Thursday, 27 July 2017
Being tribal about
being in Wexford
Before moving to Asketon six months ago, I was back in Wexford regularly, for walks along the beaches like Kilmuckridge, Ballymoney and Courtown, walks by the banks of the River Slaney, rambles around Bunclody, Ferns, Enniscorthy and Wexford town, or strolls along the Quays of Wexford.
Although I was born in Rathfarnham, spent part of my childhood near Cappoquin in west Waterford and went to school at Gormanston, near Drogheda, the important, decisive years of growing up and maturing were spent in Lichfield and Wexford, and I still feel very much at home in both Wexford and Lichfield.
When Wexford and Waterford were playing a recent hurling match, I was told I was being very tribal about Wexford. Ancestral roots go very deep indeed, and for the past six months I have missed the way Wexford is so easily accessible from Dublin.
If you can imagine Wexford, Dublin and Limerick as three corners of a triangle, then for me the most difficult side of the triangle when it comes to travel by public transport is the one linking Limerick and Wexford.
On Wednesday [26 July 2017], I was invited to two parts of the wedding of a former student – the wedding service in Saint James’s Church, Crinken, near Bray, and a reception in an hotel in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. What was I to do with the six hours in between?
From Bray, it is only an hour to North Wexford, and soon two of us were stopping to buy fresh Wexford fruits – strawberries and raspberries – at Green’s Berry Farm in Tinnock. Those plump fresh ripe strawberries are unique to the sunny south-east, and there is no comparison with the forced, limp imports found on many supermarket shelves. What happy memories I have of the Strawberry Fair, which marked its 50th anniversary in Enniscorthy this year.
A few minutes later we were in Gorey, wondering whether we might stop there for lunch, and whether Gorey still had a Greek restaurant. But I had forgotten how busy this part of north Co Wexford can be at this time of the year. Summer brings a large number of people from south Dublin to the beaches of north Wexford, and Gorey becomes a thronged shopping town.
We found no immediate parking, and decided to continue on, remembering that there was once a Greek restaurant in the old creamery in Ballycanew called Papa Rhodes.
The restaurant took its name not from the Greek island of Rhodes, but from its former chef and proprietor, Ormond Rhodes (‘Roddy’) Hickson, who once ran the place with his wife Maureen. But it seems to have been closed for a years now now, since about 2013 or 2014, and we continued on the road, through Castlebridge, to Wexford.
Wexford is always a beautiful sight to behold, even under grey skies and in a light rain that were more appropriate to mid-autumn than to mid-summer. The water was sparkling along the Quays, and from the bridge along the skyline I could pick out the Opera House, the spires of the Twin Churches in Rowe Street and Bride Street, the Friary and Saint Iberius’s Church. Tucked in the there somewhere is the house I once lived in on High Street.
I was last in Bunclody in January and the previous November. But I think I was last back in Wexford Town during the Wexford Festival in October for a lecture by John Julius Norwich. When you have experienced so much growing up in one place, every detail is etched on your memory, and every change is noted and catalogued in the recesses of memories and emotions.
We drove through the town for a while, and then headed out to Ferrycarrig for a late lunch by the banks of the river at the Ferrycarrig Hotel. I had planned a short stay here in January, but those plans changed with the move to Limerick.
On the decking outside, a clown was entertaining children and small family groups. The estuary of the River Slaney, which looks like a lake at this point, was placid and soothing, and as our meal came to a close, the grey skies turned to blue.
We lingered here a little longer, enjoying the peaceful setting by the Slaney. We had talked about going back into Wexford for a walk around the narrow streets, but instead we drove along the banks of the Slaney, through Enniscorthy, Ferns and Camolin to the sandy beach at Ballymoney.
The day was beginning to close in, there was a light rain, and only one person was swimming in the sea. I went for a walk alone in the rain, and felt I hand the beach and the sea to myself, to think, to reflect, to pray.
But time had caught up with us. Within an hour, we were back in Enniskerry for the wedding reception. I am back in Askeaton, Co Limerick, this evening.