What You Need to Know About County Wexford

Hook Head lighthouse and cliff of Wexford County Ireland
••• Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo / Getty Images

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 it worth your while.

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    Fishing Boats Moored to the Quays along the River Slaney, Wexford Town, Ireland
    ••• Fishing Boats Moored to the Quays along the River Slaney, Wexford Town. George Munday / Design Pics / Getty Images

    When in Wexford, know a bit about Wexford...like its Viking origins, for instance. Here are some facts 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 description covering 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 number 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.
    • County town, unsurprising really, is Wexford Town, with Enniscorthy, Gorey, and New Ross also being towns of some importance in the area. Add to this...MORE the harbor town of Rosslare, often the first port of call for tourists arriving by ferry.
    • Size-wise, County Wexford measures up to 2,352 square kilometers.
    • The county's nickname, "Model County," was derived from the high number of "Model Farms" found here. These were experimental agricultural establishments that paved the way for many rural reforms.
    • In GAA circles, players from Wexford are known as "Yellowbellies," a reference to the color scheme of the GAA team kit. Less frequently as "Slaneysiders," people living beside the Slaney.
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    IRELAND, County Wexford, Irish National Heritage Park, Reconstruction of a typical monastic oratory with replica of a celtic cross in front.
    ••• Hugh Rooney / Getty Images

    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...MORE quite colorful; we tend to forget that.

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    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. 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, reduced to pieces on a chessboard really brings home the tactical and strategic "political game" that was enacted on Irish soil at the time. Highly recommended!

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    A place of Irish-American pilgrimage, the Kennedy Homestead near New Ross is a tangible connection between JFK and Ireland. Not much to look at here, an old farmhouse, some souvenirs, some photos and a fairly conservative retelling of the Kennedy saga. 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. Expect no in-depth discussion of JFK's actual politics and the shadier areas of the family history.

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    Dunbrody Famine Ship
    ••• Trish Punch / Design Pics / Getty Images

    Impressive and interesting, the replica tall ship Dunbrody provides a reminder of the famine area and a lasting memorial to the Irish-Americans...many of which started their new life on these "coffin ships". 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 (slightly sanitized) glimpse into the past and how the passage through often rough seas must have been. The "romance of the sea" does not really come into it. The adjacent museum gives more details. A new venture is the Irish-American Hall of Fame, honouring emigrants that made good. Expect the usual suspects, but not Whitey Bulger...

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    Ireland, County Wexford, Hook Peninsula, Saltmills, Tintern Abbey, 13th century
    ••• Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

    Tucked away a short distance from the coast (but accessible from the open sea via an estuary), Tintern Abbey is bypassed by many much to their loss. A former Cistercian abbey, often confused with its "sister" in Wales, this partly ruined complex still gives off a special "vibe" and manages to convey an impression just how important the religious orders were in those days. The solitary setting in an undulating landscape 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!

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    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 memorial for everyone to simply enjoy. Serious dendrologists will be kept occupied for ages, while the mere nature-loving mortals can enjoy long, relaxing walks through a lovely landscape. Busy with local visitors on weekends and during the school holidays, but otherwise an oasis of calm.

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    Kilmokea House
    ••• Peter Zoeller / Design Pics / Getty Images

    Quite near the JFK Arboretum you will also find Kilmokea Gardens—recommended viewing for gardening amateurs and the more serious horticulturist. Laid out in the grounds of a former rectory, the gardens are divided into formal, agricultural and parkland sections, encompassing 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.

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    Hook Head Lighthouse
    ••• Trish Punch / Getty Images

    Take a road trip right down to the southern tip of the sizeable Hook Peninsula. Which takes time and some patience. But the journey is rewarding. Hook Head Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse still in operation in Ireland, thus part of Irish history, and 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 bracing air. While climbing the tower for the view seems to be a bit superfluous, the insight into the workings of a lighthouse are fascinating. Afterward, enjoy a cup of tea and a cake and then head off for a coastal walk. You'll always find your way back to your car, the lighthouse is seen for miles around.

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    Templetown church
    ••• Trish Punch / Getty Images

    A less obvious attraction, and firmly one for the history buff. Or avid reader of Dan Brown. Unless you are seriously interested in the Knights Templar, you might as well ignore Templetown. A few grave slabs and some ultimately insignificant medieval ruins are the main attraction here apart from the pub. Which provides a decent pint and some good meals. So, maybe an attraction for all of us ... families are welcome too.

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    Visiting County Wexford and stuck for something to do in the evening? Well, you could do worse than head out into a local pub (which, by default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then join a traditional Irish session ... so why not give it a try?

    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

    Wexford Town 

    • "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