In our new staycation series, Pól Ó Conghaile looks forward to savouring everything the sunny southeast has to offer
It’s strawberries and southeastern sun. It’s opera and hurling with heart; a storied lighthouse and sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s rolling farmland, ghost stories on the Hook Peninsula, and wolfing down chips at Kilmore Quay.
Does any county blend nostalgia with the here-and-now quite like Wexford?
This is a country within a county. Generations recall summer holidays here, and continue to flock to its campsites, hotels and underrated beaches today. Curracloe was where Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day landing scenes were filmed.
The light “is filled for me with images and a confused jumble of memories”, Enniscorthy-born Colm Toibín writes in his memoir, A Guest at the Feast. “And then on days, when I am lucky, something becomes utterly clear, as though already shaped by all the time that has passed.”
The sunny southeast sounds like a simple proposition, but Wexford is layered as an onion. That coast, those hills and vein-like rivers secret away some of Ireland’s most intriguing history — from Vikings to Vinegar Hill, JFK’s roots to the refurbished Johnstown Castle.
Wexford’s creative response to Covid-19 continues with a new staycation campaign, due Monday. “This was a massive wake-up call for all of us to work hand-in-hand even more,” says Maura Bell of the Irish National Heritage Park. “We have so much going on... I’m very optimistic!”
1. Lockdown link
Become a birder in lockdown? You, and millions. Take your passion to the next level with a boat trip from Kilmore Quay to the Saltee Islands — 5km off the coast, the islands are a haven for sea birds like gannets and puffins. Skipper Declan Bates is taking groups of six for visits or angling trips (and don’t forget that bag of chips from the Saltee Chipper afterwards). salteeislands.com; salteeferry.com
2. Coastal secrets in Cahore
The Cahore Cliff Walk is a new loop running around 6km from Cahore Point to Old Bawn beach and back along a mix of trail surfaces. Afterwards, call ahead to book a table at The Strand (open from June 29), or grab wood-fired pizzas from its new takeaway, The Hatch. “Because of Covid-19, more people are walking,” says owner Patrick Hanley. “Slowly, since the 5km, things have re-emerged for us.” This is a super stop for Irish produce, too — pizza toppings range from Toons Bridge mozzarella to Wexford’s Macamore Buffalo sausage and Meadowfield Goat’s cheese. thestrandcahore.ie
3. A historical hike
Oulart Hill was a key battle site in the 1798 Rebellion, and Tulach a’ tSolais — a stunning monument that looks like a concrete corridor spliced through a burial mound — sits at the top. Three walks around the area include a simple, 0.5km potter, a 4.8km stroll taking in the medieval Wexford-Dublin coach road, and an 11.5km loop encompassing brilliantly-named village, The Unyoke (so-called, because farmers and travellers once ‘unyoked’ their carts at its inn). oularthill.ie; wexfordtrails.ie
Covid-19 has been met with creativity, too. At the Blue Book’s Dunbrody House, Kevin Dundon’s online cookery courses and Instagram recipe of the day have taken off (many participants have booked a stay), and a ‘Picnic in the Park’ idea that saw locals enjoy al fresco treats like takeaway pizza from The Local pub continues. Rooms available from July 20. dunbrodyhouse.com
5. Did you know...
You can sleep in a ringfort or viking house at the Irish National Heritage Park, with medieval costumes supplied, to boot. On the Hook Peninsula, Loftus Hall is reputed to be Ireland’s most-haunted house, a desolate mansion once visited by a dark stranger with a cloven hoof. Tours and paranormal lockdowns are available... if you dare. irishheritage.ie; loftushall.ie
6. What to eat
Nothing says ‘you are now entering Wexford’ like a hand-painted sign perched by a few dozen punnets of strawberries. More sinful sugars come from Bean & Goose, whose chocolate bars may not cheap but reflect an artisan approach and TLC stirred into every bar (“cocoa from around the world, creations from Ireland,” is Karen and Natalie Keane’s tag). For a meal blending the best of Wexford produce, from Kilmore Quay scallops to Clever Man beer-braised beef short rib, the lovely Aldridge Lodge in Duncannon reopens from July 2. beanandgoose.ie; aldridgelodge.com
7. What to drink
It started with a child’s lemonade stall at the end of a driveway. Today, Naturally Cordial uses fruits “from neighbours and friends” to make cordials like blackcurrant, or strawberry, cucumber and lime. A stronger tipple? Blackwater Distillery is based in Waterford, but it would be rude to skip its Wexford Strawberry Gin... with berries from Kearns’ Fruit farm. And beeristas? Hit the ‘Snooze Button’, a 5pc breakfast stout from YellowBelly Beer. naturallycordial.ie; blackwaterdistillery.ie; cleverman.ie; yellowbellybeer.ie
Three amazing stays
8. €€€ Monart is Wexford’s world-class wellness brand, and fans will be delighted to hear it reopens for post-pandemic pampering from August 3. Prices are high, but luxury doesn’t discount, as they say... expect new treatments, too. monart.ie
9. €€ Wells House & Garden now has self-catering cottages in its 17th- century courtyard, adding to its farm, historic house, adventure playground and fairy trail near Kilmuckridge. wellshouse.ie
10. € Morriscastle Strand Holiday Park has touring rates from €25 for a family of four (or a couple), while new, sea-view pods (above) start from €110 per night. morriscastlestrand.com
“Saltee chipper in Kilmore Quay after a day on the beach. The Ring of Hook. JFK Arboretum. Hungry Bear in Gorey for a gorgeous breakfast or cinnamon bun!” — Sarah McFadden (@SarahCMcFadden)
Next Saturday, we’re off to Donegal. Let us know what you love about it at #IrelandUnlocks, tweeting @Indo_Travel_ or @indoweekend, or email firstname.lastname@example.org!
NB: See visitwexford.ie, tastewexford.ie and discoverireland.ie for more. Opening dates, prices and offerings are all subject to public health guidelines and change.
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