There are few other counties in Ireland that played such an influential role in the Irish fight for independence as Co. Wexford, which means the county has a number of important historical sites to visit. In addition, the county offers its world famous strawberries and seaside towns and beaches that make Wexford a hidden jewel among Ireland's counties.
Here are our five favorite places to visit:
1. The Kennedy Homestead
The life of the most iconic of Irish American presidents and his family is remembered at the Kennedy Homestead, the place in Dunganstown, New Ross, Co. Wexford, where John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy was born.
Celebrating the story of five generations of the Kennedy dynasty, the homestead is still farmed by members of the family which affords the visitor a unique perspective on “the Kennedys who went away and the Kennedys who stayed behind.”
With the help of the Kennedy Library archival collection in Boston, the homestead's visitor center examines the motivations behind Patrick Kennedy’s departure for America in 1848 and follows his emigration. It also tells the story of his family as they rose to power during the 20th century before making their triumphant return to Ireland in the form of President Kennedy in 1963. JFK dropped in for some tea with his Irish cousins during that visit.
The President embodied the Irish success story in the US—from survivor of the Great Hunger to leader of the Free World in just a few generations—and it is for this reason that his legacy remains an important part of Wexford history. Kennedy himself once referred to his Irish visit as “the best four days of my life.”
More information: http://www.kennedyhomestead.ie/
2. Loftus Hall
One of Wexford's most famous locations may not be everybody’s cup of tea, especially if you’re the superstitious type. Located on Hook Head, Loftus Hall is known as the most haunted building in Ireland. Some of the stories include one that recalls a visit from the devil himself in the form of a handsome stranger and whispers of the ghost of a young girl who still wanders the halls following her own demonic encounter.
A house was originally constructed on the site by the Redmond Family in 1350, a time when the Black Death was ravaging the country. It it became the property of the Loftus family in 1650. Since then it has been a convent, a school for girls, and a hotel before the Quigley family finally opened it up to the public.
Although Halloween is, of course, the best time of the year to take advantage of this more-than-creepy attraction, tours take you through its dark and troubled history all through the year, while its walled gardens take you through the area surrounding this now abandoned home.
More information: http://loftushall.ie/
3. Hook Head and Lighthouse
If you’d like to see Loftus Hall but aren’t sure you're brave enough to step through its doors, a view of the mansion is readily available from the equally remarkable Hook Head, home to the oldest operating and intact lighthouse in the world.
The original structure of the lighthouse is 800 years old and overlooks the estuary of the three sister rivers in Leinster, the River Nore, the River Suir and the River Barrow.
Although access to the lighthouse is only available by tour, the building is open throughout the year and for those up for climbing the 115 steps up Lonely Planet’s No. 1 Flashiest Lighthouse in the World, the view is simply spectacular. Bring along a pair of binoculars as you make the climb and you may just be able to spot a dolphin or humpback whale in the water in front of you.
Hook Head itself is part of the Hook Peninsula and is often credited with the English phrase, “By hook or by crook.” Apparently, the phrase dates back to the time of Oliver Cromwell when the English invader pledged to conquer Co. Waterford by Hook (peninsula) or by Crook (a Waterford town on the other side of the estuary).
More information: http://hookheritage.ie/
4. Irish National Heritage Park
Explore prehistoric Ireland, Early Christian Ireland and the Age of Invasion, at the National Heritage Park, where full-scale reconstructions of ancient houses, forts, tombs, a fully reconstructed early Christian monastery, a mill, a cooking place and Viking boatyard and boats will transport you back in time to ancient Ireland, the Ireland experienced by our long-vanished ancestors.
As well as a Round Tower memorial to the Crimean War, the park features woodland trails, wildlife, plants and flowers, all spread across 35 acres. You can stroll through the ancient buildings, try your hand at constructing a wattle and daub hut, draw rock art, row your own coracle boat or even try your hand at ancient forms of battle from archery to spear-throwing.
If you’re still not happy enough with your understanding of the ancient Irish way of life, get a group or the family together and spend a night or two in a real-life ring fort, living exactly as your ancestors did!
More info: http://www.inhp.com/?lang=en_ie
5. 1798 Battlefield
The 1798 Rising, also known as the United Irishmen Rebellion, was one of the largest uprisings against British rule in Ireland lasting from May to September 1798.
Although it ultimately failed and resulted in the execution of 34 of its leaders, the rising is still remembered as a pivotal moment in the battle for Irish independence, a moment that was highly influenced by the earlier French and American Revolutions.
At Oulart Hill, visitors will meet with three separate walks traveling through the main historic sites of the battle including Tulach a’ tSolais, the biggest monument in the country dedicated to 1798.
The walks include the Jean Kennedy Smith Walk, named after the United States Ambassador to Ireland who was so very taken with the significance of Tulach a’ tSolais in her family’s ancestral county that she agreed to turn the first sod on the site in May 1998.
Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll with a young family or a more robust hike through the open air, the panoramic views of county Wexford mixed with the connection to our struggle for independence make this a great spot to reflect on our history.
If you need to study up on your stories of the area, why not drop into Bygone Days Storytelling House, a beautiful thatched cottage where free storytelling session run on the second Monday of every month.
More information: http://oularthill.ie/