On the heritage trail

16/07/2013. FREE TO USE IMAGE. Ireland’s Largest Heritage Trail Launched. Pictured at Well’s House in County Wexford launching Ireland’s largest Heritage Trail, the ‘Wexford Heritage Trail which offers a tour of thirty-two historic sites across the county. Pictured are Colm Morris, Bridget Murphy, Minister of State for Tourism & Sport Michael Ring, Louise Cullen as Lady Frances Ray Murphy and Paul Reck. Picture: Patrick Browne

At Well’s House in Co Wexford launching Ireland’s largest heritage trail are Colm Morris, Bridget Murphy, Minister of State for Tourism & Sport Michael Ring, Louise Cullen as Lady Frances Ray Murphy and Paul Reck. Picture: Patrick Browne

As I keep harping on about, history and heritage is everywhere, which is why the fact that Co Wexford now has the longest heritage trail in the country caught my eye.

The trail, officially launched this week, is a driving route that takes in 32 sites covering everything from landscape gems to cultural attractions.

A press release issued by the organisers detailed the sites:

Ferns Castle, Colclough Walled Garden, Tintern Abbey, Ballyhack Castle and Selskar Abbey; National Parks & Wildlife Service managed Wexford Wildfowl Reserve; Wexford County Council initiatives of Enniscorthy Castle, National 1798 Rebellion Centre, Vinegar Hill Battlefield, Irish National Heritage Park, Duncannon Fort, Browne Clayton Monument and Hook Lighthouse (in association with Commissioners of Irish Lights); Enniscorthy town, Fr. Murphy Centre, Gorey Town, Johnstown Castle (Teagasc) and the Irish Agricultural Museum, Wexford town, Our Ladies Island, Loftus Hall, Ros Tappestry, Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross Town, Dunbrody Abbey, Oulart Hill, Kilmore Quay and Saltee Islands, Ballymore Historical Features, Wells House, Tacumshane Windmill, Craanford Mill and The Kennedy Homestead.

It actually seems to have something for everyone, which makes me wonder why I haven’t been to the county yet.

Louise Cullen as Lady Frances and Naoise Murphy as Kathleen at Wells House.–

Louise Cullen as Lady Frances and Naoise Murphy as Kathleen at Wells House.–

Wexford is an important county from a historical point of view. Just a few weeks ago the visit of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK, to the family’s ancestral home in the county brought it back into the spotlight, though I’m sure the people of Wexford would say it’s always been in the spotlight.

Going much further back, Wexford was where the Normans landed to begin their invasion at the behest of Diarmaid Mac Murchada, who wanted help in retaking his kingship of Leinster. Diarmaid has a bad reputation in Irish history because of this, even though he was in reality just operating as any deposed king or lord of the medieval era would. It would have been standard practice to go into exile and seek aid from adventurers, landless knights, or anybody else willing to fight for the promise of riches and/or land. It just so happened that the Norman invasion of Leinster became the first part of the English conquest of Ireland under Henry II, though Diarmaid would not have contemplated such a thing happening.

1798Piker

Pikemen memorial in Wexford

In more recent centuries, Wexford was a major fighting ground during the 1798 rebellion, and many pikemen died battling British forces despite some initial successes. They were not all noble freedom fighters though; there were massacres by Catholics of Protestants, something which is often overlooked in the commemorations of the rebellion overall. The worst was at Scullabogue, where 150 Protestants, including woman and children, were slaughtered in a barn. It was the same day that the rebels had been crushed at New Ross, though I can’t remember correctly if historians have interpreted Scullabogue as a reaction to that defeat or if it just happened on the same day. Many rebels had died at New Ross and more would die after the town was captured.

One of the main battles was fought at Vinegar Hill. One of my college lecturers, Tom Dunne, grew up nearby and wrote a fascinating book about history and memory, using the 200th anniversary of the rebellion as a starting point. The book is as much a memoir as a historical textbook, dealing in parts with his own life and then historical debate about the rebellion (one of his ancestors died at New Ross), and particularly criticisms of historians who have tended to gloss over the less palatable aspects of the rebellion. You can read one of the earliest narratives of the overall rebellion here. A list of memorials is here.

Where else deserves a heritage trail? And should it mark the good as well as the ill?

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