Novelist and screenwriter Felicity Hayes-McCoy knows all about pretty places in Ireland.
In fact, she’s written the book on it (well, a book on her cherished Dingle Peninsula).
When we asked Felicity what other of favourite Ireland spots she’d like to write about, she answered the town of . Here’s why:
From a visitor’s point of view, Enniscorthy, the second largest town in County Wexford, punches way above its weight.
It’s an easy two-hour drive, or a lovely scenic train ride, from Dublin. And it’s not just a pretty town beautifully set on the banks of the river Slaney. It also has a central place in the history of two of Ireland’s most famous rebellions.
During the 1798 Rising the rebel forces known as ‘the Croppy Boys’ held out for thirty days on Vinegar Hill, which overlooks the town: the now stands in the shadow of the hill, from which there’s a panoramic view of the town, reached by a gentle, winding path.
And in the 1916 Rising a group of insurgents took over Enniscorthy’s ; they included Marian Stokes, a teenage member of my mother’s family, who belonged to Cumann na mBan (1916’s almost-forgotten women’s army). For several days after the Dublin rising was suppressed they refused to surrender until, eventually, one was taken there by train, under safe conduct, to receive orders from Patrick Pearse himself.
Marian was still alive when I was a child. She never spoke about those days and nights spent under siege, the despair of that surrender, or of the time she spent in prison afterwards. But she was fiercely devoted to the museum she helped to set up in . I remember following her up a staircase there once, listening to her voice echoing round the stone walls and clinging to her sensible tweed skirt in case I fell. The castle was empty and spooky then, though it had been occupied from its foundation in 1205 right up to the 1950s. She told me the English poet Edmund Spenser had lived there in the fifteenth century and that later on it was owned by Sir Henry Wallop. (Which, being a kid, I found screamingly funny.)
The castle remained a private house till the 1950s, after which it became the museum. It closed for refurbishment in 2007 and reopened last year as a wonderful, family-friendly centre, full of fascinating interactive exhibits.
One of my favourite routes from the riverside to the town centre is by Slaney Street – steep, narrow and lined with little shops. At the top you can turn left and walk down to the castle. Or turn right and walk uphill a few minutes longer, to – beautiful, elegant and astonishing.
It’s a neogothic building by Pugin, the nineteenth century architect who designed London’s Houses of Parliament. The sound of its bells shaped my childhood visits to my granny’s; you could see the clock in its bell tower through the apple trees in her garden. Like a lot of Irish churches, St. Aidan’s lost many of its interior features in the reforms that followed the second Vatican Council. But now it’s magnificently restored, close to its original design, using authentic colours, materials and techniques.
It’s a centre of peace in a pretty, bustling country town with remarkable history.