A small corner of Wexford was transported back to the medieval ages for the Strawberry Raid, a festival which attracted visitors from all Europe and as far away as America. The inaugural event, which was held on the grounds of Sigginstown Castle, was hosted by owners of the castle Gordon and Liz Jones who also happen to be members of The Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval living-history society which has been hosting events around Ireland for many years.
The SCA has a "very keen interest” in trying to discover how things were done in the middle ages, and its members seek to recreate them at family-friendly events. Having long had a vision of hosting an event in Sigginstown Castle, SCA member Agnes Boncour worked alongside Gordon and Liz to bring the Strawberry Raid to Wexford. Her fellow SCA member Órlaith Chaomhánach explained how this unique five day festival came into being.
“Agnes is a particularly keen heavy fighter - that’s someone who is interested in armoured combat and armouring who researches medieval combat styles and works to recreate them – and she wanted to have an event that could host workshops for armoured combat enthusiasts from all over our kingdom and felt that a camping medieval festival event at Sigginstown Castle was an ideal opportunity to showcase it,” said Órlaith. “To make sure us non-fighters had fun too they organised an excellent team to provide entertainment, archery, bardic circles, art and sciences classes, fencing classes, outdoor cooking and so on.”
Paul O’Shea, who is also part of the SCA, attended the festival and said the presence of Duke Sean, a highly successful heavy fighter from the US, made it that more enjoyable.
“He’s one of the best in the world in our armoured combat sport. The classes he ran were excellent. There was also the portable sauna, which lifted the event to a new level for relaxing and socialising in the evening. The castle itself is amazing and it was a unique experience to spend time there,” said Paul.
Striving to recreate every aspect of life in the pre-17th century era, the Strawberry Raid featured classes on foraging, bookbinding and learning songs, while fish from Kilmore Quay and an “avalanche of strawberries” all those present were fully sustained throughout. Also helping with the sustenance was Órlaith who said she was content to spend much of the festival over a boiling pot.
“I spent my time mostly cooking, often in the rain, and singing my heart out in the tower, an experience I highly recommend after a pandemic. I think it says a lot that I could be cold and drenched watching the steam roll off my dress in front of a fire as I attempt to cook in the pouring rain and still be cheerful about it all.”
And she says this upbeat, positive attitude is what makes SCA events so special.
“The festival was excellent, I came away every bit as enthusiastic and inspired as I was after first discovering the SCA at an event in Co Offaly many years ago. The people in the SCA are some of the most joyfully enthusiastic people I have ever met; encouraging, always helpful and prepared to make sure everyone has a good time, be they an absolute beginner or seasoned veteran.
"It astonished me how many people not in the SCA came along for the festival with some item they had made or sewn, including gorgeous baskets and jewellery, and excellently well made whole sets of garb. I think there's an increasing interest in Ireland in reacquiring old skills, in valuing what came before, in learning from our environment and our history and that can only be a good thing, especially by a group like ours that endeavours to make all of medieval life, history, craft, and martial skills available to everyone, valuing the insights the diversity of our modern world brings to the table. The SCA is growing and we're thrilled to welcome anyone who wants to join us.”
Both Órlaith and Paul are hopeful the Strawberry Raid will become an annual event and attract more and more people to the area each year. “I certainly hope that this will become an annual event,” said Paul. “To have a camping event on the island of Ireland that attracts people from many other countries would be an excellent result.”
“Sigginstown castle is gorgeous, Liz and Gordon are wonderful hosts,” added Órlaith. “Ireland's SCA community has been missing a camping event like this, and I think we're all fully enthusiastic about the idea of this being an annual and longer event.”