For two summers in a row, I found myself in County Wexford, Ireland conducting research on immigrants who migrated from Wexford to Savannah during the famine years. When I wasn’t busy pouring over shipping records and old letters in archives, I had time to explore the area and witness its rich history firsthand. My first stop was the Hook Lighthouse and Peninsula, one of the last glimpses of Ireland many Wexford migrants might have seen before heading to America. After a picnic overlooking the Celtic Sea, I braved the long climb to the top of the lighthouse. The effort was well worth it, even if my legs disagreed—from the top of the lighthouse, I was able to see the beautiful green cliffs that characterize Ireland’s coast, sparkling blue water, and two of my friends hiking down inside of the coast’s rocky crevices even though our professors had specifically told us not to.
But it’s hard to suppress your sense of adventure while in Wexford, especially when there are so many natural wonders to explore. One of my favorite places I visited, somewhere whose grounds I could easily wander for hours, was the Johnstown Castle gardens. Nestled behind a 19th century castle, an architectural spectacle in its own right, are endless garden paths straight out of a fairy tale. While no king or queen inhabit the castle, its grounds are home to equally regal creatures—peacocks. My classmates and I admittedly spent a good portion of our time at the castle marveling at the peacocks and even took photos with them.
In addition to its beauty, Wexford is also overflowing with history. It was the site of the 1798 Rebellion, a war I learned all about at the National 1798 Rebellion Centre in Enniscorthy. I’ve visited this museum twice, and I’d easily go back a third time, for its unique set-up provides an entertaining learning experience. It mixes traditional exhibits with a state-of-the-art 4D film that recreates scenes from the rebellion, putting visitors in the middle of the battle on Vinegar Hill.
The 1798 Rebellion Battlefield of Vinegar Hill overlooking Enniscorthy town in county Wexford.
Learning, of course, was the primary goal of my trips to County Wexford, and neither of them were complete without stops at the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience. Because our research focused on immigration, visiting the Dunbrody was particularly useful, as it allowed us to step onboard the kind of ship that would have likely transported Wexfordians to Savannah so long ago. The replica famine ship feels like the real thing: its cramped interior is filled with small bunk beds, tables bearing little nourishment, and a few fake rats that gave my classmates and me a good scare. Reenactors shared personal tales of hardship and survival on the Dunbrody, whisking us right back to the 1850s.
The Emigrant Flame at the Dunbrody Famine Ship, New Ross, Wexford.
The Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience played a huge role in both my trips to Ireland. Not only did we explore the ship, but we also presented our research there. Our colleagues there were always extremely welcoming and receptive of us, which highlights one of my favorite things about Wexford: while I enjoyed both its charm and unique history, I love its people most of all. From the guides at the Rebellion Centre to the groundskeepers at Johnstown Castle, everyone I encountered in Wexford was kind and hospitable, the kind of people who treat strangers like family. Visiting Wexford for the first time felt like an adventure, but going back the second time felt like returning home.
For all you need to know about planning a holiday in Wexford see www.visitwexford.ie
Johnstown Castle, Gardens and Irish Agriculture Museum, Wexford.