Dungarvan Harbour is a magnificent bay between Ballinacourty Point and Helvick Head on the Ring Peninsula. It lies at the eastern end of the River Blackwater valley, though this river long ago abandoned its more obvious former course.
The Colligan River, running south from the Comeragh Mountains, enters the bay at Dungarvan itself. The River Brickey flows in from the west while the Glendine River empties into the bay from the north. The absence of a large river means that the bay is essentially a marine habitat, though low tide exposes extensive mud and sand flats.
The inner bay is extremely sheltered, with the Cunnigar spit (which almost closes the bay on the east) adding to the effect of hills on the south and southwest.
Dungarvan (Co. Waterford / Southwest)
Dungarvan (Dún Garbhán) (pop. 9000) is County Waterford’s administrative headquarters. The thriving seaside market town visible today was largely designed and laid out around a pleasant square by the 5th and 6th Dukes of Devonshire in the early C19th , but its history is much longer.
Devonshire Bridge (1819) connects Dungannon proper to Abbeyside.
It is recorded that about the C3rd AD, a tribe called the Deise settled on the site where Dungarvan now stands, and eventually occupied all the land between the River Blackwater and the River Suir, known as Deise Muman. They were commemorated in the name of the local Barony of Decies-without-Drum, and nowadays the whole of County Waterford is often referred to as The Deise, while county sports teams and their fans are called Decies.
The name Dungarvan, derives from the foundation here by Saint Garbhan / Garvan of a monastery in the C7th. As a town, it really only came into existence in the Norman period, when the cantred was escheated from Donal O’Faolain of the Decies in 1204.
“King John’s Castle” at the mouth of the River Colligan was built c.1200, and the dungeon was used in 1209 by the Bishop of Waterford to incarcerate the Bishop of Lismore in irons. It is not known if the king visited it in on his tour of Ireland in 1210, but as a royal edifice it was administred by a series of Crown appointed constables.
The castle and town were attacked and badly damaged in 1582 by the Earl of Desmond during the course of his doomed Rebellion.
The Wars of the Three Kingdoms saw Lord Inchiquin justifying his sobriquet of “the Incendiary” when he burned Dungarvan in 1642; the castle was subsequently held by three different armies, but had been garrisoned by Kilkenny Confederacy troops for three years when they were forced for want of ammunition to surrender to Lord Inchiquin on his return in 1647.
Oliver Cromwell marched his army into Dungarvan in 1649 and spared both town and (ruinous) castle after a local woman offered him a goblet of wine to toast his victorious entry.
Converted into an infantry barracks c.1740, the Castle was taken over by the RIC in 1889, burned by Republicans in the Civil War, and used as the local Garda Siochana headquarters until 1987.
Well restored by the OPW, the castle is now open to the public.
In the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion, rebel leaders were publicly hanged from the C17th Market House and severed heads were displayed impaled on poles from the remaining castle tower.
St Mary’s church (CoI), built in 1828, was designed by George Richard Pain. The stark gable wall standing to the back of the church is thought to have formed part of the medieval church of St. Mary the Virgin. The churchyard, in addition to some interesting gravestones. contains a mass grave and a memorial to those who died in the Moresby shipwreck in 1895.
St. Augustine’s church (RC) in Abbeyside is adjacent to the original tower and nave of the C13th Augustinian Priory occupied by Cromwell’s troops in 1650.
St. Joseph’s Hospital was built as the local Union Workhouse, designed by George Wilkinson in 1841 to house 600 paupers. In 1846, during the Great Famine, Dungarvan was the scene of a riot against the export of grain.
Waterford County Museum is a well laid out facility with many fascinating exhibits. Together with the newly refurbished Town Hall Theatre it occupies the Old Town Hall (late C18th, remodelled 1909), used as local HQ by British troops during the War of Independence.
(The Burgery Ambush in March 1921 was a messy affair that started with an attack by the IRA’s Deise Brigade under George Plunkett on a British military convoy outside Dungarvan, involving the death in combat of a Black & Tan agent, followed by the firing squad “execution” as a police spy of RIC Sergeant Michael Hickey (who local gravediggers would only bury under orders from the parish priest) and a subsequent counter-ambush in which two Republicans were killed).
The Old Market House Arts Centre, housed in the former butter market erected c.1697 (remodelled 1868), is an exhibition space for local, national and international artists.
Davitt’s Quay, constructed in the early C19th, has seen redevelopment of a number of derelict stores and warehouses along the quayside into a modern, cosmopolitan residential and commercial centre with good places to eat and drink.
The bayside esplanade, constructed in 1895, is locally known as the Lookout.
Long noted for its thriving hake fishery, Dungarvan is a popular sea angling / shark fishing centre.
Dungarvan’s most famous son, commemorated by a monument located 3 miles from town on the N72 Lismore road, was not a politician, writer or sportsperson, but a famous greyhound, The Master McGrath. After proving himself as a coursing dog, he went on to win the Waterloo Cup three times in 1868, 1869 and 1871. Over 37 races he was only ever beaten once. Critics acclaimed him as combining the best in speed, intelligence and instinct.
Ernest Walton, the atom-splitting physicist who merely won the Nobel Prize, was born in Abbeyside in 1903 and attended the inauguration of the Walton Causeway Park in 1989.
Dungarvan is within reach of Kilgobnet and Kilbrien on ByRoute 2.
The Ring Peninsula
The Ring / Rinn Peninsula is an undulating rural area rising high above the sea; the land is interspersed with numerous quiet leafy glens. The coastline consists of dramatic cliffs (approximately 70m / 230ft) incised with a number of deeply stream gullies running down to small bays with secluded beaches.
Rinn Ua gCuanach (Ring / Ringville) and An Sean Phobal (Old Parish), adjoining coastal communities on the west side of Dungarvan Harbour, form a tiny Gaeltacht region with a population of about 1000; the population was much larger before the Great Famine. Remarkably, these communities have preserved their own ancient heritage and culture against all odds. Irish Gaelic really is the everyday local language, and the area is a bastion of traditional Irish music, song and dance.
Colaiste Na Rinne, a boarding school where teenagers from all over the country are sent to master the rudiments of the Irish language, is the most famous local institution.
Helvic Head is known for its sea angling, sandy beaches and beautiful scenery. (Photo – Drimnagh birdwatch)
Helvic is a tiny fishing port. Above the pier, an obelisk commemorates those who lost their lives when the Erin’s Hope sank offshore in 1867.
The Lighthouse at Mine Head light was established in 1851, on the same day as Ballycotton lighthouse further west. The red sandstone structure sitting on top of the steep cliffs is higher above sea-level (88m / 290 ft) than any other Irish lighthouse. It is not open to the public and is not accessible.
Ballynamona Court Cairn / Carn Chúirte Bhaile Na Moná, a Court Tomb dating from around 2,000 BC, is the only example of its kind in County Waterford. The spectacular cliff-top location commands excellent views across the East Waterford coastline to Hook Head and beyond.
Reilig an tSleibhe (The Hill Cemetery) is a stark reminder of the Great Famine.
The Licky River Valley, a scenic jewel, has been designated a Special Area of Conservation for its varied habitats, and is a great place to spot wildlife. The river, rising in Lagnagoushee, is a tributary of the Blackwater. Seven Lickey Walks have been mapped out and graded to suit all abilities.
The Licky River Valley extends to a point near Clashmore in the Lower Blackwater Region.
Newtown Farm B&B, run by Teresa and Maurice O’Connor, provides comfortable accommodation on a working farm located at Grange.
Ardmore (Co. Waterford / Southwest)
Ardmore an attractive little resort on Ardmore Bay, notable for its long sandy beach and spectacular clifftop walk.
Saint Declan is believed to have arrived in the Ardmore area sometime between 350 and 450 AD and converted the locals well before the coming of Saint Patrick, making it one of the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland. For several centuries Ardmore was an important centre of pilgrimage and learning.
The Beannachan / St. Declan’s Oratory is said to contain the saint’s grave, from which generations of pilgrims scooped out earth, believed to protect the faithful from disease. The Anflican Bishop of Waterford reroofed the edifice c.1730.
The early C12th Irish Romanesque Cathedral, long in ruins, has some beautiful sculpted arcades and decorative carvings. The shell contains two interesting Ogham stones, one with the longest known Ogham inscription in Ireland.
The famous Ardmore Round Tower was erected around the same time as the Cathedral, making it one of the last of its kind. During the War of the Three Kingdoms the tower was used to accomodate 40 Kilkenny Confederacy soldiers besieging a nearby castle. Although it appears to be in good condition, this is largely due to over-enthusiastic C19th conservation measures that may have damaged several important features.
Along the foreshore is St. Declan’s Stone, which according to legend was carried miraculously on the waves from Wales.
Following cod stocks to their source, fisherfolk from this area colonised Newfoundland in the C18th in the first major emigration from Ireland.
The Cliff House Hotel, commanding great views of the bay, is a lovely hotel with a superb restaurant, very highly recommended by the Michelin Guide.
Kinsalabeg has an old CoI church, near which a neglected tomb carries the following inscription: “Erected to the memory of the Rev. William Wakeham, for seven years curate of this Paris, who died June A.D. 1847. He fell victim to disease brought on by exertions for relieving the wants of the suffering Poor of this parish during the memorable visitation of the Famine. In the 32nd year of his age“. The countryside around Dungarvan was amongst the worst hit areas during the Great Famine.
Kinsalabeg is near the southernmost part of of the Lower Blackwater Region, a tour of which is highly recommended.