Enjoy millions of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more, with a free trial

Only $11.99/month after trial. Cancel anytime.

A History of County Wexford: A comprehensive study of Wexford’s history, culture and people
A History of County Wexford: A comprehensive study of Wexford’s history, culture and people
A History of County Wexford: A comprehensive study of Wexford’s history, culture and people
Ebook242 pages3 hours

A History of County Wexford: A comprehensive study of Wexford’s history, culture and people

Rating: 0 out of 5 stars


Read preview

About this ebook

Brimming with vitality and information, Nicholas Furlong’s comprehensive A History of County Wexford is an indispensable guide to Wexford’s history, culture and people. Furlong starts with Wexford’s first settlement and tells the story of Wexford up to the present day, looking at its Gaelic origins, its turbulence during Cromwellian times and its pivotal role in 1798.

County Wexford lies in the south eastern corner of Ireland. It is bounded to the west by the River Barrow and the Blackstairs Mountains, to the north by the Wicklow Mountains and by the sea on the other two sides. The River Slaney flows diagonally through the centre, dividing the county north and south.

First settled seven thousand years ago, the county has hosted a variety of cultures from Celts to Vikings, Flemish and Normans to English. Historically, it maintained a social, confessional and ethnic mix of populations that was more varied than most other parts of the island. Because of its key strategic position, it has always been militarily important and was the focus of the great rebellion of 1798, the most bloody conflict in modern Irish history.

Nicholas Furlong traces the history of the county from its earliest settlements through its Gaelic, Christian, Norse and Norman phases of life to the turbulence of the Elizabethan and Cromwellian regimes. He brings the reader through the great upheaval of 1798 and the institutional revival of Catholicism in the nineteenth century, which was particularly focused on County Wexford. He details the continued prosperity of the county throughout modern times. Driven by the sporting and cultural revival of the 1950s – the birth of the Wexford Opera Festival and the legendary hurling team of that era – Wexford has today built itself into the nation’s holiday playground and a vital European transport hub.

A History of County Wexford: Table of Contents
  1. County Wexford’s First Humans
  2. The Celts and the Age of Iron
  3. The Dawn of Christianity
  4. The Kingdom of Uí Chennselaig
  5. Uí Chennselaig Expands, Norsemen Land
  6. The Vikings in Wexford
  7. Years of Power
  8. Dermot, King of Leinster
  9. The Market for Swords
  10. The New Foreigners
  11. Infestation and Restoration
  12. Art Mór MacMurrough Kavanagh
  13. The World Changes
  14. Havoc and War
  15. From Cromwell to William
  16. Two Kings, Two Bishops
  17. Revolution
  18. A Final Solution
  19. Less Turbulent Years
  20. The Technology Age
  21. War and Peace
  22. Consolidation
  23. Epilogue
    Our Homeland
PublisherGill Books
Release dateOct 23, 2003
A History of County Wexford: A comprehensive study of Wexford’s history, culture and people
Read preview

Nicholas Furlong

Nicholas Furlong is a writer and historian. He is one of the most distinguished local historians in County Wexford and was one of the principal organisers of Comóradh ’98, the series of commemorative events for the bicentenary of the 1798 rising.

Related to A History of County Wexford

Related ebooks

Related articles

Related categories

Reviews for A History of County Wexford

Rating: 0 out of 5 stars
0 ratings

0 ratings0 reviews

What did you think?

Tap to rate

Review must be at least 10 words

    Book preview

    A History of County Wexford - Nicholas Furlong

    The FIRST EVIDENCE of human beings in Ireland comes from Mount Sandel in Co. Derry and Lough Boora in Co. Offaly. By comparison with New Stone Age people in Africa, Europe and elsewhere, their arrival was recent. The earliest these hunters and fishers were found in Ireland was around 7000 BC. Their tools were made from flints, bones and timber.

    The earliest human occupants of Wexford are found to have lived, hunted and fished along the east coast. The flint tools discovered on Wexford’s coast, from Carnsore Point to Kilmichael Point, are dated from approximately 5000 BC. This 2,000 year gap from the time of the first arrivals in Ireland is a huge one in human terms. It may mean that an exploratory group moved south or came by boat, probably from Britain, bringing their own implements. Many theories have been advanced about their physique and the food value or balance of their diet. Of one fact we may be certain: unless climatic disaster or disease befell them or inter-group warfare wiped them out, they did not die from hunger. Their diet included grouse, dove, salmon, wild pig, sea bass, eel, duck, pigeon and hazelnuts.

    Around 4,000 years ago the story of Ireland and Co. Wexford started to change. A race of people who tilled the soil and raised crops, farmers, gradually arrived. Among them were people skilled in architecture and engineering as well as astronomical observation. Their arrival in Western Europe and its outlying islands has been marked by the most impressive variety and quality of stone buildings and monuments.

    The great megalithic monuments of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in Co. Meath as well as the major passage graves and dolmen cemeteries like those in Co. Sligo date from this time. Portal tombs in rich variety tell us of their veneration for the dead. The dolmen erectors at Bree and Collops Well, Newbawn in Co. Wexford belong to the same passage grave builders. Timber from the rich forest growth began to be exploited as a raw material for building. Pollen analysis has shown that about 4400 BC the area around Forth Mountain was covered by oak, elm, hazel and, to a lesser extent, pine, alder and birch. Evidence of grasses and weeds like nettles, chickweed and plantain lay nearer the top soil showing that the previously wooded area had been cleared.

    These first farmers in Co. Wexford used sophisticated stone tools. While no immediate assault was made on the forests, a gradual thinning took place as the demand for food from a growing population increased. From the finds of animal bones we can tell that the farmers’ stock consisted of cattle, sheep and possibly goats. The native pig was domesticated by this time and while horses had not yet been introduced, dogs would have been part of the household. Wheat and barley were grown in small patches which had been worked by stone mattocks or adzes.

    A variety of stone implements have been found in Co. Wexford. Polished stone axeheads have been found at Pallis, Mylerspark, Newbay, Bunclody, Enniscorthy, Forth Mountain, Carrigmannon and at Garrycullen, Ballycullane. Recent experiments have shown that these axes were effective in tree felling, taking little more time than their modern steel counterparts.

    Enniscorthy Museum contains a variety of implements dating from the period, including stone axeheads, hammers and a stone javelin head. Two such finds in the museum, an adze and an axehead, were found in a rabbit burrow at Doonooney, near Adamstown. Because of their peculiar shape they are more closely related to Scandinavian types, implying that trading links existed between the two areas. The first farmers in Co. Wexford knew the difference between the easily worked soils that were suitable for cultivation and animal management, and the more difficult soils which they left alone.

    Copper working began in Ireland around 2000 BC. The use of copper and then bronze, a mixture of tin and copper, marked a major development in technology. It resulted in the production of a wide range of implements; domestic, military and agricultural. This was, in effect, an industrial revolution which became known as the Bronze Age, as a result of which tillage and forest clearing increased. Among the weapons found were battle axes, a spearhead and a bronze leaf-shaped sword. This sword was found over two-and-a-half thousand years later on an insurgent at the battle of New Ross in 1798, and may be seen today in the Royal Museum, Ontario, Canada.

    This long period of bronze use, from 2000 to 500 BC, is camouflaged. These Bronze Age people left no trace of their language as they had no means of written communication that we know of. Instead they left a rich legacy of monuments such as standing stones, stone alignments and burials, as well as many gold objects. Standing stones were once numerous in Co. Wexford, particularly in the north of the county. Fine examples can still be seen at Balloughton, Clongeen, Solsborough and Ballyboher while stone alignments are to be found at Barmoney, Robbinstown and Whitechurch.

    Up to fifty Bronze Age burials have been found in Co. Wexford. Several types of burial were employed and early in the period the burial of the complete body, usually in a crouched position, was popular. Examples of this type have been found at Annagh, Ballycanew, Ballyduff, Killincooley and Knocknasceagh, Enniscorthy. Many burials were of cremated remains contained in a pottery vessel. In 1963 a cemetery of at least six Bronze Age graves was found at Scarawalsh. Earlier, a similar type of cemetery had been found at Loggan, in north-west Wexford. In 1999 archaeologist Frank Ryan and his team made unexpected discoveries at Ferns where Bronze Age burials, dated at 1200 BC, were uncovered. One contained the remains of four adults and three juveniles. In all, four burial sites were discovered. In addition to copper and iron artefacts over 100 glass beads were found. Three amber beads were discovered along with fragmentary bronze, a stone bead and a fragment of coarse-ware pottery unique to the Early Bronze Age. This evidence of human activity at the political and ecclesiastical power centre of Ferns indicates a lengthy continuous occupation.

    There have been several finds of gold objects in Co. Wexford. Two gold sundisks from the county are among the earliest gold objects to be found in Ireland, and suggest a connection with sun worship. Four exceptionally large gold disks were found near Enniscorthy in the eighteenth century. Only two survive, one of which can be seen in the National Museum. A beautiful torc, or neck ring, made of a twisted bar of gold was found at Tobberduff, near Ballynastragh, Gorey.

    The most recent discovery of a hoard of gold ornaments at Ballinesker, Curracloe, was particularly significant. The National Museum investigation established that the hoard consisted of two gold dress fasteners, one gold bracelet, two gold boxes plus a fragment of a third box, together with two decorated discs which had been folded over. The hoard is dated to the Late Bronze Age, around 700–800 BC. The Ballinesker Hoard produced a unique assemblage. It is the first recorded association of fine sheet gold objects and heavier cast or hammered objects from the south east.

    The remains of these Bronze Age people presents us with evidence of persistent royal continuity. In north-west Wexford, in the environs of the Wicklow Mountains, there is evidence of major Bronze Age activity on the easily-worked soils. At Loggan Lower, ‘the parish of Crosspatrick’, there was a major Bronze Age burial site. A pillar stone and a concentration of Bronze Age burials were discovered in and outside that site at the turn of the twentieth century. This site of extensive Bronze Age burial at Loggan Lower with its motte and mound was later the site of the inauguration of the kings of Uí Chennselaig, sometime kings of Leinster. The precious Bronze Age complex was destroyed about a century ago for the quarrying of gravel.

    The long tenancy of this talented population must have entered a period of decline. It is likely that reconnoitring groups of the Celtic peoples found amiable receptions when they first landed to survey an island ‘at the end of the world’. These Celtic adventurers who arrived in Ireland’s south-eastern region from 500 BC onwards were a branch of the vast central European Celtic culture then being shifted slowly but firmly to the extremities of Western Europe.


    Bennett, Isabel, Excavations 1999: Summary Accounts of Archaeological Excavation in Ireland, 1999.

    Cahill, Mary, ‘Ballineskar Hoard’ in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 15, No. 3, Autumn 2001.

    Culleton, Edward, Early Man in County Wexford, 5000 BC to 300 BC, Dublin 1984.

    Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth, Leac Mic Eochadha Co. Wexford, O.P.W. 1995.

    Gardiner M.J. and T. Radford, Soil Associations of Ireland and their Land Use Potential, Dublin 1980.

    Ryan, Frank, Findings from Excavation of an Iron Age Ditch at Ferns, Co. Wexford, Clonmel 2000.

    Stout, Geraldine, ‘Wexford in Pre-History, 5000 BC to 300 AD’ in Wexford, History and Society, eds Kevin Whelan and William Nolan, Dublin 1987.

    Stout, Geraldine, ‘Notes on the Ballineskar, Curracloe Hoard, Wexford’, Wexford Historical Society Quarterly, Winter 1990.

    The USE OF IRON in implements and weaponry reached Ireland with the Celts. The gradual movement or displacement of these latest settlers from Central Europe can be traced as far back as seven hundred years before the Roman invasion of Britain.

    The Greeks knew them as the ‘Keltoi’, the Romans as the ‘Celtae’. They reached the extremities of the known world in several groupings and over several decades. Their impact remains in Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Brittany and Ireland. To them they had reached the last horizon and no travel further west was possible.

    They were divided into several clan or dynastic groups which, although belonging to the same culture, were independent and frequently antagonistic towards one another. Their common language was one of the parent languages of the Indo-European group of languages. They had the same outlook on life and had the same laws, developed over centuries.

    Their system of government, social organisation, hereditary successions, property rights, marriage laws, land tenure and civil rights were clear, recognisable and, where Gaelic writ ran, were in force as late as the seventeenth century AD. Their hereditary religious caste or, as Caesar described them, ‘druids’, retained their power, prestige and frequently their sacred places of worship long after the arrival of Christianity which absorbed them.

    Each Celtic or Gaelic group which eventually settled in Ireland had its own origin legend, its heroes, its gods and, in time, its core ruling area. The origin legend of the Mac Murrough, the most significant ruling family in the area called Uí Chennselaig, later Co. Wexford, began in Saint Mullins, just north of New Ross in what is now Co. Carlow. The site itself is famous in legend, standing exactly at the northern tidal point of that great negotiable water inlet from the Atlantic, Waterford Harbour. The River Barrow flows south through that place of beauty, a religious and political strong point and the burial place of kings.

    The Gaelic peoples, who apparently assimilated the existing population, superimposed their own language and society. That society was so regulated by the ancient Brehon law that it continued even when it was in later conflict with the Christian way of life.

    The diet of the Celts bears comparison with our own today. Beef, pork, mutton, baked salted fish and bread were eaten. Wine was imported from the Mediterranean lands. The ordinary people drank beer brewed from barley. In the production of ale from barley, Co. Wexford has had a lasting tradition for growing the best quality barley. Barley was being grown in Kilmuckridge as early as 1700 BC, as indicated by the grains found on a pottery vessel of that date.

    The Iron Age Celts came to Ireland with long experience of battle tactics. Several of our defensive forts and strong points date from the Iron Age. In Co. Wexford their identification of strategic sites was so accurate that many of them remained of strategic importance through later Norman and Napoleonic times. They consolidated defensive fortresses and observation posts on either side of the Hook peninsula overlooking Waterford Harbour, and also at Bannow Bay. These were at Duncannon and Dun Donnell (modern Baginbun). There were promontory forts at Pollshone, Nook and Templetown. Hill forts in the Wexford region included those at Bree and Courthoyle, parish of Newbawn. Outside the present Co. Wexford boundary, but within the kingdom of Uí Chennselaig, was the most impressive hill fort complex of Baltinglass.

    Gaelic society was one in which each major profession was the property of one particular family by hereditary right, whether ruler, lawyer, teacher, physician or poet. Each family had the sum total of all the previous generations’ wisdom and study. The chief hereditary Uí Chennselaig lawyer, Ó Dóráin, for example, could not be removed or appointed at the king’s pleasure. From a very early period their persons and property were declared inviolate by law. The ollamh, or professor of literature and philosophy, was entitled to rank next in precedence to the monarch himself.

    The king in each independent ruling area, big or small, was elected from amongst the royal family’s male members by a senate of electors. The ruler had his sphere of activity no less than the lawyer or veterinary surgeon. The king had the ultimate responsibility of being ruler, judge and military commander.

    All sorts of unions—temporary, permanent and duplicated—were catered for in the Brehon marriage laws. Repudiations were bilateral and common. In a nation where poems and poetry were regarded with awe, a wife had sufficient grounds for separation where her husband circulated a false story ‘or satire about her until she was laughed at’.

    The Gaelic peoples did not use writing before the arrival of the Christian missionaries. Ogham writing as a preliminary system appeared in the fourth century AD but was never used as a literary tool. Its lineal strokes were adapted for use on stone monuments or boundary markers.

    Geographically, Co. Wexford was first recorded around AD 150. The gatherer of the data was Ptolemy of Alexandria in Egypt. He did not make a map of Ireland as we know it today, but with the information commissioned from sailors and traders he was able to construct the makings of a map. It is particularly good on the east coast of Ireland and of special value to Co. Wexford’s position and society of the time. Of special fear and dread was Carnsore Point, the south-easternmost corner of Ireland, where the Irish Sea and its currents meets the Atlantic. It was named by sea-farers of the time as Hieron Akron, the Greek for ‘sacred promontory’ or ‘holy cape’. Its religious importance was later confirmed by an early Christian missionary named Vauk, a saint venerated in Wexford, Brittany and Cornwall to this day.

    According to Ptolemy, the Celtic group dominant in Co. Wexford were the Brigantes. They themselves were a branch of another major group, the Laigin, whose name continues to denote Leinster. This branch known in Irish as the Uí Bairrche, along with another offshoot of the Laigin known as the Uí Chennselaig, were to have an overwhelming role in Co. Wexford’s development. Ptolemy also noted the extensive entry into Ireland at the River Barrow’s mouth and Waterford harbour.

    The Celts had their own pantheon of gods, the most famous of whom was Lugh. His name is given to the month of August: Lughnasa. Rituals honouring the old Celtic deities continued at Bealtaine (1 May), Lughnasa (1 August) and Samhain (1 November) into modern times. In Wexford town Midsummer’s Eve was celebrated with dancing around a huge bonfire in the sloping field above Cromwell’s Fort. The festival of Lughnasa was celebrated in Carrigbyrne on the second Sunday of July. It was known as Fraughan Sunday and was also celebrated on Ballyleigh Hill and Caher Rua’s Den on the slopes of the Blackstairs Mountains.


    Culleton, Edward, Early Man in County Wexford, 5000 BC to 300 BC, Dublin 1984.

    Culleton, Edward, Celtic and Early Christian Wexford, Dublin 1999.

    MacGearailt, Gearóid, Celts and Norman, Dublin 1969.

    O’Brien, Maire and Conor Cruise, A Concise History of Ireland, London 1972.

    Ó Corráin, Donncha, ed., Irish Antiquity, Cork 1981.

    Powell, T.G.E., The Celts, London 1960.

    IN The AREA we now call Co. Wexford, a king emerged from the mists of pre-history as an established, hereditary ruling monarch. He was Crimthann Mac Enna Cennselaig, King of Uí Chennselaig. His obituary notice is written for AD 483.

    Christianity arrived in Co. Wexford before Saint Patrick, and came from nearby Roman Britain. The determined followers of Christ made their presence felt and by AD 400 there were communities of Christians here. By AD 431 the Christian communities in Ireland had

    Enjoying the preview?
    Page 1 of 1