Annagh Hill (An tEannach) (455m / 1494ft) in northern County Wexford is a Marilyn separated from Croghan Mountain to the north by the “Wicklow Gap” (not to be confused with the mountain pass of the same name above Glendalough in Co. Wicklow). Most of its slopes are covered in coniferous forestry. The southeastern face overlooks the valley of the Blackwater stream.
The 1798 Rebellion saw hard fighting in this area. On 30th June General Holt led a column of rebel survivors from the Battle of Vinegar Hill against a mixed group of British army dragoons, yeomanry and Ancient Britons (militia) at the Battle of Ballyellis, resulting in total victory for the insurgents, much to the surprise of the government.
Monaseed & Craanford (Co. Wexford / North)
Monaseed (Móin Na Saighead – “Boggy Place of Flint Arrows”) (pop. 500) is a small rural village mainly know for its GAA prowess.
Like neighbouring Hollyfort and other villages in the area, Monaseed was a “planter” community settled by Protestant immigrants from England and Scotland during the reign of King James I. The plantation, carried out under Sir Arthur Chichester, Surveyor General of the King, caused a huge displacement of local families, some of whom were transported to Virginia. One correspondent wrote in 1630 “Chichester’s Plantation in the Co. has extirpated the Irish almost quite.”
Monaseed Castle, built in 1613 and granted to William Marwood, was destroyed during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (after which it was said that only four Irishmen still resided locally). The site was subsequently occupied by Monaseed House, also vanished, but its Demesne is still delineated and is nowadays a modern housing estate.
Monaseed was the birthplace of C18th stone mason Dennis Cullen, who came to be regarded as one of Ireland’s finest folk sculptors. His delicate and sensitive semi-relief carvings, of which there are 105 known examples, most dating 1765-1785, are found within a radius of 50 miles, most notably at Glendalough (Co. Wicklow). The majority depict the crucifixion.
Monaseed’s Community Hall (1948) is named after 1798 Rebellion leader Myles Byrne, whose home still stands in the vicinity. He later joined the French Army, lived until 1862 and is buried in Paris.
Jim Bolger, 37th Prime Minister of New Zealand (from 1990 until he was ousted by an internal National Party coup in 1997) was born in 1935 to emigrants from Monaseed.
Craanford is a lovely little village surrounded by interesting historical remains.
Craanford Mills is a C17th corn-grinding water mill restored to full working order by the Lyons family, who offer personal guided tours and serve delicious food. The property was a focal point of the village for hundreds of years and is mentioned in the Memoirs of the 1798 Rebellion leader Myles Byrne.
Mount Nebo was the home of the notorious Hunter Gowan, who both before and during the 1798 Rebellion led a yeomanry corps known as the “Black Mob”, accused of committing atrocities against Roman Catholics. Billy Byrne of Ballymanus once famously horsewhipped him on the hunting field. His son, Ogle Robert Gowan (named after George Ogle, Grand Master of the Orange Order) went on to become an important politician in British North America. The estate was later a Benedictine college called Mount Saint Benedict, and also saw several years as a tobacco plantation. The house is now called Eastwood.
The Battle of White Heaps / Ballygullen took place on 4th July 1798, when insurgent leaders Fr. Mogue Kearns and “the screeching general” Anthony Perry fought off a pursuit led by General James Duff (perpetrator of the Gibbet Rath massacre) after the rebels’ defeat at Vinegar Hill. A bicentenary monument stands on the site.
Rossminogue, two miles west of Craanford, features the ruins of an old monastic settlement church and cemetery; a Protestant school later stood on the site.
Ruins of ancient churches can also be found in Kilnahue and Knockbrandon; the latter is the site of a Mass Rock from Penal Law times.
Monaseed is within easy reach of Carnew (Co. Wicklow) on ByRoute 4, while Craanford is not far from Gorey on ByRoute 2.
Ferns (Co. Wexford / Central)
Ferns (Fearna – Alder trees; formerly Fearna Mór Mhaedóg– the Big Alder Strres of Saint Adrian) (pop. 1000), in addition to being an ancient Cathedral town with great historic significance, is nowadays an active community with several attractive shops and pubs.
A monastery was founded here in 598 AD by Saint Aedh / Aidan / Aedan / Eden, who had spent several years studying with Saint David in Wales. Popularly known as Moaedhog / Máedoc, or “My dear little Aedh”, he was given a quasi-supremacy over the other bishops of Leinster, with the title of Ard-Escop or chief bishop. His successors included Saint Mochua and Saint Moling, who dedicated a nearby Holy Well to the founder, believed by many to have curative powers.
Ferns became the seat and burial place of the kings of Leinster, a title held at various times with varying degrees of power over six centuries by common ancestors of the inter-related Kavanagh, Kinsella and MacMurrough clans.
Ferns was raided by Vikings / Norsemen in 834, 836, 839, 842, 917, 920, 928 and 930 AD, and was burned in 937 AD.
St. Mary’s Abbey, founded on the original monastic site by Dermot MacMurrough in 1150 for the Augustinians, was burned down in 1152, and was re-founded in 1160, after which it survived until King Henry VIII’s 1539 Dissolution of the Monasteries. The ruin has an unusual 75ft Round Tower / belfry containing a narrow spiral staircase.
St Peter’s church, standing on a ledge just to the north of the road, was built in the Hiberno-Romanesque style by Bishop O’Lynam c.1060, but the edifice now visible is thought to be shorter, perhaps a later composite structure: the Romanesque window on the interior of the south wall may have come from the Augustinian abbey or from nearby Clones church, while the pointed external part may have come from the old Cathedral.
The old graveyard contains some plain High Crosses, and a fragment of a thin cross-shaft that supposedly marks the grave of Dermot MacMurrough. Also interred here is Fr Ned Redmond who, as a student in France, was credited with saving the young Napoleon Bonaparte from drowning, thus altering the course of European history. It is reputed that, in the same grave, lie the charred remains of Fr John Murphy, executed as a leader of the 1798 Rebellion.
Ferns Cathedral, constructed c. 1230 by Bishop St John, was burned down by the O’Byrnes in 1571, and all that is left is a ruined section of the chancel. Parts of the original edifice were incorporated into a new structure, rebuilt in the mid-C19th as the current rather charming St Eden’s Cathedral (CoI), said to be the smallest cathedral in Europe, which retains several fine medieval features, including a striking episcopal effigy by the baptismal font. Some claim that Strongbow was buried here, and not in Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral as commonly thought. (Photo by E Evans)
Diocese of Ferns
Early bishops of Ferns were indifferently styled of Wexford or of Hy Kinsellagh, because the boundaries of the diocese were coextensive with the that territory, which included all of modern County Wexford with small portions of modern Counties Wicklow and Carlow.
Ailbe O’Molloy, the Cistercian abbot of Baltinglass Abbey, who attended the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), was the last Gaelic bishop for many years. His English successor, Bishop John St John, was granted a weekly market at Ferns and an annual fair, together with a weekly market at Enniscorthy, by King Henry III.
The last pre-Reformation bishop of the diocese was Alexander Devereux, abbot of Dunbrody. The Roman Catholic bishop, Nicholas French, consecrated in 1645, had to flee to the continent in 1651, and died as assistant bishop of Ghent in 1678. In 1691, the Roman Catholic Dean of the Diocese, Daniel O Breen, and another priest, James Ó Murchú, were executed at Wexford.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ferns is now run from Enniscorthy. The Church of Ireland Diocese of Ferns now forms part of the United Diocese of Cashel and Ossory, ruled from Kilkenny.
The Ferns Inquiry`s Report 2005, commissioned by the Irish government, strongly criticised the former Roman Catholic bishops Dr Donal Herlihy and his alcoholic successor Dr Brendan Comiskey for their failure to address pederastic abuses carried out in the diocese over 40 years by a number of priests, notably Fr Sean Fortune.
St Aidan’s parish church (RC), built in 1974, stands in marked contrast to its surroundings. The site of the previous RC church (1826) has been occupied since 1990 by St Aidan’s Monastery of Adoration, a convent, church and individual stone hermitages erected by the Sisters of Adoration.
Ferns Castle is believed to stand on the site of a former MacMurrough clan stronghold.
The once magnificent Norman edifice was probably built by the Seneschal of Ireland, William Marshal, with a grim dungeon (where he reputedly irmprisoned his daughter to prevent her eloping with her true love).
The earliest reference to it dates from 1232; a few years later it was occupied by William de Valance; captured by the O’Toole clan in 1331, it was re-taken shortly afterwards by Bishop Charnell.
During Silken Thomas’ Revolt in 1536, the castle was defended by FitzGerald’s men but captured by Lord Grey.
In 1583 the Mastersons became Constables of the Castle, but they (rather surprisingly) held it during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms for the Kilkenny Confederacy until Oliver Cromwell’s troops destroyed it and put most of the town’s population to the sword in 1649. The ruin was later bequeathed to the Donovans, who kept it till quite recently.
The castle still has an exceptionally beautiful vaulted circular chapel and several interesting stone carvings, including a number of faces and a wonderful gargoyle.
The adjoining Visitors Centre has some interesting exhibits, including the Ferns Tapestry, an ongoing local project.
Joseph Haughton, a Quaker merchant who had a store in the centre of the village, managed to keep the peace with all the antagonists during the 1798 Rebellion. He provided humanitarian assistance to both sides at great personal risk, when savagery and rampant sectarianism was the norm and humanitarian actions were in short supply. He is commemorated by a plaque on the wall of his former premises (now a supermarket).
The Courtyard’s three bars include a beer garden; in addition to pub meals there is also an elegant bistro.
Ferns Heritage Week, held every August, is the most important of several festivals and events hosted by the town.
Ferns is within easy reach of Camolin on ByRoute 2.
Clone church, probably built on a monastic site also founded by Saint Aidan, is an interesting Hiberno-Romanesque ruin. Above the doorway are several projecting stone carvings, including five human heads and a greyhound or slender dog in relief, and a stone with dogtooth decoration. There is also a large bullaun stone to the left of the doorway.
Clone House Farm centres on a lovely 250-year-old house covered in Virginia creeper and surrounded by lovely gardens. The Rudd family provide comfortable Guesthouse / B&B facilities at reasonable prices.
Crane townland was the crash landing site of the first ever powered flight from Great Britain to Ireland, a Bleriot X1 aeroplane flown for 1hr 40mins on 22nd April 1912 from Goodwick in Pembrokeshire, Wales, by Denys Corbett Wilson (who served during WWI with great heroism over France, on both reconnaissance and bombing raids, until 10th May 1915, when his plane was hit by enemy flak and crashed. Both Wilson (32) and his observer (18) were killed).
Monageer (Co. Wexford / East)
Monageer / Monagear (Móin na gCaor) is a pleasant rural community with an attractively landscaped monument to the 1798 Rebellion.
St Patrick’s church (RC) is a popular wedding venue.
Monageer was the childhood home of Peter Daly (b. 1903), who was killed in September 1937 while fighting with the International Brigades against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. An account of his life can be read here.
Monageer came to national attention in 2007 when a newly arrived couple killed their two young children and committed suicide, leading to the official Monageer Inquiry into the inadequacy of social services.
The Monageer Tavern is a friendly curiosity-filled hostelry.
Monageer is within easy reach of Boulavogue on ByRoute 2.