Welcome to The Norman Way Audio Guide
The Norman Way is a heritage trail that runs along the south coast of County Wexford. Along this Wexford Trail, you will discover authentic medieval sites which will help you to understand the Norman way of life. These hidden gems of the Norman Way are waiting to be explored by you down quiet country lanes, in beautiful seaside villages and alongside stunning beaches. We have listed a host of points of interest on our tour. Official points of interest along the route with interpretive panels beside them are joined by some bonus audio tracks about the area.
This Wexford cycle route is a true treasure of Ireland’s Ancient East. Lose yourself in this beautiful, ancient landscape as you discover the Anglo-Norman way of life in the place where it first took hold in Ireland over 800 years ago. Anyone seeking a more detailed overview of this period in history should read Billy Colfer’s 2002 book, ‘Arrogant Trespass’, the definitive study on the Anglo-Normans in Wexford from 1169 – 1400 published by Duffry Press.
We would suggest you review the tour’s contents in advance and are familiar with the route. The tour is designed to run from east to west, being from Rosslare to Kilmore Quay with a nod to St. Mary’s church in New Ross as well. The Norman Way audio guide was produced in 2017 by Racontour Productions for Wexford County Council.
Route of The Norman Way - click on each pointer
Enjoy an ancient landscape
Each Point of Interest (POI) has text, a picture, a video and audio from a local person as well as the narration from an award-winning local actress, Heather Hadrill. It is a carefully-crafted digital tapestry designed to be a hassle-free guide in providing information at each Point of Interest. There’s a dazzling array of audio-visual material on offer as you’ll see from scrolling down, a lot more than you’d ever think. Full credit and copyright is acknowledged to the various video makers when not our own. We added in as much additional information as possible to help expand on some of the topics discussed as we weaved our way to Kilmore Quay.
We have created two Spotify playlists for this tour. The original follows the route below from east to west and the second one is designed for those going from west to east. This is only a short route, but one that is packed with a whole host of surprises and interesting facts. Further Spotify playlists from around Ireland can be found at Racontourist on Spotify.
The starting point for The Norman Way overlooks the famous port of Rosslare. Free parking is available here.
In planning this cycle route in advance, please note the Ordnance Survey map you’d need for the area is 77. There is a host of good wildlife to look out for so bring your binoculars. You’ll need headphones to hear the audio pieces. Ensure you check the weather forecast in advance, but bring waterproof clothing just in case! A rucksack with water, a pump and a charged GPS device will ensure you get the most out of this wonderful cycle route. There’s a Supervalu supermarket next door for provisions and if you need to eat, Cafe Lily’s personable staff will feed you with large portions of tasty, comfort food.
Extra reading on the Normans
Anyone seeking a good overview of this region in history will not do any better than reading Richard Roche’s excellent essay, ‘Forth and Bargy – a place apart’ from ‘Wexford History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on an Irish county’, edited by Kevin Whelan and published by Geography Publications. Wexford’s library service is more than happy to help you find more books on the Normans and beyond at their libraries in Wexford Town, Enniscorthy, Gorey, Bunclody and New Ross.
The accompanying YouTube video is a first class, occasionally tongue-in-cheek, introduction to why the Anglo-Normans came to Ireland created by Lagan History’s John Wishart.
In the late 12th century, the kingdom of Ui Chennselaig, what is now modern county Wexford, was the first part of Ireland to be invaded and subinfeudated by the Anglo-Normans. This feudal hierarchy came to replace an island shaped by Gaelic culture over the centuries. While the rest of Gaelic Ireland fought against this imposition, the baronies of Forth and Bargy that you’ll be cycling through to Kilmore Quay quickly assimilated into this new order. Forth and Bargy is a 50 square mile area stretching from Wellingbridge in the west to Wexford Town in the east with the N733 being a rough guide to its border.
In our audio piece, Ronan O’Flaherty tells us more. Find more of Ronan’s observations at the Crane Bag Heritage Consulting website.
Directions: left turn at Kilrane
Having taken the left turn at Kilrane, you should should now be cycling without the bustle of a ferry port’s traffic for company. Keep an eye out for the orange Norman Way signs along the way.
Why are they called Yellow Bellies?
Wexford and its denizens have many names that need some explanation to the inquisitive visitor. On the signs, it is referred to in Irish as Loch Garman and in English as Wexford, a name that has Norse provenance being ‘Waesfjord’ meaning ‘inlet (fjord) of the mud-flats’ in the Old Norse language. In pre-Norman times the are was part of the Kingdom of Uí Cheinnselaig, with its capital at Ferns. The County was formed in Norman times having been created in 1210 by King John during his visit to Ireland. According to a local legend, the eponymous county town got its Irish name, Loch Garman, from a young man named Garman Garbh who was drowned on the mudflats at the mouth of the River Slaney by flood waters released by an enchantress. The resulting loch was thus named Loch Garman.
More curiously, its people are commonly known as the Yellow Bellies. This sobriquet is said to have been first applied to a Wexford hurling team raised by Sir Caesar Colclough, which won a challenge match in Cornwall in the reign of William III of England.
The URL features a tongue in cheek article on other Irish counties’ colourful nicknames. Alternatively, when in Rome, the excellent For Focal Sake! offers the best modern vernacular for Wexford and beyond – please be over 16 to view some of them!
Lady’s Island lake birds
Stop here to read the signs informing the visitor of the wide variety of flora and fauna to look out in Lady’s Lake lagoon. Long before the Anglo-Normans set foot in Wexford in 1169, invaders of a winged variety had been arriving at these shores. It is home to the largest tern colony in the country with some 2000 nesting birds per year. See the sign for more information and listen to Jim Hurley, a member of the Wexford Naturalists Field Club tell us what to look out for here.
Voice on our audio clip: Jim Hurley, SWC Promotions, Grange, Kilmore, County Wexford. SWC Promotions: promoting the natural heritage resource values of the South Wexford Coast – contact details for private tours are below.
Before the time of the Anglo-Norman landings, the Christian faith was very strong in Co. Wexford. This is evident from the large number of parishes, each with at least one place of worship and one of burial area bearing Irish Names. Following the Anglo-Norman Invasions of the late 12th century lands were confiscated and given to the favourites of the Norman leaders. A number of estates came into the possession of Milo De Lamporte and it was he who built the old feudal stronghold in 1195.
It was his son, Rudolph who built another strong hold, the Tower House, upon the Island in 1237. In front lies a space of elevated ground called ‘Ardownes’ or the Highlands, containing about 180 acres, between two forks of the lake. It is well protected by a strong, thick earthen mound, that is still, in parts, twelve to fifteen feet high, and runs for nearly half a mile. Rudolph gave this land to the Church and asked the Canons Regular of St Augustine to take charge of the island. He then went to fight in the Crusades, where he was killed. Before he left, he asked that prayers be said for the repose of his soul.
It’s a subtle difference, but this point of interest is known formally as Lady’s Island, but by pilgrims as Our Lady’s Island in devotion to the Virgin Mary and the annual pilgrimage that has existed here for well over a millennium. So far back are its roots in fact that Ptolemy refers to the place in his first century map. In a list of Irish place-names published in Iris-Leabhar na Gaeilge in 1903, the Irish name for Our Lady’s Island is given as Cluain-na-mBan – ‘the meadow of the women’. Considering that this locality was once the centre of druidical worship, it is fair to assume that Our Lady’s Island was in pre-Christian times inhabited by female druids.
These days, the pilgrims flock in large numbers to the area every August. There’s a fascinating interview with the former parish priest, Fr. Bob Staples, that was recorded by RTÉ’s Michael Ryan back in 1986 that gives a fine summation of the importance of the place to pilgrims. One of the more famous occurrences took place on Sunday the 4th of May 1906 when it has been recorded that a group of nine school girls observed an apparition by the shrine. A white luminous ball was seen moving along the field beside the shrine. Another girl said she saw a lady who beckoned to her.
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Lady’s Island: –
As you explore Lady’s Island you will find an impressive Norman castle and tower, along with the remains of a medieval church and graveyard.
The Leaning Tower of Lady’s Island
The ‘de Lamporte’ family were given this island in the late 12th century when they arrived here with their fellow Normans. It is thought that the stone tower was built later and formed part of the defences at this site.
The story goes that in the 19th century, treasure hunters dug out the foundations of this defensive tower, believing there was Norman treasure buried underneath. This caused the tower to lean at an angle more dramatic than that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
The ‘de Lamporte’ family name is still common in Wexford today but is now known as ‘Lambert’.
During the medieval period Lady’s Island was a popular pilgrimage site. Pilgrims visited a shrine here and walked barefoot around the island, sometimes walking in the water.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
See if you can spot the window in the leaning defensive tower structure that is shaped like an upside-down cross. The military-minded Normans introduced these ‘cross loop’ windows. These windows allowed archers to shoot arrows in all four directions while remaining safe inside the defensive tower.
Voices on the audio clip: narrator Heather Hadrill and James Maloney.
St. Iberius’s Church
An ancient crucifix was found in the Lady’s Island lake in the vicinity of the church of St. Iberius (also known as St Ibar’s) in the summer of 1887. When first discovered, a small portion of the left arm was missing. Acting on the instructions of the Parish Priest, the late Venerable Archdeacon Roche, the finder – a boy named Cogley – renewed the search and, strange to relate, succeeded in finding the missing part which was subsequently joined to the figure.
Main voice of this audio clip: Monica Crofton of Wexford Walking Tours.
One further point of note is an historic relic of the area. The wording from the Our Lady’s Island website is so well crafted, we are reproducing it in full with thanks to the parish. The tradition regarding this interesting souvenir of the past runs as follows:-
‘It once belonged to the old Church of St Ibar and was much venerated by the people. When, on that memorable October evening 1649, the alarm was given that Cromwell’s troops were marching from Wexford to attack Lady’s Island, a gallant effort was made by the people to save, from their vandalic fury, the sacred vessels and ornaments of the churches in south Wexford.
One young man named Duffy, rushed to St Ibar’s Church and, seizing this Crucifix which rested over the Tabernacle, fled with it across the shallow part of the lake. But, alas, it was too late. He was shot down by the brutal soldiers before he could reach the other shore, and his martyred blood crimsoned the waters.
The sacred burden that he carried lay concealed in the mud of the lake for centuries, until, as above recorded, it was accidentally discovered in the year 1887. The Shrine was presented by the Rev. Thomas O’Byrne C.C., Tacumshane on August 15th 1910′.
Taken from Our Lady’s Island website which is the official parish website.
Make sure you stop off for a bite to eat in Butler’s pub next door. They’ve been known to throw on amateur dramatic shows and seeing as they’re performances are in the townland of Broadway, technically you’ll be seeing a Broadway show for a fraction of the price and bustle of the real thing!
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at St. Iberius’s church: –
The Normans were devout Christians. Thanks to this, medieval religious structures such as St Iberius’ Church are still standing here today.
An Early Irish Saint
St Iberius, or ‘St. Íbar’ as he was also known, was a very early saint in Ireland. His influence reaches back to a time even before St Patrick arrived in the country. In our audio piece, Monica Crofton sheds some more light on the patron saint of Wexford.
The arch you can see on this site at waist-height is actually the top of a doorway into the old church. Over time, crumbling walls and grave burials have gradually raised the floor level inside this church ruin.
A Notable Grave
There is a 19th century grave monument for a local surgeon on this site. It is not by accident that this grave lies within the boundary walls of the ruined church and on the highest point. This demonstrates the doctor’s importance in the eyes of the local community.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
From this high vantage point, see if you can spot the swans and terns that nest in the reeds on the edge of the lake which surrounds Lady’s Island. Lady’s Island is the site of a Norman settlement and is designated a Special Protection Area by Ireland’s National Parks & Wildlife Service. It is the country’s largest sedimentary lagoon with a sand or shingle barrier and contains a variety of breeding wildfowl species along with a number of rare plants.
Tacumshane storytelling nights
You may have seen signposts for ‘Story Nights’ along the way here. If so, you are cordially invited to attend one of these great events. They are usually held at 8pm on the first Friday of each month in the old school just off the road, but you may be in luck as the committee may well extend the frequency of these during the summer months. See their Facebook page for the Tacumshane Old School Development (pronounced quickly and rhyming with gumption).
This a proper Irish rambling house where the most talented storytellers and musicians of the area gather around the fire to educate and entertain each other, just as they did in bygone days. Enjoy the hospitality and once settled in, feel free to tell the locals a story or maybe even sing a song. The rebuilding of Tacumshane’s old school is a great success story in community cohesion – it was done on goodwill with everyone helping out in providing their services for free. Besides storytelling evenings, the school is now abuzz with other events for the locals to enjoy.
Forth and Bargy’s inhospitable geography did not deter the Anglo-Normans and subsequent settlers from turning the baronies into a region of high production standards due mainly to careful husbandry. Bleak and exposed to the prevailing south west winds, the region did in time become known as ‘Little Flanders’. These strong winds, the flat unsheltered landscape and Flemish traditions in the area provided the ideal conditions for windmills. In the 1850s, the Forth and Bargy baronies had 24 windmills, more than any other area in Ireland. Besides providing corn for their own use and as animal feed-stuffs, the farmers of Forth and Bargy became prosperous as major producers of grain for the markets of Great Britain and the Dublin distilleries.
Our audio piece tells us about the origins of the curious name, Tacumshane, in Irish ‘teach cun Sean’ or ‘house of John’. The YouTube video follows up on the area’s most famous son, that same John, Commodore John Barry, father of the American navy. The voices you hear on the audio clip are those James Maloney and then Gerry Meyler.
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Tacumshane Windmill: –
The Anglo-Normans introduced vertical tower windmills like this one to Ireland.
This type of mill was an alternative to the watermill, which required access to a fast flowing river in order to grind grain into flour. The use of windmills was the Norman way of producing more food locally. In medieval times, the flat and windy landscape of South Wexford was dotted with these unusual structures.
The landscape around this windmill contains evidence of an early field system. This field system may have used crop rotation, a Norman farming method, to increase the yield of grain which supplied the windmill.
Norman Inspired Food Production and Shipwrecked Timber
Tacumshane Windmill is not from Norman times, it was built in 1846. However its very existence here is the direct result of the efficient food production methods introduced to this area by the Normans.
Virtually all the wood used in Tacumshane Windmill’s internal machinery was recovered from shipwrecks found along the dangerous, southern coast of Wexford, an area of sea known by locals as ‘the graveyard of a thousand ships’.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
The life of Norman knights inspired a famous book, published in Spain in 1605. It contains a scene about a character obsessed with tales of knights and chivalry foolishly attacking some windmills in an imaginary battle.
The book was ‘Don Quixote’ written by Miguel de Cervantes.
St. Catherine’s Church
This site is on a sharp dog leg bend some 700 metres after the Tacumshane windmill. It is an easy one to miss, so just ensure you check its location on your GPS device as it would be a shame to miss this serene gem.
Besides the preponderance of tower houses in Forth and Bargy, there are many chapels in the baronies. The Anglo-Normans added chapels to almost every manorial division, sometime building on old holy sites, as at Lady’s Island, Churchtown, Tagoat, Tomhaggard and Mayglass. Many of them were rededicated to saints that the colonists venerated, superseding the Celtic saints after whom the sites were originally named. Tacumshane was rededicated to St. Catherine replacing St. Fintan, the old patron saint of the place. Up the road, you’ll soon visit Tomhaggard, originally dedicated to St. Mosacer, but rededicated to SS. Anne and James.
Main narrator on the audio piece: Yvonne Doyle.
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at St. Catherine’s Church: –
St. Catherine’s Church is a wonderful example of medieval church architecture with some impressive features still intact. These include ornate windows and three connected limestone arches.
There is also a ‘bullaun stone’ within the ruins here. It is said that, in ancient times, rainwater which gathered in these large concave stones had healing properties. When the Normans settled in the area, the bullaun stones may have been taken inside the churches and used as Christian holy water fonts.
A Link to Ferns in North Wexford
The graves in the church ruins and graveyard span the centuries. In the northern corner of the chancel there is a medieval grave slab commemorating John Ingram, a Canon of Ferns in 1304. Ferns, in the north of County Wexford, was one of the main Norman strongholds in Ireland at the time. It is the home of another gem of Ireland’s Ancient East, Ferns Castle.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
See if you can spot some of the impressive features in these church ruins such as the ornate windows on the east wall; the three connected limestone arches in the centre of the ruins; the bullaun stone; and the medieval grave slab.
Once the Anglo-Normans had consolidated their military occupation, they started to build their stone castles with some 365 being built between the 13th and 16th centuries. While many lie derelict shadowing many farmyards, Sigginstown is due to be renovated by its new American owners as you will see from the YouTube piece. In our audio clip, stonemason Patrick Hickey tells us with ghoulish glee about the dreaded machicolations that helped fend off invaders from such castles.
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Sigginstown Castle: –
This tower house is a wonderful example of the sheer building height that was made possible after the Normans introduced their expert stone construction techniques to the area.
The Norman way of building allowed for multi-storey stone structures that towered over the beautiful green countryside for the first time in Ireland. This changed the country’s visual landscape forever. A perfect example is the tower at Lady’s Island, another site along the Norman Way in Wexford.
In the centuries that followed, these same building techniques were used to construct tower houses such as Sigginstown. There is another impressive tower house on the Norman Way at Ballyhealy.
As you travel along the Norman Way, you may spot several Norman inspired tower houses with more modern extensions built on to the side like this one.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
See if you can spot the long, enclosed ‘machicolation’ on the outside of this tower.
A ‘machicolation’ is an opening in the battlements of a Norman tower or castle. This opening allowed for stones, hot oil, or other unpleasant things to be dropped down on to unlucky enemy attackers below.
Many people hope to make it through the Pearly Gates to Paradise in the next life, but just by passing through the graveyard gates of Ishartmon, a person has technically made it there in this one, for you are standing in the heart of the townland of Paradise no less!
It served as the parish church of Ishartmon, a name that is thought to have been derived from Disert Munna – St Munna’s Church. The Ishartmon parish may have been defunct before 1615 as it does not appear on Bishop Rams visitations for that year. Munna was a somewhat conservative and curmudgeonly disciplinarian afflicted with leprosy, but with the power to read his monks’ minds.
Main voice in the audio piece: Yvonne Doyle.
The walls of this nave and chancel church, except for the north wall of the nave, have all survived complete. Some of the features to look out for are a rectangular nave window, a pointed chancel window and of course the famous double bellcote over the west gable. A number of internal features such as an aumbry, a stone shelf and a pointed chancel arch are present. Lying just inside the doorway is a circular granite font.
With three of the four main walls still intact, including the spectacular west gable wall, it is easy to visualise how this church would have looked in Norman times.
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Ishartmon Church: –
Ishartmon Church contains a ‘double bellcote’ at the very top of the ruin on its west gable wall. The double bellcote is a distinct feature of several of the churches found along the Norman Way in Wexford. St Dubhán’s Church on Hook Head Peninsula, contains a recently reconstructed double bellcote.
Holy Water Font
There is a very impressive font made from pink granite in the nave of this long ruined church. This was used to hold holy water in during Norman times.
The Final Resting Place of a Local Family
Ishartmon church and graveyard is the burial place of the Boxwell family from the nearby Butlerstown Castle, which is a Norman inspired stone tower house built around the 15th century.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
Can you spot the ‘putlog holes’ in the ruined church wall? These holes were used to support wooden scaffolding during the construction of the church as its walls grew in height. You will see them in many of the other churches along the Norman Way.
We thought it might be helpful to explain some of the sights you will see as you cycle through the countryside on your way to Kilmore Quay. Take note of how a lot of the trees have been shaped by the prevailing south west wind. It is no wonder the area had so many windmills in days past! Another tree feature that is possibly the most tangible remainder of the Normans is explained at our later point of interest entitled ‘Kilmore wooden crosses’. We should warn you that some pranksters do enjoy changing the direction of signs in rural parts, so if in doubt, please check the location of your next point of interest on your smartphone!
Audio narrator: Heather Hadrill
The peace of the tranquil hamlet of Tomhaggard was shattered by a most unusual event recorded in the Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls relating to an incident which was brought before Maurice De Rupefort at Wexford on 30th July 1302. A lady named Felicia was having a tipple in a local pub when a man by the name of John Fowler ‘maliciously drove his horse into that house and it seriously trampled on said Felicia’. She wasn’t badly hurt we are pleased to report and Fowler had time to reflect on his less than gallant behaviour by serving gaol time as well as paying a fine for distress caused.
Not far from Tomhaggard is Bargy Castle, built by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. Unfortunately, it is no longer an hotel for it had plenty of stories to tell. Singer Chris de Burgh remembers growing up there once his peripatetic army father had retired to open the hotel with his parents: ‘There was a huge banqueting hall that the guests dined in and after a few drinks I’d pull out a guitar and sing some songs. The house was definitely haunted, but not in a scary way – I spoke to some of the ghosts when I lived there’.
Tomhaggard is a historic village situated on the edge of two Anglo-Norman territories, known as ‘baronies’. As you travel along the Norman Way in Wexford, Tomhaggard lies on the dividing line between the barony of Forth on the Wexford side, and the lands of Bargy on the New Ross side. Though the barony system was abolished in 1898, the distinctive personalities of the two baronies in the unusual degree to which the term ‘Forth and Bargy’ has survived the modern spoke usage and consciousness.
Main voice on the audio piece: Willie Murphy.
As Richard Roche noted ‘by far the most remarkable feature of the continuum in Forth and Bargy was the survival over an unusually long period and through the various vicissitudes of the old Catholic elite and land owning gentry whose 12th century ancestors had been the original Cambro-Norman* founders of this unique colony. There were many factors involved in this survival – the isolation of the Forth and Bargy region, its natural boundaries to which were added the defences of the colonists; its proximity to Wales and England, sources of physical and moral sustenance in time of need. over and above these considerations, however stand out the attributes of the colonists themselves – their courage and tenacity, their stubborn loyalty to the land of their adoption in south Wexford. While English law prevailed there, they felt secure in their tenancies so they defended English law with all their might’.
+Cambro-Normans were Normans who settled in southern Wales after the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Some historians prefer this term over Anglo-Norman for the Normans who invaded Ireland after 1170 since many of them originated in Wales.
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Tomhaggard: –
Changing the Wells of Ireland
The holy well across the road from the medieval church ruin is called St. Anne’s. Local wells such as this have their origins deep in Ireland’s ancient past. They were originally places of worship dedicated to pagan water gods. Early Christians in Ireland then used the wells for their religious rituals. After the Normans arrived, the wells were often re-dedicated and named after the favourite Christian saints of the Norman lords.
A Link to Glendalough
The origin for the name ‘Tomhaggard’ may have connections to another wonderful part of Ireland’s Ancient East; Glendalough in County Wicklow. ‘Tuaim Mosacra’, means the tomb of St. Moshagra of Saggart. St. Moshagra was a saint associated with Glendalough. A yearly mass held in his honour on 3rd March was celebrated at Tomhaggard.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
The modern church across the road from the medieval church and graveyard has recreated the shape of the triple arched window from the original medieval church. Can you see the likeness between the two?
St. Anne’s Holy Well
You don’t need to have any faith to appreciate the peaceful serenity of this beautifully preserved park in the picturesque village of Tomhaggard on The Norman Way in south Wexford. However, its Catholic pedigree is beyond question. Addressing the Old Wexford Society some forty years ago, noted Irish writer, Stephen Rynne, observed the following: – ‘I can think of no other place in Ireland where Catholic continuity is so clearly preached. Within a small compass, there are holy wells dedicated to SS. Anne and James, the ruins of a medieval church, a Mass Rock, a penal chapel and an early 19th century church in present use. If there is any tenacity to the Faith, Tomhaggard monumentalises it, all the links are in place. it ought to be treble starred in the guidebooks and written in letters of gold on the maps’.
Main voice on the audio piece: Willie Murphy.
The Earl of Musgrave, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was a man used to hearing speeches wherever he went. However, the speech he heard in Ballytrent, Co. Wexford in 1836 was unlike anything he had ever heard before.
There he received ‘The humble address of the inhabitants of the Barony of Forth, Wexford’ or, as they put it, ‘Ye soumissive Spakeen o’ouz Dwelleres o’ Baronie Forthe, Weisforthe.’ The address, read by Edmund Hore, was neither Modern English nor Irish; the Lord Lieutenant was listening to one of the last speakers of an almost forgotten dialect – Yola. Its origins lie with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century. As the newcomers established a foothold in Wexford and the south-east they brought their medieval Middle English language with them.
Yola was the unique, distinctive badge of the Norman culture as spoken by the isolated inhabitants of Forth and Bargy. As Richard Roche observed, ‘there are elements of Norman French and Flemish in the dialect reflecting the presence of those nationalities among the early colonists and from the 16th century, when the English language was on the decline in Ireland Irish began to influence the dialect also. Yola helped preserve traditions, customs, a way of life for many centuries and to make Forth and Bargy a truly alien enclave in Ireland. The stay-at-home disposition of the people of the region and the fact that they rarely married outside their own districts helped to preserve the dialect’.
In our audio piece, Brian Mathews tells us a bit more about this intriguing dialect while author and historian Nicky Furlong gives us some colourful examples of the dialect.
Anyone seeking further information on Yola should look for ‘Poole’s glossary of the old dialect of the English colony in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy’ edited by T.P. Dolan and Diarmaid O’Muirthe. Ask for Celestine Murphy in Wexford Town library for further information – the library telephone number is included below.
Anglo-Normans are so called because they’d lived in England for just over a hundred years before landing in Wexford in 1169. They were originally Vikings who had become somewhat French with the passing of time. The Norman invasion of England in 1066 occurred only 155 years after the Vikings had invaded Normandy.
So in a way, you could say that the Anglo-Normans who stepped into Ireland in the 12th century were Vikings twice removed. And, really, to call the Anglo-Normans of Ireland Norman is really kind of like calling the Normans in England of 1066 Viking!
Ballyhealy Castle’s use as a tower house would surely have been a tough station for the vigilant Anglo-Normans keeping the fire lit for navigators at sea. Despite their alpha male Viking roots, one can be sure that the mulled wine drink they were so fond of, claree, was imbibed after a night all along the watchtower. In the latter half of our audio piece, archaeologist Caimin O’Brien lets us have the ingredients for such a spicy concoction. Warning – don’t try this at home!
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Ballyhealy Castle: –
A beacon lit on top of this formidable Norman tower may have guided ships sailing along the nearby coast.
The Normans came up with an ingenious way to navigate the dangerous waters off of South Wexford.
Being near the coast, a brazier light lit on top of Ballyhealy Castle could have acted as a rudimentary lighthouse for passing ships in the distance. Coastal ‘fire towers’ like this may have helped the Normans to navigate the waters around Ireland.
Further along the Norman Way, a brazier light was also used at Hook Head, the site of the world’s oldest operational lighthouse.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
Why not take the short journey to Ballyhealy Beach and admire the coastline? Imagine the ships in Norman times sailing past, guided by this ‘fire tower’ as they sailed up the coast towards New Ross – once the busiest port in medieval Ireland.
The YouTube video features a tongue in cheek overview of Irish history from award winning Brown Bag pictures. The Normans of course feature from around 1.25. Enjoy!
In the ruins of the ancient parish church in Grange cemetery, Kilmore lies a site of special historical significance – the marble Whitty memorial, erected in 1647. It is the only surviving memorial to an Anglo-Norman family in the country. Its Latin inscription translates follows:
‘Here lies Walter Whitty, of Ballyteigue, Esquire, who died 9th November in the year of Lord 1630, and Helen, his wife, daughter of Hammon Stafford, of Ballyconnor Gentleman, who died 27th April, in the year of the Lord 1646, and Catherine, first wife of Richard Whitty, Esquire,
daughter of Philip Devereux of Ballymagyr, Esquire, who died 18th of August, in the year 1646, in whose honour the same Richard, the first born of the aforesaid Walter and Helen, with his won second wife, Catherine Eustace, daughter of Oliver Eustace, of Ballymurray, Esquire, cause me (this monument) to be erected, 29th January 1647′.
Grange refers to a monastic grange which was a manor or other centre of an outlying farming estate belonging to a monastery and used for food production in Great Britain, Ireland, or Austria. Though initially just a description of the area of land used for food production, in Ireland, the word ‘Grange’ often evolved into the name of the townland or parish, replacing an earlier name. One of the original Normans to the area was Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke. His uncle was Hervey de Monte Marisco, who had been sent over to watch his nephew’s interests. When Hervey became a monk in 1179, he bestowed all his lands in south Wexford to his abbey in Canterbury which in time was transferred to the abbey at Tintern with the surrounding lands being used for food production for this nearby abbey.
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Grange Church: –
Some of the surnames found in this graveyard are evidence that many of the early Normans to arrive in Ireland stayed in this part of Wexford and made it their home.
Religious Orders and Ordered Religion
The Normans founded several new houses in Wexford for religious orders such as the Cistercians and the Augustinians. The Normans and these religious orders supported and expanded the pre-existing Christian parish system that was already in Ireland at the time. They also promoted a more strict Christian Church here, as dictated by the Pope in Rome.
Growing Religion and Growing Crops
A place-name like ‘Grange’ suggests that Christian monks worked the agricultural land in this area.
As well as encouraging their more structured approach to the Christian faith, these monks shared their farming methods with the native Irish. They helped to spread the new and improved Norman way of working the land. The Normans introduced crop rotation and even hay-making to Ireland. Before the Normans arrived, the Irish would have butchered many of their cattle before winter as they had no way to feed them during these harsher months.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
Many Norman surnames survive in the area along the Norman Way. Can you find the following Norman family names on the gravestones in this graveyard: ‘Barry’, ‘Browne’, and ‘Keating’?
Kilmore’s wooden crosses
An ancient funeral ritual said to date right back to the Anglo-Normans is still to be found in existence today in the village of Kilmore. If you didn’t know about its location, it would be easy to pass by without heed, but once you see it, it is hard to ignore.
On the outskirts of Kilmore, just before the graveyard is what the locals call ‘the flat egg roundabout’. Across from the roundabout is a detached cottage and twenty metres down from it is a hazel tree festooned with wooden crosses. In our audio piece, local woman Rose Hurley tells us more about this unique custom.
Stories as to its origin include it being a tradition started by St. Fursa when he first landed by the banks of the Somme. More credence might be put in the story of Charlmagne paying tribute to 25,000 of his retreating soldiers ambushed by the Basques in 777 A.D at the Pass of Roncevalles. Thereafter, pilgrims on their way to visit the shrine of St. James of Compostella in Santiago would pay tribute to the dead soldiers and the saint by leaving a small wooden cross under ‘Charlmagne’s Cross’. It became known as the first station on the St. James pilgrimage and the tradition made its way up to Normandy and Flanders in time. As can be seen in Tomhaggard to this day, St. James is still venerated having benignly usurped St. Mosacer, courtesy of the Anglo-Normans.
Besides the wooden crosses and relics of Yola in everyday speech, other old Forth and Bargy customs that survive to the present day include mumming, the singing of old Christmas carols and the survival of many of the thatched houses.
You will find another site on the way to Kilmore Quay known as Brandy Cross where wooden crosses were also left – this was for the old cemetery of Grange (which no longer has space for new graves). Since the new cemetery opened up in Kilmore in 1952, the custom moved to the location you are now standing at. The Brandy Cross stop is off the official Norman Way signposted route and is in a most precarious position on a bend – best to salute this station instead!
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at Kilmore Quay: –
This seaside village is bustling with modern boats while the image above shows the kind of vessel the Normans would have used to cross the seas all those centuries ago.
The Graveyard of a Thousand Ships
Norman ships weren’t that different from Viking longships. They were fast moving and agile but the dangerous waters off the South Wexford coast proved a challenge even for them. In fact, the treacherous waters off Kilmore Quay and around the Saltee Islands are known locally as the ‘graveyard of a thousand ships’.
Ballyteige Castle, just outside Kilmore Quay Village, and Ballyhealy Castle nearby may have been Norman ‘fire towers’. ‘Fire towers’ were tall structures close to the coast that had a lit beacon at the top. Passing ships used them to navigate. There is evidence of promontory forts that may have been used as ‘fire towers’ on both nearby Saltee islands too.
The Secrets of the Saltees
The Saltee Islands are dotted with secret caves with names such as ‘Hell Hole’ and ‘Otters Cave’. Smugglers and pirates would have hidden their treasure on the islands from medieval through to modern times.
Discover the Norman Way for Yourself
A local tradition, believed to have been brought to this area by the Normans, is to place a small wooden cross in a particular tree after the funeral of a loved one.
Look out for these trees, covered in tiny wooden crosses, as you explore the Norman Way, especially around Kilmore Quay.
Main voice on the audio piece: Jim Hurley, South West Coast Promotions, Grange, Kilmore, Co Wexford. Y35 YN35. Contact Jim for private tours. A deep debt of gratitude is due to both Jim and his wife, Rose, for their help and hospitality when compiling this guide in 2017.
St. Mary’s Church
The content below appears on the Norman Way interpretive panel at St. Mary’s Church: –
A Church Within a Church’
Large medieval churches, such as St. Mary’s, were generally constructed in the shape of a cross with the shorter part, or ‘chancel’, pointed toward the east. The short crossing arms pointing north and south are known as ‘transepts’. The longer base part of the cross is known as the ‘nave’ and is where the congregation sat for six centuries of church services.
Today, although the medieval church is largely intact and well preserved, it is almost completely unroofed. This later church was constructed in the 19th century and is still in active use by the local Church of Ireland congregation.
Because the medieval building has lost its roof, it is only within the later church that you can experience the scale and acoustic feeling of being inside a building. Although this church is much later in date than its medieval predecessor it is built on the footprint of the medieval nave and is therefore a similar size to the earlier building.
Although St. Mary’s was built in the 13th century as a place of Christian worship, its congregation was split by the 16th century reformation. The reformation in Ireland had a divisive effect on church congregations with the majority of people remaining adherents of the unreformed Catholic Church and only a minority becoming members of the official Church of Ireland.
By the late 18th century the medieval church was far too large for the local Church of Ireland congregation and a decision was made to construct a smaller, modern church resting on the foundations of the medieval nave. This church was finished in 1813 and its spire was finally completed in 1870. The church has a spacious and acoustically pleasing interior which, in keeping with the doctrines of the reformed faith, has a more austere interior design than the original medieval church would have had.
Main voice in the audio piece: Catherine McLoughlin.
This concludes our audio tour of The Norman Way. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and if so, please share with others. Please note that the Way continues in detail to New Ross via Hook Head here.