Wexford: The Seaside Town in Ireland That You're Not Visiting But Should Be

From www.justluxe.com, by Sean Hillen
Wexford: The Seaside Town in Ireland That You're Not Visiting But Should Be

Often overlooked on tours of Ireland is Wexford, the sunny south-east city that is the nation’s oldest Viking town, just a two-hour drive from Dublin. Situated in the heart of this cozy coastal town, is the 157-room, four-star White’s Hotel that has enjoyed a colorful history dating back more than 300 years.

It was a military lodging house in 1779, having survived a failed revolution against the English the previous year, then became a Coaching Inn in the 1800s when Charles Bianconi set up a stage-coach network. Owned by the McCarthy family for many years, it was bought by Michael Burke almost 20 years ago, closed for major renovations in 2004 and re-opened two years later.

white's hotelPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen

Parking is convenient and easy, in a large underground area with elevators that bring guests straight to an open lobby. Guestrooms are spacious, some with views over downtown and the picturesque coastline. Choose a higher floor, one that offers both views over the Norman West Gate Tower and medieval Selskar Abbey. The property also features the Tranquility Spa with nine treatment rooms, a pool, sauna, tropical rain showers and a steam room.

With its labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways—a legacy of the Viking era—Wexford is an enjoyable town to wander through, with over 50 cafés and restaurants, several bookstores and assorted retail stores. Lively South Main Street is particularly attractive and is usually bustling with people.

wexfordPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen

The best introduction to the town is a two-hour guided walk organized through the tourism office, located on the seafront promenade. During the excursion, you’ll learn about the city’s history, especially the period under the Viking and Norman domination. One of the first stops is at an impressive statue of Wexford-born John Barry who gained fame as a naval leader during the American war of independence. The statue is a prominent feature of the town overlooking a crescent-shaped harbor. Not far away, the Bullring Market has been a center of local commerce for hundreds of years, and still makes for a pleasant stroll, with craft and food tables housed inside refurbished log cabins.

For music lovers, especially opera aficionados, Wexford is now home to Ireland’s National Opera House, an ornate, 750-seat theater, a five-minute walk from White’s hotel. During the busy October festival season, six different performances take place every three-day cycle. As the festival is so popular, it's best to reserve tickets well in advance. The theater also has a restaurant and café, with panoramic views over the town and coast.

wexfordPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen

Many attractions lie outside Wexford as well, yet are still all within an hour’s driving distance of White’s, including scenic coastal villages such as Kilmore Quay and the offshore Saltee Islands, with its bird sanctuary and grey seal population. The outdoor, 35-acre Irish National Heritage Park, a 10-minute drive from town, is well worth visiting. It offers an easy walking trail with sixteen different stops, including full-scale reconstructions of ancient houses, forts, tombs, a Viking boatyard, a water mill and a medieval round tower.

Nestled within 50 acres of woods, lawns and a garden lake, Johnstown Castle houses the Irish Agricultural Museum, which grants glimpses into farming life over two centuries. Artifacts include old-style harvesting and ploughing machines, period countryside furniture and a special transport section featuring tractors, horse-drawn carts and pioneering cars.

wexfordPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen

In terms of nightlife, the quaint pub, An Speir agus an Talamh (The Sky and the Ground) includes live music hosted on the first floor. With bare wood floor and tables, decorative ceiling lamps, framed photographs of a bygone age and nude mannequins set amid assorted gilded mirrors, the pub offers an impressive selection of craft beers and ales. While there, we heard a concert by Frankenstein Bolts, a local band led by Wexford songwriter, Justin Cullen. For its sheer historical background, bustling downtown and coastal scenery, Wexford is a town worth a visit and there's no more suitable place to stay than Whites.