For all its bloody history, the bustling small town of Wexford has a peacful air. If you catch it during October when the acclaimed opera festival is in full swing, you will be left in no doubt that the town rates itself pretty highly, and rightly so.
The Viking name Waesfjord (harbour of the mudflats) is apposite. The River Slaney and several tributaries empty their silt-laden waters into the sea here, and Wexford’s practicality as a deep-water port has long since been overtaken by its rival, Waterford. North and south of the town, large areas of mud on either side of the estuary provide a habitat for many thousands of wading birds. The “slobs”, as the mudflats are known locally, are reclaimed land, and home to the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve.
The town itself straggles along the waterfront, several blocks deep. The bronze statue outside the tourist office commemorates Commodore John Barry, the brilliant naval officer who avenged his Irish ancestors by emigrating to Philadelphia and trouncing the English during the American War of Independence. The old centre is a cheerful mix of agreeable pubs, old-fashioned shops and plenty of decent down-to-earth eating places. The main historic monuments are the Westgate, dating from 1300, the remains of Selskar Abbey, where the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed after the Norman invasion, and where Henry II spent many Lenten hours atoning for the murder of Thomas a Becket.
In the Bull Ring, Cromwellian troops slaughtered 300 hapless citizens as they prayed for mercy. Many others were put to the sword in one of the most appalling massacres of the Ironside invasion. When Ireland rebelled again in 1798, Wexford’s inhabitants were amongst the most vigorous pike-wielders, as the statue in the Bull Ring indicates.
Just where the River Slaney broadens into tidal mudflats west of town, a popular attraction draws the crowds. The Irish National Heritage Park at Ferrycraig recreates life in Ireland through about 9,000 years of history, up to Anglo-Norman times. Full-scale models of lake settlements, ring forts, burial places and a Norman motte-and-bailey castle lie hidden among hazel groves and reed-beds in a large park.
Ireland Luxury Tours recognises Wexford as a bit of a hidden gem yo see on your tour of Ireland……