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New book by Nicholas Rossiter takes a fresh look at town history

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Nicholas Rossiter

Nicholas Rossiter

Nicholas Rossiter

Nicholas Rossiter has returned to print with a new book on a narrative history of Wexford town from earliest known times up to the 1970s.

In researching A New History of Wexford, the author has gone back where possible to the best available sources as well to the latest research.

He has questioned generally accepted facts about the heritage of Wexford and where necessary has looked to revise the story.

This is the fourteenth book on Wexford that Nicky has produced since working with Willie Roche, Tomas Hayes and Kevin Hurley on the ground-breaking Walk Wexford Ways in 1988, which introduced many inhabitants and visitors to the town's history.

In recent years he has produced numerous titles through The History Press and contributed to the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society as well writing and presenting radio programmes on our history.

This year his publishers asked about a Short History of County Wexford but his research was already aming for this New History of Wexford Town that is far from short.

His view is that history is not 'set in stone' but is a living and dynamic subject that often raises more questions than it answers if we look at it seriously.

He notes how over the years our school history taught us that Wexford was 'the cockpit of Irish history' as if every event had a connection to us.

In fact Wexford was part of a number of such events but by its very location it was divorced from many more. Another notable discovery on looking at that history is that in the majority of historic events we were on the losing side - 1169, 1649, 1798 etc.

How many people even heard of the 1913 Lockout in school history let alone the Wexford Lockout of 1911, he asks. But even with that we need to look closer. We often think that we were unique but as Nicky recounts 1911 was a year of strikes worldwide from dockers to school children. Similarly the Lockout colours our view of places like Pierce's although it was just six months out of almost a century and a half of its existence.

In the new book he unearths old prosecution cases and writes: 'The court cases recorded in the rolls give us a very interesting look at life for the ordinary person living in medieval Wexford. John Saymour charged that Laurence Fermyn took his apprentice, Thomas son of William Taillour out of the plaintiff's family and led him to Ross where he imprisoned him so that Saymour 'lost the use of his services from 'Monday next Whitsunday in the 41st year (June 7th 1367) until Monday next before the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul (25th January 1368)'. He assessed the damages at four pennies. He won his case and Fermyn was 'fined 40 pence to the King'.'

As he notes in the introduction he hasn't altered the old and archaic spelling but suggests that readers speak the words aloud to get a sense of how many of those names still resound in Wexford.

In the 1800s, 'Isaac Leary opened his Printing and Book Binding Establishment on the Main Street 'nearly opposite Mr Hughes's Wine Merchants'. He intended opening a circulating library with the Waverly and Standard novels and those of 'other distinguished authors'.'

Such gems have been 'part and parcel' of his many books as he always considers that social history is far superior and in many ways more important than the battles, kings and politicians of our school histories.

Guess when these snippets were news stories but are now history -'You could dance to The Imps at White's Barn for just 10/= including chicken and chips supper; George's Street School closed after 113 years; Wexford Corporation built 100 houses in the first six months of the year, at Liam Mellow's Park; Regna Cash Registers employing 20 people at Commercial Quay are to open a new factory manufacturing 'book keeping machines' and 'fire/fall/thief proof safes'

At 416 pages with no illustrations, the book retails at €25.

A New History of Wexford is on sale exclusively at The Book Centre Wexford and is in a limited edition of 100 copies with no chance of any reprint.

Wexford People