Travel Ireland

Saturday 23 September 2017

Barry Egan in Wexford: Full of Ancient Eastern promise

Short breaks in Ireland

Hook lighthouse, Wexford
Hook lighthouse, Wexford
Loftus Hall, Co. Wexford. Photo: Aidan Quigley/Fáilte Ireland
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Ireland's Ancient East. The sound of the words has a certain Celtic-mystical ring to it. As if you are going somewhere far, far away.

In a way, you are...

You are certainly transported to another place, far away in your mind, and perhaps in your soul, too, when you arrive early on a rainy morning at Duncannon Fort in New Ross, and look out to sea.

Built in the 16th century in anticipation of the Spanish Armada's unwelcome arrival, the fort, spooky in parts (cold dungeons with a pretend skeleton hanging from some irons), has a feel of Game of Thrones to it.

Or even The Count of Monte Cristo - parts of the Napoleonic era movie were filmed here in 2000.

It is a remarkable hidden gem of Ireland.

Walking around it, there was a lot to see (battlements, moats, dungeons, tunnels, old cannons pointing out to sea) and stories to be heard on the entertaining 45-minute tour provided by Hook Rural Tourism (the Duncannon Fort tours have finished for the season so if you didn't get a chance to visit this summer it is a must visit next year).

My daughter, not yet three years of age, was in her element at it all, as indeed were myself and my wife.

To warm up after our tour around the historic fort, we made our way to Neville's in Fethard-on-Sea for lunch. The food, as it turned out, was as good as the welcome...

Seeing our daughter running around, the owner of the restaurant, who lives a few doors up with his wife and kids, told us that they had a kids club on the following night at 6pm (we returned the following night and we got a break of sorts watching our daughter get a balloon made into the shape of a cat and then dance with the other kids in the mini disco).

We had a fantastic lunch of crab and salmon and prawns washed down with some local craft beer.

We needed the sustenance because after lunch we would need our wits about us.

Loftus Hall 2015 dl.jpg
Loftus Hall, Co. Wexford. Photo: Aidan Quigley/Fáilte Ireland

We were going to visit the enjoyably haunted Loftus Hall (above), where we would have our wits scared out of us in this old mansion originally built circa 1170, and which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman.

She fell in love with a strange visitor who turned out to be the devil - before he vanished in a thunderous flash of fire out through the roof while the poor woman was left insane by what she endured.

Allegedly. But, as I said, enormously enjoyable. This sense of enormous enjoyment was repeated that evening at Dunbrody Country House Hotel in Arthurstown where we had a fabulous meal of crab, steak, all the trimmings, wine and dessert, courtesy of Kevin Dundon's devilishly delicious cooking.

Dunbrody House.JPG

The opulent Dunbrody House was to be our home for the next three nights and we enjoyed exploring the beautiful gardens in the sunshine of a lazy afternoon and indeed of an evening, also enjoying exploring the pizzas and fish and chips and ice creams on offer in the hipster new pub, The Local, Kevin has installed in the grounds of the hotel.

The next morning we were up bright and early for a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel before heading off for the day.

Naturally, we went back to Duncannon and its beach for a walk. The air just seems to be more breathable, the sea clearer and the sky more azure around Duncannon and up towards Hook Lighthouse on the tip of the Hook Peninsula.

When you're up the top of the oldest operational lighthouse in the world (my wife and I and child - in my arms - made it up the time-worn 115 steps) you look out across the sea and drink in the history of the place.

You imagine how in the early Christian period of 500-1000 AD, before the lighthouse, the monks maintained a warning beacon here to keep sailors safe from the perils of shipwreck on the rocks off the coast.

Look across the Waterford channel to Crooke and you can imagine, also, Cromwell announcing that Waterford would fall 'by Hook or by Crooke' when Oliver landed his army at either spot during the siege of the town in 1649/50.

The wind howling hard and the sea rough and exciting, boats bobbing about in the foam, guided by Hook Lighthouse, Dublin and big cities and the state of mind they all represent, appeared to be a million miles away.

Having wearily descended the 115 steps, we walked along the coast and it was nothing short of truly wonderful.

(It was late August and we were trussed up in coats and scarves because it was a cold and wet end-of-summer day but it was still wonderful, still more wonderful than a day beneath the blistering sun at the beach in Spain.)

My daughter was mesmerised by all the big waves crashing epically against the rocks and the gale force wind roaring around her little ears.

We try to go to the Hook Peninsula (and places like Glendalough, the Hill of Tara, New Grange, etc) once a year in some attempt to reconnect with something real inside ourselves.

I read a recent article in New York magazine by David Wallace-Wells called The Doomed Earth Catalogue where he writes that "absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century".

I had that thought in my head as we walked for a mile around the majestic coastline on Hook Head and looked back at the lighthouse that has stood here for 800 years (and will stand here hopefully for another 800 years).

We got in the car and drove to The Hollow in Ramsgrange for yet another great lunch of every kind of fish imaginable, followed by a walk along the beach, looking out once again at the sea in Ireland's Ancient East, full of eastern promise...

As someone wiser than me once said: "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."

Getting there

Duncannon Fort: duncannonfort.ie

Hook Head Peninsula: hookpeninsula.com

Dunbrody House Hotel: dunbrodyhouse.com; 051 389600

The Hollow Bar, Ramsgrange, New Ross: thehollow.ie; 051 389 230

Neville's, Fethard on Sea, New Ross: nevilles.ie;  051 397160

For more info, see visitwexford.ie.

Read more:

10 great reasons to visit Wexford

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