Enniscorthy (Co. Wexford / Central)
Enniscorthy (Inis Córthaidh / Coirthe – “Island of the Rocks of the Corthaige“, the latter referring to a C5th AD tribe) (pop. 9700), at the head of the tidal reach of the River Slaney, where it is joined by the River Ummin, is the second-largest town in County Wexford, with an attractive and compact centre of small steep streets and open areas lined with fine old buildings and interesting shops, including several excellent pubs and some good eateries. There are good accommodation facilities in the town and surrounding area. (Photo by Philippe Stoop)
Templeshannon is said to be the site of a monastery founded c.510 AD by Saint Sennan, more famously associated with Scattery Island in the River Shannon Estuary.
Enniscorthy Castle, founded c.1190 by Philip de Prendergast, (d.1229) is in an excellent state of preservation, with three flanking drum towers that are classics of their kind. (Photo – Przemyslaw)
In the C15th the castle and surrounding fiefdom of Duffry were taken by Art McMurough Kavanagh, whose family retained possession until they surrendered to Lord Grey in 1536.
The reign of Queen Elizebeth I saw a raid on Enniscorthy in 1569 by the Butlers, in which many civilians were killed; the castle was leased by the poet Edmund Spencer, who never took up residence (allegedly for fear of the McMurrough Kavanaghs); the Queen later granted the property to her long-suffering Treasurer for Ireland, Sir Henry Wallop, whose descendants, titled Viscounts Lymington and Earls of Portsmouth, exploited the surrounding forests of the Duffry and developed Enniscorthy as a plantation town.
The Wars of the Three Kingdoms saw the castle change hands twice during the last stages of the conflict; it was surrendered to Oliver Cromwell in 1649, but in December of the same year was taken by Capt Daniel Farrell and held for towo months unti reoccupied by the Governor of Wexford, Col. Cooke.
Enniscorthy Castle was used as a prison during the 1798 Rebellion, and provided billets for extra constabulary drafted in after the 1867 Fenian Rising.
Isaac Newton Wallop (1825-91), 5th Earl of Portsmouth, had the castle remodelled by EW Pugin in 1869. The Roche family lived in the castle from 1903 to 1951, apart from a brief period during the Civil War, when it was commandeered by the Free State army.
Gerard Vernon Wallop (1898 -1984), 9th Earl of Portsmouth, born and raised in the USA, was a notorious Nazi sympathiser, who famously auctioned his ancestor Sir Isa ac Newton’s voluminous papers in 1936 and sold Enniscorthy Castle in 1951 before emigrating to Kenya. The 10th Earl, Quentin Gerard Carew Wallop (b. 1954) still receives substantial local ground rents.
The Wexford County Historical & Folk Museum, now housed in Enniscorthy Castle (recently reopened after six years of restoration and refurbishment), covers ecclesiastical, military, maritime, agricultural and industrial aspects of the county’s storied past, including extensive collections related with the 1798 Rebellion and the Easter Rising 1916. See www.enniscorthycastle.ie)
The Cathedral church of St. Aidan (RC) is the largest church AW Pugin designed in Ireland. Built in his distinctive Gothic Revival style on land gifted by the 4th Earl of Portsmouth, it was inaugurated in 1850, extensively changed over the years, and restored in 1994. The external stonework, interior stencilling and beautiful stained glass windows are particularly worthy of note. (Photo by Andreas F Borchert)
St Mary’s church (CoI) was completed in 1850. The organ is the dominant feature of the interior layout.
Market Square is dominated by the handsome Market House, long a part of the Portsmouth Estate, used as a school during the C19th and now the home of the Town Council. The bronze statue of Fr John Murphy and the Pikeman Thomas Sinnott, commemorating the 1798 Rebellion, was unveiled on May 31st1908 by the Wexford born Franciscan historian Fr Patrick Kavanagh.
Just off the square on Weafer St. is the superb Via Veneto, run by Paolo Fresilli, President of the Irish Delegation of the Italian Chefs’ Federation, no less.
Abbey Square is named for a Franciscan Friary, founded in 1460 and suppressed in 1540; the last three friars were killed when the monastery was plundered by Sir Henry Wallop in 1582. Franciscans returned to the abbey between 1642 and 1650, and again clandestinely from 1661 till around 1750.
The site was occupied by GH Lett’s Mill Park Brewery from 1864 to 1956. It was the last small independent brewery in Ireland. However, Lett’s has allowed its famous Enniscorthy Ruby Ale to be brewed under license by Coors of Colorado, USA since 1981. It is now marketed as Killian’s Irish Red. The same beer was marketed by Pelforth as George Killian’s Biere Rousse in France.
St Michael’s Hall is currently used as Enniscorthy’s theatre for musical and dramatic performances.
For alternative drama, Enniscorthy also has a Greyhound Stadium.
Enniscorthy has a long tradition of ceramics. Carley’s Bridge Pottery, founded in 1654, is the oldest pottery in Ireland. Nearby, Kiltrea Bridge Pottery on the banks of the River Urrin has a fine reputation, and several other ceramicists and artisans are also located in or near the town.
The Colclough family, who provided two of the most colourful characters in Enniscorthy’s history, lived at Duffry Hall in the foothills of the Blackstairs Mountains, constructed by Patrick Colclough and described as the most magnificent C17th building in County Wexford, of which nothing now remains.
His grandson, Col. Caesar Colclough (1696 – 1766), aka “The Great Caesar”, was described in Patrick Kennedy‘s Legends of Mount Leinster, Evenings in the Duffry and By The Banks of The Boro as a popular magistrate, a landlord on friendly terms with his tenants, a champion hurler and wrestler, an intellectual philosopher, an MP, patron of bards, and friend of clerics of all persuasions. He outlived several of his 13 children (one, Agmondisham, was killed in a duel).
Caesar is said to have taken a team of Duffry Hurlers to Greenwich to play a Cornish team before King George I. The Wexford team wore the Colclough colours of blue with a yellow sash, and their supporters (including the Queen) urged them on with the cry of “Up The Yellow Bellies!“, the nickname for Wexfordmen ever since.
His wastrel grandson “Sir” Vesey Colclough (1745 – 1794), who was born after his mother died, inherited estates all over the region, notably Tintern Abbey on the Hook Peninsula, and at the age of 22 found himself in charge of all the attendant responsibilities of being High Sheriff of and MP for the County of Wexford and Portreeve of Enniscorthy.
Sir John Barrington in his Personal Sketches says:- “Amongst those Parliamentary gentlemen frequently to be found in the coffee-room of the Houses were certain Baronets of very singular character who until some division called them to vote passed the intermediate time in high conviviality. …..Sir Vesey Colclough, member for County Wexford, who understood books and wine better than any of the party, had all his days treated money so extremely ill that it would continue no longer in his service and the dross (as he termed it) having entirely forsaken him, he bequeathed an immense landed property, during his life, to the use of custodiums, elegits, and judgments which never fails to place a gentleman’s acres under the special guardianship of attorneys. Sir Vesey added much to the pleasantry of the party by occasionally forcing on them deep subjects of literature, of which few of his companions could make either head or tail but to avoid the imputation of ignorance they often gave the most ludicrous proofs of it on literary subjects, geography and astronomy on which he eternally bored them.”
The 1798 Rebellion Centre, housed in a former Christian Brothers monastery, is dilapidated but nonetheless interesting. The interactive museum uses rather dated audio-visual technology to explore the events, context and aftermath of the “epic and heroic” rising, which others maintain was a sorry saga of drunken undisciplined rabble and rank sectarianism on all sides, whatever the intentions of its instigators.
Vinegar Hill (a phonetic rendering of Cnoc Fiodh na gCaor– “Hill of the Wood of the Berries”), a pudding-shaped hill overlooking the town, was the largest camp and headquarters of the Wexford insurgents during the 1798 Rebellion; they controlled much of the county for thirty days against vastly superior forces. (Photo by Ponox)
On June 21st of that year, the rebels faced 10,000 British troops. The rebel strength was estimated at 20,000 but they were accompanied by thousands of women and children. They were forced into an ever-shrinking area and increased exposure to the constant shelling, including new experimental delayed fuse explosives, resulted in hundreds of dead and maimed.
At least two mass charges by the rebels brought temporary relief and heavy army casualties but failed to break the advancing lines of military. Many managed to flee south through a gap left in the British lines by the late arrival of General Francis Needham (now known as Needham’s Gap).
The battle was also fought simultaneously in the streets of Enniscorthy, which saw heavy fighting for the second time in one month (having been captured by the rebels after a stubborn battle on Whit Monday, 28th May 1798). The insurgents, led by William Barker, put up fierce resistance, but were eventually forced across the bridge. (Image- www.anarkismo.net)
When it became clear that the bulk of the rebels were retreating, the British cavalry were unleashed, quickly followed by the infantry. A massacre of hundreds of stragglers ensued, mainly women and children, from a combination of the cavalry and infantry attack but also from the field guns, which were switched to grape shot to maximise casualties among the fleeing masses. In addition, the military were guilty of multiple instances of gang rape. In Enniscorthy troops set fire to a makeshift rebel hospital in the town, burning scores of trapped and helpless wounded rebels alive; their bodies were said to be still hissing in the embers the following day.
(The Battle of Vinegar Hill was also the name given to a convict uprising in New South Wales, Australia, in 1804; many of the participants were serving sentences for their part in the 1798 Rebellion in Wexford, and some had undoubtedly taken part in the first Battle of Vinegar Hill).
The Atheneum Hall (1902), currently undergoing restoration, was the venue for a Robert Emmet commemoration event at which Padraig Pearce made a fiery speech on 1st March 1916, weeks before the Easter Rising and his execution for his leading role therein.
The Easter Rising 1916
Enniscorthy was the only provincial town to see any significant action during the 1916 Easter Rising. At the request of James Connolly in Dublin, 600 local Volunteers led by Robert Brennan, Seamus Doyle and J R Etchingham “took over” the town and cut the railway line to prevent Crown reinforcements from reaching the capital from the south. They established headquarters at the Athenaeum and dispatched men to Gorey and Ferns. The RIC barracks was defended by an inspector and five constables, while a sergeant and constable prevented the rebels from assaulting a bank.
The government sent a force of more than 1,000 men to retake Enniscorthy, and the rebels withdrew to positions on Vinegar Hill. Before hostilities could develop the news of the Dublin surrender arrived, but the Volunteers refused to believe it. The British army commander, Col. FA French, a Wexford man himself, offered a safe conduct for the Wexford leaders so that they could go to Dublin and hear of the surrender directly from Padraig Pearse. There were no fatalities.
Salville House, a Georgian manor with Victorian additions, has both B&B and self-catering facilities. The pretty gardens include a lawn tennis court and facilities for croquet, badminton and boules. The Guesthouse is particularly highly praised for its evening meals. Dinner is served at the long table before an open fire and guests may bring their own wine. One guidebook urges visitors to “bring your very best bottles to pay tribute to this food“.
Enniscorthy holds an annual Strawberry Fair and is one of several venues for the Rythme & Roots and Blackstairs Blues Festivals.
Enniscorthy is close to Edermine and Bree on ByRoute 2.