoes during WWI and WWII, and more than one U-boat, notably UC-44, holed by a mine in August 1917, killing 28, with only the commander surviving.
One famous U-boat that operated off Wexford’s coasts was U-20, commanded by Walther Schwieger. On 6 May 1915 it torpedoed and sunk both SS Centurion and SS Candidate, but the crews were unharmed. The next day, this same U-boat torpedoed and sunk S.S. Lusitania off the coast of Co. Cork, with the loss of hundreds of lives; this heavily influenced American public opinion in favour of US entry to WWI, which was to prove decisive.
Templetown (Co. Wexford / Southwest)
Templetown is the name of a village and district on the western side of the Hook Peninsula. It takes its name from for the Knights Templar, who had extensive property locally and used to operate a ferry service across Waterford Harbour to Creadan Point (Co. Waterford).
The “Templar’s church” is on the site of a church founded by Saint Elloc, a brother of Saint Dubhan, of which only traces are left. The structure visible today is of a fortified Knights Hospitaller rectory confiscated from that order in 1541; the tower underwent major alteration in 1830. when the now ruined Church of Ireland building was constructed. The only evidence of a Templar connection are a couple of grave slabs bearing their typical cross and Agnus Dei motif.
Templetown village is best known for the Templar’s Inn, a good seafood restaurant.
All Saints church (RC) was builit in 1899, probably based on a design by AW Pugin.
Loftus Hall is a splendid if bleak and exposed C19th mansion completed at vast expense by John Henry Graham Wellington Loftus, 4th Marquess of Ely, in 1871. It was acquired by the Benedictine order in 1917 and occupied by the “Rossminian” nuns (Sisters of Providence) from 1937 to 1983, when a local man, Michael Devereux, turned it into a hotel. It is currently boarded up,which is a great shame, as it contains a magnificent oak staircase and many other examples of fine craftsmanship.
The previous building on the site, built c.1350, had long been known as Redmond’s Hall. In June 1642, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the manor was besieged from land and sea by English Royalist forces based at Duncannon Fort, itself under attack from Kilkenny Confederacy troops. Alexander Redmond and a handful of defenders held off Captain Thomas Aston and his men until a sea fog descended, allowing a party of Confederate soldiers to take the English by surprise, killing the captain and several others and taking the rest prisoner, to be hanged within days in Ballyhack and New Ross.
The property was acquired by the Loftus family in 1666. Guides gleefully recount various versions of a tale comcerning Charles Tottenham MP, a relative by marriage, who was staying there on the stormy night in July 1762 when a stranger arrived on horseback and was invited to shelter from the inclement weather. During a game of whist the stranger dropped a card on the floor, and when Charles’ daughter Anne bent to retrieve it she was shocked to discover that he had a cloven hoof! She screamed in terror, whereupon the “stranger” vanished through the ceiling in a puff of smoke, leaving a hole that could never be repaired properly (“to this very day” – what used to be called a classic Irish bull). The house was filled with disturbing phenomena, and Anne was close to death. After various Protestant clergymen had failed, a local Roman Catholic priest was called in to exorcise the mansion, and his powers apparently worked; the epitaph on his tomb in nearby Horetown Cemetery allegedy reads “Here lies the body of Thomas Broaders / Who did good and prayed for all / And banished the Devil from Loftus Hall.” (Odd how the Devil is such a butterfingers with cards; he did exactly the same thing at Dublin’s Hellfire Club!).
Dollar / Doller Bay has been so named since 1765, when four crew members of the Earl of Sandwich, carrying passengers and a cargo of wine, Spanish milled dollars and gold dust from the Canaries to London, killed all on board and headed for the Irish coast. On discovering that the ship was sinking, they took to a boat and headed for shore with two tons of the dollars, landing on this beach and supposedly burying some of the loot in the vicinity. They then travelled to New Ross, where they were soon reported to be spending freely, and had 1,200 dollars stolen from them in an alehouse. Meanwhile, the ship had run ashore at Islandkeane near Tramore. The four felons were arrested, charged and convicted of Piracy on the High Seas, and hanged on 31st March 1776 at St Stephen’s Green, and their cadavers were suspended in chains on Muglins Island off Dublin, the traditional place where East coast pirates were left as a warning to others. In February 1767 John Rogers of Tramore successfully claimed for salvage of 1,200 dollars in coins from the wrecked Earl of Sandwich. The rest of the ship’s cargo has never been found.
Duncannon (Co. Wexford / Southwest)
Duncannon (Dún Canann – “the Fort of Conán” – reputedly Conán mac Morna of C3rd AD saga hero Fionn mac Cumhaill / Finn McCool‘s Fianna band of warriors), (pop. 300) historically of vital strategic importance due to its position on the western side of The Hook Peninsula, guarding access to Waterford Harbour, is nowadays an attractive fishing village with a mile long, blue flag recipient golden beach, very popular with tourists. It is situated on the clearly signposted and very scenic Ring of Hook Drive.
Duncannon Fort, a star-shaped fortress, was built in 1588 to repel the Spanish Armada and to stop pirates from plundering merchant ships on their way up Waterford Harbour.
Located on a rocky promontory jutting into the channel, the site was always of major strategic importance, as evidenced by remnants of an Iron Age complex and a Norman castle.
During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms Duncannon was besieged three times. In 1645 its English garrison surrendered to General Thomas Preston of the Kilkenny Confederates after lengthy bombardment, during which their commander was killed and a ship trying to bring in supplies was sunk. As part of the Siege of Waterford, Parliamentarian troops under Oliver Cromwell and Michael Jones attacked Duncannon Fort unsuccessfully during the last two months of 1649, while Royalists within bombarded and sank their flagship, the Great Lewis, as it sailed up Waterford Harbour. However, General Henry Ireton renewed the siege in July 1650 and the fort and town surrendered after the fall of Waterford, but before their food and supplies had run out.
In the Williamite war (1689-91) King James II, after his 1690 defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, embarked at Duncannon for Kinsale and thence to exile in France. Later the town and fort surrendered to King William III and his army without resistance.
During the 1798 Rebellion Duncannon was one of the few places in county Wexford that did not fall to the rebels, though a force sent out from the fort to defend Wexford town was defeated at the Battle of Three Rocks. The fort and town then became a sanctuary for fleeing loyalists and troops in south Wexford and was also used as a prison and place of execution for suspected insurgents.
Duncannon’s strategic importance was recognised by Napoleon, who sought intelligence on its strength in preparation for a possible invasion of Ireland. Handed over to the Irish Free State by the British in 1922, the fort was last occupied by the Irish Army during WWII, and was used by the FCA (Irish army reserve) as a training facility until recent years. It now houses an interesting Maritime Museum.
Every June Bank Holiday weekend, Duncannon Fort is taken over by groups dressed as Celts, Romans, Vikings, Redcoats, 1798 Pikemen, croppie boys, American Civil War combatants, Great War participants, IRA guerrillas and Soviet troops re-enacting scenes from history and legend.
Duncannon Fort was used for the filming of the opening scenes of the 1994 remake of The Count of Monte Cristo, starring Jim Caviezel and Richard Harris.
Duncannon Lighthouse was originally built at Roche’s Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour in 1817, and moved to its present location in 1834. It is private property, with the owners receiving annual rent payments from the Port of Waterford, which replaces the lightbulbs as necessary.
Dunbrody Park, an attractive late Georgian house, is now the Dunbrody Country House Hotel. It gets rave reviews, especially for its restaurant; however, its bizarre website insists that it “has always been about chilling out and taking some me-time“, and urges guests to enjoy “all the modern must haves such as wi-fi, Böse DVD/CD players, chic champagne bar and terrace” and “recharge the body and soul at the intimate spa where the focus is all on pampering“. Oh dear.
Arthurstown & Ballyhack (Co. Wexford / Southwest)
Arthurstown and Ballyhack are charming twin fishing villages in scenic surroundings near the “bar” of Waterford Harbour. They cater well for visitors, with several good pubs and award-winning restaurants.
Arthurstown was named after Arthur Chichester (1797-1837), 1st Baron Templemore (1831), an MP for Wexford County, who was the first of the Marquess of Donegall‘s family to live at Dunbrody Park.
Glendine Country House is an elegant Georgian mansion, built in 1830 by the 4th Marquess of Donegall as a Dower House, and was later occupied by the Chichester family’s local land agents (one of whom caused a major scandal by absconding with a children’s Nurse). Home of the Crosbie family for over 60 years, it is set in 50 acres of private gardens and paddocks occupied by deer, curly-horned Highland cattle, and Jacob sheep. Now run as an award-winning Guesthouse, completely refurbished in 2005, the mansion has beautifully furnished rooms overlooking Waterford Harbour, and a rather charming reputation for eccentricity.
Ballyhack Castle is located on a steep slope in a commanding position overlooking the Waterford Harbour estuary. The large Tower House is thought to have been built c.1450 by the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem. Several interesting artefacts are on display. (Photo – www.webwizards.ie)
Ballyhack is connected by Car Ferry across Waterford Harbour with Passage East (Co. Waterford).
Ballyhack is not far from Campile on ByRoute 2.