CULTURAL ACTIVITIES IN COUNTY WEXFORD
Wexford is internationally famous for its Opera Festival, which takes place annually in late October to early November. It was the inspiration of Dr. Tom Walsh who founded it in 1951. Six performances each of three operas are given over a period of eighteen days, rescued from unjust neglect and brought to life in productions by a Wexford Festival Company of international artists. In addition there takes place an imaginative programme of fringe events, including art exhibitions, theatrical events, traditional music sessions, and craft and antique fairs. Click here to see the Wexford Opera Festival website
In July and August in Wexford Town there takes place a series on lunch time concerts at St Iberius Church by Music for Wexford. Different artists offer each week a varied programme of classical music.
Carrig-on-Bannow, a few miles to the south of Wellingtonbridge, holds a Traditional Music Festival in July. Not only are concerts held in the community hall, but every one of its pubs will have its band of fiddlers, flautists, pipers and accordionists. There is a great atmosphere and an absolute "must" for those interested in this essentially Irish entertainment.
The Seafood Festival takes place at Kilmore Quay in July. Not only is there abundant opportunity to taste the best that the local fishermen have to offer, but the festivities include traditional folk music and dancing as well.
HISTORY OF COUNTY WEXFORD
Legend tells of one Carman Garbh who stole a treasure belonging to a queen of that time and was subsequently drowned in a deluge of water released by an enchantress. The lake so formed was named Loch Garman, which is the Gaelic name for Wexford. The Celtic civilisation was pervaded and subsequently superseded by the influence and spread of Christianity. There are the remains of several early Christian churches in the county.
Viking invasions took place regularly from about 850 AD. The norsemen settled along the banks of the great rivers and gave Wexford its Nordic designation Weissfjord. Wexford was captured by the Normans in 1169 and the town was visited by Henry II in 1171. Henry had arrived in Ireland on the invitation of Diarmuid MacMurrough, one time King of Leinster who had been banished by the High King of Ireland, Rory O,Connor.
With the coming of the Tudor kings began a further period of oppression in Ireland, and this was accelerated by both James I and brought to a climax by Oliver Cromwell, who wrought revenge and exacted devastation upon the county.
The people of County Wexford were much involved in the great Rebellion of 1798, the root caused having festered for some years and being finally sparked off by the summary execution of 36 prisoners at Carnew. Father John Murphy, parish priest at Boolavogue led a gathering of several thousand to victory on the hill of Oulart. They went on to burn the bishops palace at Ferns and overwhelmed Enniscorthy before going on to take Wexford Town. However, serious reverses followed and the insurrection eventually failed and its leaders executed. Soon after, the Irish parliament was abolished and years of repression followed.
The independence of Ireland was brought about, in the end, in the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising, and the bitter civil war that followed it. A truce was declared in 1921 and 26 out of Irelands 32 counties were given independence. The last political ties with Britain were broken in 1949 then the Dail (Irish Parliament) declared Ireland to be a republic.
PLACES TO VISIT
New Ross About 14 miles to the north. Interesting port town with large ships coming up from the estuary of Waterford Harbour. The Dunbrody Famine Ship and Visitor Centre are well worth visiting. Another "must" is the Ros Tapestry - this is a marvellous work of art created by local volunteers, giving the early history of County Wexford and the founding of the town of New Ros.
Wexford Town An easy and sometimes fast drive some 20 miles to the east, via Wellingtonbridge. We think that it is one of the most attractive and interesting county towns in Ireland. A maze of narrow streets, some pedestrianised. Several lovely churches - perhaps most notably St Iberius Church where short guided tours are available. A great centre for the arts and culture. The Wexford Opera Festival is held here in October every year. Harbour frontage where a marina is being developed. See if you can spot that legendary and very Irish combination: an undertaker and bar both housed in the same establishment!
Kilkenny. Kilkenny is an hours drive away from Shielbaggan, but well worth it for the city itself and with scenery in the beautiful valley of the River Nore on the way there. The village of Inistiogue is enchanting, and overlooked by the estate of Woodstock, which is being redeveloped into a park. Kilkenny is bright and colourful, with two fine cathedrals and, of course, its famous castle. Wonderful shopping, too!
THE ABBEYS AT TINTERN AND DUNBRODY. Dunbrody Abbey (051 388 603), about three miles north of Ballyhack, is an imposing and impressive ruin. It is a favourite subject for artists. Access can be gained to the grounds. But our favourite is Tintern Abbey (051 397 124) - built by the monks of the abbey of the same name in south Wales. There is a fascinating - and apparently true - story of how this came to be. But go to the abbey and discover it for yourself. It is enchanting, with a sense of peace in its valley that is beyond our ability to describe. It is not far from Shielbaggan - you will see it signposted to the right on the road to Wellingtonbridge. There is a network of short walks around Tintern - and do go down to Saltmills with its one eyed bridge where the little river flows out into Bannow Bay. Dont fail to call in to the charming little Pub, the Vine Leaf, in the village of Saltmills. Click here for details of Tintern Abbey
THE DUNBRODY ESTATE. This was originally the estate of the Lords Templemore, now a Country House and restaurant (051 389 600). The owners are charming and have always been willing to let us walk through the garden and grounds. There are mature trees and shrubs, with azaleas and rhododendrons in the early summer and a beautiful specimen of embrothium, the South American fire tree. In recent years there has been a colony of ravens in an old conifer plantation.
The RING OF HOOK and the lighthouse. Right at the tip of the Hook Peninsula. The lighthouse is the oldest in Europe. When there is a gale from the south west, huge green seas break on the rocks and foam erupts from the blowholes on the cliff tops. In calm summer weather there we have taken a barbecue to one of the many little inlets among the rocks. There is nice walk of about four miles to the lighthouse from the village of Slade, along the cliffs and back via the road way. Slade is a pretty little fishing harbour with a castle - another popular spot for artists.
The J F KENNEDY ARBORETUM. (051 388 171) Kennedy Arboretum. This is a maturing arboretum of some 250 hectares at the foot of Slieve Coiltia, a volcanic remnant ascending to about 800 feet. You can drive to the summit - well worth it on a clear day for the spectacular views. The arboretum is magnificent, with over 4,500 different trees and shrubs including a wealth of gorgeous rhododendrons and azaleas. The family of the late President of the United States came from Dunganstown, a mile or so away. On a lesser scale, but equally worth visiting, are the private gardens at Kilmokea (051 388 109) signposted from the village of Campile.
KILMOKEA GARDENS and TEA ROOMS (051 388 109)The old Georgian house is lovely and the gardens are enchanting. This is an absolute favourite of ours and very popular with our guests - and much favoured by artists. They have recently (2004) started to offer an a la carte evening meal to non residents. The setting us absolutley delightful and we believe that the cooking must be rated among the best in the county. Click here to visit the Kilmokea web site. It is run by Emma Hewlett who will make you very welcome.
INISTIOGUE and WOODSTOCK HOUSE. Inistiogue (pronounced "Inishteague") is a picture-book village set among the hills in the valley of the River Nore, about 40 minutes drive from the house. Woodstock House was burned down in the time of the Troubles in the 1920s, but is undergoing an amazing regeneration. With its fabulous, mature arboretum and gardens it is absolutely worth a visit.
MOUNT LEINSTER. On a clear summers day this would be a memorable outing. It is the highest mountain in the Blackstairs range (you can in fact see it from our garden, to the north east). It is possible to drive to the top where there is a radio installation. Drive through New Ross and then take the road to Carlow. Mount Leinster is signposted from the town of Borris. It would be about an hours drive from Shielbaggan.
TRAMORE. This is a seaside resort in County Waterford and is about 45 minutes drive away via the Ballyhack ferry. This may be of interest to guests with children, with "Splash World" (051 390 176) being its particular attraction. This is a water park with a reputation nationally. Weve not been there ourselves, but our grandchildren assure us that we just dont know what were missing!
KILMORE QUAY and the SALTEE ISLANDS. Kilmore is a picturesque fishing village, famous for its trawler fishing and its bird sanctuary at Ballyteigue. There are regular boat crossings over the to Saltee Islands, internationally famous for their migratory birds. The Saltees, of course, form a part of the panoramic view from our house at Shielbaggan, about fifteen miles over the sea. Website for the Saltees here .
OUR LADYS ISLAND. About four miles south of Rosslare, in the sea inlet called Ladys Island Lake and connected to the mainland by a causeway, is the site of an ancient monastery dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and has for centuries been a celebrated place of pilgrimage. Not far away is Tacumsin Strand - mile upon mile of sandy coastline, wild and windswept, and almost deserted. Great for long contemplative walks.
WEXFORD WILDFOWL RESERVE. Wexford wildfowl reserve. A magnificent landscape of reclaimed wetland with fantasting facitlities for watching wildlife including the pink footed geese that come from Greenland to winter in Ireland.