Visiting County Wexford? This part of the Irish Province of Leinster has a number of attractions you will not want to miss. Plus some interesting sights that are slightly off the beaten path.
So, why not take your time and spend a day or two in Wexford, home of the Kennedy clan, when visiting Ireland? Here are some ideas to make the most of your time in this part of Ireland.
Some Facts on County Wexford
When in Wexford, it is best to know a bit about Wexford, starting with its Viking origins, for instance. Here are some additional facts about this Irish county to help you along:
- The Irish name for County Wexford is the totally unrelated Contae Loch Garman. Literally translated this refers to the "Lake of Garma," Garma being the ancient name of the river Slaney, and the original Irish name, therefore, describing the whole estuary.
- The common name Wexford derives from the Scandinavian and describes the same area with a slightly different slant meaning "a river mouth protected by a sandbank".
- In Viking times, Wexford was one of the most important harbors and settlements in Ireland.
- Cars registered in County Wexford bear the letters WX on their license plates. The more usual system of "last and first letter" did not work as neighboring Waterford came first in the alphabet and had already scored these.
- The county town is Wexford Town, with Enniscorthy, Gorey, and New Ross also being towns of some importance in the area. Add to this the harbor town of Rosslare, which is often the first port of call for tourists arriving by ferry.
- Size-wise, County Wexford measures up to 913 square miles.
- According to the 2016 census, the population of County Wexford is 149,722.
- The county's nickname, "Model County," was derived from the high number of "Model Farms" found here. These were the agricultural experiments that paved the way for many rural reforms across the country.
- In GAA circles, players from Wexford are known as "Yellowbellies," a reference to the color scheme of the GAA team uniform. They are also sometimes known as "Slaneysiders," people living beside the Slaney.
Experience the Irish National Heritage Park
Easily rated as Wexford's premier attraction and located just north of Wexford town, near an imposing tower house in a splendid location, the Irish National Heritage Park aims to present a few thousand years of Irish history.
Unless you are prepared for a lot of travel and to conjure images from ruins you will get no better comprehensive glimpse into Ireland's past than here. All combined with an easy stroll through landscaped areas of a wide variety and steeped in Irish history. The story of human settlements in Ireland is told, starting in the Stone Age and then continuing (in leaps and bounds) to the Anglo-Norman era, via Celts, monks, and Vikings.
Reenactors show off their skills in summer, at other times the very informative signs give you enough to ponder. And being able to actually walk into a Celtic homestead is an experience of its own. Of special note is the medieval high cross, authentically colored to bring the biblical scenes to life. The "dark ages" were quite colorful; we tend to forget that.
Vying for the title of the best historical attraction in County Wexford, the 1798 Centre in Enniscorthy retells the story of United Irishmen and Loyalist suppression during Ireland's major rebellion of 1798. The history is presented in a balanced, accessible way. Located in the shadow of Vinegar Hill, where the Irish rebels made their last, ill-fated stands against the redcoats, the museum sets Wolfe Tone's rebellion in the wider European context of revolution and reaction. Innovative features include the clever use of multi-media installations and the thought-provoking arrangements of displays. Having all the major players of 1798, rebel, as well as loyalist, essentially reduced to pieces on a chessboard, brings home the tactical and strategic "political game" that was enacted on Irish soil at the time. It is a must-see for history buff interested in Ireland's patriot movements.
A place of Irish-American pilgrimage, the Kennedy Homestead near New Ross is a tangible connection between JFK and Ireland. There is honestly not much to see here, but the old farmhouse is an evocative part of the political family's Irish history. At the humble former home, you will find some souvenirs, a few photos and a fairly conservative retelling of the Kennedy family story. This is the tale of the poor emigrants coming from rags to riches and the ultimate political influence within a short time. The legend of the land of unrivaled opportunities, of the home of the brave, of the men that built America.
Like many parts of Ireland, County Wexford was hard hit by the famine. Impressive and interesting, the replica tall ship Dunbrody provides a reminder of the famine area and a lasting tribute to Irish-Americans. Many people boarded these kinds of boats, also known as "coffin ships" to set sail for a new life. Built just a few years ago, the Dunbrody is a faithful replica of a trader and passenger ship that plied the trans-atlantic route in the middle of the 19th century. With some modern additions (like an engine and safety equipment, but you won't notice most of it). It provides a glimpse into the past and how the passage through often rough seas must have been. The adjacent museum gives more details about the immigrant experience aboard similar vessels. A new venture is the Irish-American Hall of Fame, honoring emigrants that found fame and success across the ocean.
Tucked away a short distance from the coast (but accessible from the open sea via an estuary), Tintern Abbey is often overlooked but it would a shame to skip it on your trip to County Wexford. A former Cistercian abbey, often confused with its "sister" in Wales, this partly ruined complex remains impressive and manages to convey an idea of just how important the religious orders were in the medieval times when it was built. The solitary setting in a landscape of rolling green hills lets the modern visitor take in the massive scale of the former monastery, without being distracted by modern developments that encroach upon the historic setting. No wonder you'll see lots of wedding parties having their official photos taken here! The backdrop is stunning.
This is an unusual attraction—trees from all around the world, planted in Wexford in memory of US President John F. Kennedy in the John F. Kennedy Arboretum. While JFK might be better known for his role in the space race, this natural space makes a wonderful living memorial for everyone to simply enjoy. Serious green thumbs will be kept occupied for ages, while anyone with a nature-loving heart can enjoy long, relaxing walks through a lovely landscape. Often full of local visitors on weekends and during the school holidays, this garden is an oasis of calm in County Wexford.
Quite near the JFK Arboretum, you will also find Kilmokea Gardens—a recommended stop for gardening amateurs and the more serious horticulturist. Laid out in the grounds of a former church rectory, the Wexford gardens are divided into formal, agricultural and parkland sections, including lakes, archaeological areas of interest and even an Italian pavilion. If you want to linger, Kilmokea House also offers superb accommodation in a tranquil, historical setting next to the lovely gardens.
Take a road trip right down to the southern tip of the sizeable Hook Peninsula in County Wexford for a unique experience. The drive takes a little bit of time and some patience, but the journey is rewarding. Hook Head Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse still in operation in Ireland and is a living part of Irish history which can be visited on a guided tour. The tower was first erected in the middle ages and stands proud and stout on a rocky shore, which in itself is great for extended walks in the bracing sea air. You can climb the tower for the view but the trip inside is more interesting for the insight it offers into the workings of a lighthouse. Afterward, enjoy a cup of tea and a cake at the cafe, and then head off for a coastal walk. Feel free to walk as far as you like - you'll always find your way back to your car because the lighthouse is seen for miles around.
Stop in Templetown - Named After the Knights Templar
A less obvious Wexford attraction is really for the diehard history buff or the avid reader of Dan Brown. Templetown is an Irish village will intrigue visitors who are seriously interested in the Knights Templar. The area has a few grave slabs and some medieval ruins, which form the main attractions here - apart from the pub.
Traditional Music in Wexford
Visiting County Wexford and stuck for something to do in the evening? Well, you can do as the locals do and plan a night out at the pub (which, by default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then join a traditional Irish session. Ready to hear some music?
Most sessions start at around 9:30 pm or whenever a few musicians have gathered.
Carrick on Bannow - "Colfer's" - Thursday
Duncannon - "Bob Roche's" - Saturday
Enniscorthy - "Rackard's" - Wednesday
Gorey - "Arthur Quinn's" - Monday
New Ross - "Mannion's" - Friday
- "Centenary Stores" - Wednesday and Sunday morning and noon
- "Mooney's" - Wednesday
- "O'Faolain's" - Monday and Sunday afternoon
- "Sky and the Ground" - Sunday to Thursday