Monday, 1 February 2010

Wexford Town Ireland

The main attraction in Wexford Town is the people, whose Irishness is not of the mild, gentle folk strain. Instead, they are keen of mind and quick in discussion, and they often like their wit a bit on the saucy side. Spend a pleasant day browsing among the narrow streets of this hilly town, then head for the nearest bar stool (an easy assignment, as one local claims there are more than 50 pubs in Wexford).

A friendly comment or two from a visitor is likely to get a native monologue going, be it a recitation of the local history or a soliloquy on the praiseworthy local weather. An Irish American can expect a lively debate on the political fortunes of the Kennedy family, whose ancestors came from nearby Dunganstown in County Wexford. The hardy ladies of the country market are easy to engage in conversation as well.

They will tell a visitor that from medieval times the market has been the heartbeat of the town and that in the days of the schooners, the ships could dock quite close to unload their goods for sa]e. They'll also recall that long before the young people started their natural foods campaign, the wives of Wexford farmers knew the benefits of vegetables grown in chemical free soil, and they never forsook their homemade breads and jams for commercial substitutes.

This boldness of spirit is not all talk. It has produced such illustrious native sons as John Barry, regarded as the founder of the US Navy, born 10 miles from Wexford at Bally sampson, and Sir Robert J. McClure, discoverer of the Northwest Passage.

The boldest and proudest Wexford men of days gone by,' however, were those who took part in the Rebellion of 1798. In that year, the United Irishmen were unsuccessful in planning a general uprising against the British, so Father John Murphy, a County Wexford priest, independently led his parishioners, armed with pitchforks, or pikes, in revolt.

The rebellion lasted a month before it was suppressed, but it has remained alive in folk memory through Irish ballads such as The Wearing ofthe Green and The Boys of Wexford.

Located where the river Slaney flows into the shallow Wexford Harbor, the town is old and has an impossibly narrow main street, a legacy of its Viking past. It is said that a settlement existed here as early as AD 150, but it was the Vikings who developed it, calling it Waesjord, meaning harbor of mud flats. Initially, the Vikings used this as a base from which to plunder the countryside and later turned it into a major trading post.

The history of Wexford

The Anglo-Norman invasion led by Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow, ousted the Vikings in 1169 and launched a new era of domination. The face of the town also changed. Selskar Abbey rose at its northwestern edge tradition holds that Henry II came here in 1172 to do Lenten penance for the murder of Thomas a Becket, and it was here that Strongbow's daughter was married and Wexford soon became a walled town, with five fortified gateways and four castles.

The only remains of these defenses are the West Gate, built in the 14th century and used until the end of the 16th century, and a portion of wall nearby.Norman nobles used one of the town's squares for the bloody sport of bull baiting and to this day the square is called the Bull Ring. The name stuck, despite the fact, that the worst of a much bloodier slaughter, the massacre of Wexford's citizenry by Oliver Cromwell in 1649, occurred in the same place.

The townspeople erected no monument to remind them of this deed, but in 1905, when they got around to commemorating the insurgency of 1798, they placed their statue of an Irish pikeman here, in a stroke of independent mindedness. More of the same spirit lies behind the confusion of Wexford's street names. Many have two names, one dating from the days of British rule, the other from the founding of the Irish Republic in 1922, the latter likely to be the name of a rebel.

The establishment of an industrial estate with German and American firms has brought needed jobs into the area. Lett & Company, .which transplants small seed mussels into Wexford Harbor from less nourishing areas, is located in Wexford Town and is the biggest single employer in the Irish fishing industry.

Things to see and do in Wexford Ireland and car hire

There is so much to see and do in Wexford that the best way to discover the area is by hire car from Dublin or Knock Airport. Car hire can be pre-booked before you travel, which will save you time and money when you arrive.Then there's the tourist industry, which Wexford comes by almost effortlessly, given its location in the sunniest part of Ireland, near the 6-mile beach of Rosslare, which draws Irish holidaymakers unsolicited as honeybees to clover.

Tourism is not entirely effortless, however, because the energy that goes into the yearly Wexford Opera Festival and all its accompanying fringe events cannot be discounted. At opera time, later in the fall, nearly every family in town has at least one member backstage sewing costumes or painting props, or elsewhere hanging pictures for an exhibition or setting up chairs for a lecture.

That the festival exists at all is the result of another stroke of boldness on the part of Wexford's people. In 1951, a group of residents tired of listening to phonograph records and resolved to hear the real thing, even if they had to produce it themselves.

The orchestra was hired, singers were engaged, other professionals were called in, and what eventually was to become an acclaimed event on the international opera calendar was off to a brave beginning.

The town's memorials, churches, and abbey are all within a 5-minute walk of Main Street. John Barry Memorial In 1956, the US presented Ireland with this handsome statue of the founder of the US Navy, who was born in County Wexford in 1745. Commodore Barry stands on Crescent Quay where two former American presidents, Dwight D.

Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, laid wreaths on separate occasions. The inscriptions on the monument list a few of Barry's accomplishments during the American Revolution. Walk up the street behind the monument for a lifelike view of the commodore looking out to sea with his mighty cape blowing in the wind.

Maritime Museum Wexford - A retired lighthouse ship, the Guillemot moored about 15 miles southwest of town at Kilmore Quay is home to a museum devoted to Wexford's seafaring days. When the ship's flag is flying, the museum is open.Kilmore Quay Bull Ring Wexford - The medieval practice of bullbaiting killing bulls for sportonce took place in this small, historic square. This is also the place where on October 1, 1649, Oliver Cromwell had 2,000 Irish men, women, and children slaughtered.

A statue to a pikeman, done by Oliver Sheppard and erected in 1905, now dominates the square in tribute to the peasants who took part in what came to be known as the Rebellion of 1798. Oscar Wilde's mother lived in the house that is now Diana Donnelly's boutique (legend says that Wilde's mother was born in room No. 10 of the Old Wexford Coaching Inn).
At the east side of the ring a market is held on Fridays. Here Wexford women sell their vegetables; baked goods, jams, jellies, honey, and sometimes crafts in buildings dating from 1871.

St. Iberius Church Wexford - This Georgian masterpiece (Church of Ireland) was built in 1760 on land occupied by other houses of worship dating from earliest Norse days. The handsome interior and superb acoustics make it a favorite concert hall during the Wexford Opera Festival.
Wexford Arts Centre - Once the Market House, then Town Hall, this building was restored as a cultural headquarters and special events site. Its now elegant second story boasts five Waterford crystal chandeliers. Around the corner from the Bull Ring, Corn Market.

Twin Churches Wexford -The Roman Catholic churches of the Immaculate Conception on Rowe Street and of the Assumption on Bride Street, both designed by Robert Pierce, were inaugurated on the same day in 1858 when Wexford's original nine parishes became two, thanks to the unflagging efforts of Father James Roche, who is buried in the Bride Street church.
Selskar Abbey Wexford - It is a pity the town has not done more in restoring and promoting this 12th-century site. The abbey was once quite extensive, although all that can be seen today are a 14thcentury battlement tower and church.

A long, covered passage runs underground to the far side of town. Tradition says that Henry II did penance here for murdering Thomas 11 Becket, but historians now think St. Mary's, protected within the town walls, a more likely site for his acts of contrition. Some of the older people in town can remember when the church was still in use.

To explore the ruins, visitors must obtain a key from a nearby house (a notice on the gate explains where). Behind the abbey remains the old West Gate, the only one of Wexford's five original gateways still standing, and part of the town walls. Entrance at the intersection of Temperance Row, West Gate, and Slaney St.

Franciscan Friary Wexford - Built in the 17th century on the site of an earlier church destroyed during Cromwellian times, this was the parish church for Wexford Town until the twin churches of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception were completed in 1858.

The Franciscan friary was extensively redecorated in the 19th century, when the vaulted ceiling, marble columns, and organ were added. School St. Irish National Heritage Park Located about 2 miles north of Wexford Town on the banks of the river Slaney, this new outdoor museum reflects centuries of Ireland's history. Each exhibit is set in an appropriate environment on the banks of a river estuary, in a woodland, in a marshland, or on a mountain slope.

Displays include a crannog (an early lake dwelling), ring forts, souterrains (underground escape passages), round towers, dolmens, honzontal mills, and afulachtfiagh (an ancient cooking place that used hot stones to heat food).Johnstown Castle Wexford - This 19th-century turreted Gothic mansion incorporates an ear her castle and IS the former home of the Esmonde Grogan, and Fitzgerald families.

It IS now owned by the State Agricultural College, but visitors can tour the beautiful gardens, lakes, and nature trails that surround it. Exhibits in the Irish Agricultural Museum in the castle's restored farm buildings include harness ware and antique farm machinery as well as a reconstructed farm kitchen and bedroom and a creamery. Off the Rosslare Harbour road, 22 miles south of Wexford.

Wexford places to visit

An excellent choice for a day spent outdoors is the Saltee Islands, Ireland's largest and most amou bird sanctuary. During spring and early summer, the Great Saltee (which is 1 mile long) and the Little Saltee are home to more than 3 illion gulls, puffins, and other feathered creatures that delight bird watchers. The Islands are a 45minute boat trip off the coast of Kilmore Quay, about 20 miles southwest of Wexford.

Kilmore Quay Wexford itself is a quaint fishing village of thatch roofed cottages. The lovely, modern Saltees hotel contains rooms named after different species of birds found on the Islands.

Car hire in Wexford

Wexford car hire can be booked from Dublin Airport before you travel and you can pre-book car hire at every major airport in Ireland to save time and money when you arrive.

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