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January 23, 2013

7

The Sunny South-East – Co. Wexford

by Julianne Mooney

Wexford Lighthouse-Hook Head

Having spent much of my childhood summers in a caravan near Gorey, Co. Wexford, my memories are of long stretches of sandy beaches, bustling towns and BBQ’s. While I know the coastline from Wicklow down as far as Rosslare pretty well, when I was writing the Time Out Guide I had to explore the southern part of the county. During my trip I fell in love with the weather crafted Hook Peninsula and the area around it.

To this day I tell people about the fish and chips we ate sitting on the wall looking across the small harbour in Kilmore Quay, about our blustery walk around Hook Lighthouse and the quaint village of Arthurstown (read about it here). The trip had been somewhat of a whistle-stop tour, so last week, in preparation for tomorrow’s travel slot on Ireland AM, I jumped in the car and went in search of what I’d missed on my last visit and also to revisit the lovely Arthurstown.

Despite the rain, hail, floods and predicted snow, I was once again delighted to visit Wexford and discover some more hidden treasures.

I was chatting about Wexford today on Ireland AM and below are some tips on things to do and see WATCH THE SLOT HERE

It was a last minute trip down to the sunny south-east last week, on a not so sunny day. Flood and snow warnings were issued, but I had to make it down so a few bribes later, I managed to persuade my lovely man to be my driver through the rain. While I’ve written in detail on the Hook Peninsula, this trip brought us back to the lovely Arthurstown.

Dunbrody by Moonlight

After a two and half hour drive the warm fire, relaxing music and smell of food at Dunbrody Country House made it all worthwhile. We were coerced into having a starter of Smokies, which I’d never tasted before. They turned up, a small pot of steaming, creamy deliciousness, completely moorish and comforting. This was followed by a perfectly cooked, locally caught fillet of Hake and a stack of chunky chips. Our bellies were full and all I wanted to do was sit next to the fire for the rest of the day.

Alas, my schedule meant I needed to get back on the road again, although not before I had a peek at some of Dunbrody’s charming bedrooms. I could see myself curled up happily on one of the beds, book in hand for the rest of the day looking and then pottering down for dinner in the swish, but relaxed dining room. Finally, a snoop around the cookery school, sparkling and modern, a popular spot for foodies to come and learn from the well-known chef Kevin Dundon. Dunbrody has a wonderful mix of relaxed luxury and country. An old country house with a twist of modern. I will be back, but next time for longer.

The road twists away from the coastline, inland to New Ross, a busy town that sits on the River Barrow. Our port of call was the Dunbrody Famine Ship, a replica of the original 1880’s emigrant ship that ferried thousands of Irish families across the Atlantic Ocean to US and Canada.

Dunbrody Famine Ship 2

Our guide was a bubbly, knowledgable guy, Jason, who presented us with copies of an original boarding pass and gave us a brief introduction to the centre. We are left to roam through an exhibition that recounts the history of life in Ireland in the 1880’s and the resulting poverty of the horrific potato famine. We learn how life was back then, listen to stories of families struggling to survive in Ireland and who were then forced to board a ship, with the hopes of finding a better life in America. The exhibition, through boards and audio-visual, gives a detailed and interesting background before you board the ship.

Our guide joined us again and ceremoniously led us onto the Dunbrody Famine Ship. Onboard Jason recounts the history of the original boat, tells us stories about the captain and encourages us to pretend we are one of those poor souls who boarded the ship blissfully unaware of what awaited them below deck. I don’t want to ruin it all for you, but costumed performers and a realistic reproduction of the ship gives you a unique, intriguing and harrowing view of what people experienced on board emigrant ships in the 1880’s.

I have to admit, the Famine Ship is now in my top three things to do in Wexford. It was interesting, fun and great value for families with a family ticket at €25.

It was dark when we arrived at Monart Spa and too late to visit the spa, so after checking into our room – bright and modern replete with a soft, cosy bed and deep bath – we made our way to the bar, which has a reasonably priced dinner menu. Guests can dine in the restaurant, but if you prefer something lighter and more casual, the bar is perfect.

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Breakfast is a grand and lazy affair at Monart – a table stacked with homemade breads, granola, pastries, fresh yoghurts, fruit and juice tempts you before you delve into your dish of choice from the hot menu. This a meal to savour, relax and look out over the lake and gardens and marvel at how easily you fall into the slow rhythm. There is one thing I should mention, the general attire of guests at breakfast is a dressing gown and slippers. It may sound strange, but actually it’s sublime. No need to make yourself up and sure why would you? Your next port of call is the spa.

‘Ah, Monart, how I love thee’ was the response from a friend when I texted to tell her where I was. It is all about the spa in Monart. We spent an hour and half roaming from sauna to steam room, pool to salt grotto and while we didn’t have time to unwind in the relaxing room, it is here I would gleefully spend a full afternoon, sipping on fresh tea and soaking up the silence. Bliss. This is a place to rejuvenate, where you can treat yourself to some well-deserved R&R. Just be sure to arrive as early as you can so you can make the most of the spa, fit in a walk around the gardens before settling down for the night.

It is now the whales and dolphins surf our winter waves off the south-east coast. They can be watched from the safety of a boat, one such one is – Off the Hook Whale Watching with skipper Martin Colfer. I was gutted to miss the boat trip, but I hope to make it back before they leave at the end of February.

Wexford Town

Wexford town comes into its own during the popular Wexford Festival Opera in October, when thousands of music lovers descend upon the town to attend performances by both international and national performers. However, if this isn’t your thing, the town has a certain old charm about it and its main street is lined with boutiques, independent cafes, restaurants and bars.

Some great spots:

Green Acres – cooks and wine lovers will want to factor in time to browse the shop stocked with cooking implements, a cheese counter, artisan food products and shelves of wine. The restaurant serves delicious home-cooked dishes and fine wines by the glass.

The Yard – fab food and a lovely atmosphere for both lunch and dinner.

Cistin Eile – I can’t claim to have eaten here, but we poked our heads in and it looked lovely! Reports have been nothing but good and I plan to check it out next time I’m down!

Irish National Heritage Park

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With over 35 acres, visitors follow a heritage trail that brings you on a tour of over 9000 years of history. Reconstructed crannogs, farmer homesteads and monastery villages are just a taster of what you’ll see. You can opt for a guided, audio or self-guided tour of the park, but I’d highly recommend taking the guided tour. Our guide, Damien, sported medieval clothing and made the tour interactive, fun and interesting.

The great thing about the park is you can come and spend as long as you like here. Do the guided tour, have a snack in the cafe, then head out on your own and children can have a go at rock painting, wattling, archery and lots more! You could easily spend an afternoon here and rumour has it, during the summer, families take picnics and sit amongst the trees or in the open fields eating and enjoying the surrounds! It’s well worth a visit and a fun way to learn about Irish history. I do wonder how I missed this before!

Tickets: €7.50 adult/€24 (children under age of 4 are free)

Johnstown Castle and Gardens

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Stroll the magnificent gardens surrounding the 19th century castle, have a spot of tea in the tearooms and explore the Agricultural Museum.

Tickets: Gardens Only – €8 for a family ticket and €20 for a combination family ticket.

Wexford Wildfowl Reserve

Bird watchers are not the only ones who will love the wildfowl reserve. With over 9000 birds on the slobs at the moment, you can get up close and personal to a whole range of feathered friends. Children can climb the observation tower and spot the geese and birds that have come to take refuge in the reserve for winter.

Free of Charge

Wexford_Wildfowl_Reserve-4

Recommended Accommodation

B&B – Marsh Mere Lodge, Arthurstown

Rooms from €50

Self-catering – there is a host of self-catering options around Wexford and the best place to find these is on the www.visitwexford.ie or discoverireland.ie website where all accommodation is listed and Failte Ireland approved.

2 bed cottage from €300 per week

Hotel

Monart Spa – the perfect place for a relaxing break or a romantic Valentine’s weekend

Prices from €190 per room bed and breakfast

Ferrycarraig Hotel lovely riverside location

Family Rooms from €120 per night B&B

Special Offer 

Riverside Park Hotel

Two night luxurious stay for 2 at Riverside Park Hotel to include B&B, with dinner on one evening in Alamo Steakhouse Restaurant and free bottle of house wine with dinner.  Take advantage of a lazy Breakfast in Bed and soak up the view from your upgraded deluxe balcony room. Complete stay with a late check-out until 2pm.Enjoy complimentary access to our leisure facilities which include swimming pool, sauna, jaccuzzi and steam room.   All for total cost of €238

CHECK OUT BELOW FOR MORE INFORMATION 

www.visitwexford.ie or discoverireland.ie

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Sunny South-East – Co. Wexford : Travelling Information Tips and Resources
  2. A Taste of Ireland’s Hidden Gems | Julianne Mooney

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