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Wexford County

WEXFORD COUNTY, a county of Ireland in the province of Leinster, bounded N. by Wicklow, E. and S. by St George's Channel, and W. by Waterford, Kilkenny and Carlow. The area is 576,757 acres or about 902 sq. m. The coast-line does not present any striking features, and owing to the number of sandbanks navigation is dangerous near the shore. The only inlet of importance on the east coast and the only safe harbour is Wexford Harbour, which, owing to a bar, is not accessible to large vessels at ebb-tide. The artificial harbour of Rosslare, outside Wexford Harbour to the south, was therefore opened in 1906. On the south coast the great inlet of Waterford Harbour separates the county from Waterford and Kilkenny, and among several inlets Bannow Bay is the largest. Several islets adjoin the coast. South from Crossfarnogue Point are the Saltee Islands, and Coningmore and Coningbeg, beyond the latter of which is the Saltee lightship. South-east from Greenore Point is the Tuskar Rock.

The surface of the county is chiefly a series of verdant low hills, except towards the northern and western boundaries. An elevated ridge on the north-western boundary forms the termination of the granitic range in W r icklow, and in Croghan Kinshela, on the borders of Wicklow, rises to a height of 1985 ft. On the western border, another range, situated chiefly in Carlow, extends from the valley of the Slaney at Newtownbarry to the confluence of the Barrow with the Nore at New Ross, and reaches 2409 ft. in Blackstairs Mountain, and 2610 ft. in Mount Leinster on the border of Co. Carlow. In the southern district, a hilly region, reaching In Forth Mountain a height of 725 ft., forms with Wexford Harbour the northern boundaries of the baronies of Forth and Bargy, a peninsula of flat and fertile land. The river Slaney enters the county at its north-western extremity, and flows south-east to Wexford Harbour. Its chief tributary is the Bann, which flows south-westwards from the borders of Wicklow. The Barrow forms the western boundary of the ccunty from the Blackstairs range of mountains till its confluence with the Suir at Waterford Harbour.

Geology. The Leinster Chain, with its granite core and margin of mica-schist, bounds the county on the west. From this, Silurian ground stretches to the sea, like a platform with a hummocky surface, numerous intrusive and contemporaneous felsitic lavas, and some diorites occurring along the strike in continuation of the Waterford series. A granite outlier rises south-east of Enniscorthy ; and granite, in part gneissic, forms Carnsore Pt. From near Courtown to Bannow Bay, greenish slates like the Oldhamian series of Wicklow form a broad band, with Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous Limestone above them near Wexford. Silurian beds appear again towards Carnsore. The surface of the county is much modified by glacial drift, and by the presence of sands and gravels of preGlacial and possibly late Pliocene age. These interesting beds are used for liming the fields, under the name of " manure gravels," on account of the fossil shells that they contain.

Industries. The soil for the most part is a cold stiff clay resting on clay-slate. The interior and western districts are much inferior to those round the coasts. In the south-eastern peninsula of Forth and Bargy the soil is a rich alluvial mould mixed with coralline sandstone and limestone. The peninsula of Hookhead, owing to the limestone formation, is specially fruitful. In the western districts of the county there are large tracts of turf and peat-moss. The acreage under pasture is a little over twice that of tillage., and figures show a fair maintenance of the principal crops, barley, of which the county produces more than any other Irish county, oats, potatoes and turnips. The numbers also of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are large and increasing, or well maintained. Except in the town of Wexford the manufactures and trade are of small importance. The town of Wexford is the headquarters of sea and salmon fishing districts, and there are a few fishing villages on the inlets of the south coast.

The main line of the Dublin & South-Eastern railway enters the county from N.E., and runs to Wexford by way of Enniscorthy, with a branch W. to New Ross, from Macmine Junction. Connecting with this line at Palace East, a branch of the Great Southern & Western joins the Kilkenny & Kildare line at Bagenalstown, county Carlow. This company also owns the lines from Rosslare harbour to Wexford and across the southern part of the county to Waterford. There is water communication for barges by the Slaney to Enniscorthy; by the Barrow for larger vessels to New Ross, and by this river and the Grand Canal for barges to Dublin.

Population and Administration. The population decreases (112,063 in 1891; 104,104 in 1901), but this decrease and the emigration returns are less serious than the average of Irish counties. Of the total about 91% are Roman Catholics, and about 83% form the rural population. The principal towns are Wexford (pop. 11,168), New Ross (5847), Enniscorthy (5458) and Gorey (2178). Newtownbarry, finely situated on the Slaney below the outliers of Mount Leinster, is a lesser market town. To the Irish parliament, until the Union of 1800, the county returned two members, and the boroughs of Bannow, Clonmines, Enniscorthy, Fethard, Gorey, New Ross, Taghmon and Wexford two each. By the Redistribution Act of 1885 Wexford, which had returned two members since 1800, was divided into two parliamentary divisions, North and South, each returning one member, the borough of Wexford, which formerly returned one member, and the portion of the borough of New Ross within the county, being merged in the South Division. The county is divided into ten baronies. It is in the Protestant diocese of Dublin, and the Roman Catholic dioceses of Dublin, Ferns, and Kildare and Leighlin. Assizes are held at Wexford, and quarter sessions at Enniscorthy, Gorey, New Ross and Wexford.

History and Antiquities. The northern portion of Wexford was included in Hy Kinselagh, the peculiar territory of the Macmorroughs, overlords of Leinster, who had their chief residence at Ferns. Dermod Macmorrough, having been deposed from the kingdom of Leinster, asked help of Henry II., king of England, who authorized him to raise forces in England for the assertion of his claim. He secured the aid of Strongbow by promising him the hand of Eva, and in addition obtained assistance from Robert Fitzstephen and Maurice Fitzgerald of Wales. Ontheistof May 1169 Fitzstephen landed at Bagenbon on the south side of Fethard, and after four days' siege captured the town of Wexford from its Danish inhabitants. After this Dermod granted the territory of Wexford to Fitzstephen and Fitzgerald and their heirs for ever. Macmorrough having died in 1172, Strongbow became lord of Leinster. At first Henry II. retained Wexford in his own possession, but in 1174 he committed it to Strongbow. The barony of Forth is almost entirely peopled by the descendants of those who accompanied these English expeditions. Wexford was one of the twelve counties into which the conquered territory in Ireland is generally stated to have been divided by King John, and formed part of the possessions of William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, who had married Strongbow's daughter. Through the female line it ultimately passed to John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, who in 1446 was made earl of Waterford and baron of Dungarvan. In 1474 George Talbot was seneschal of the liberty of Wexford. The district was actively concerned in the rebellion of 1641; and during the Cromwellian campaign the town of Wexford was carried by storm on the 9th of October 1649, and a week later the garrison at New Ross surrendered a " seasonable mercy," according to Cromwell, as giving him an " opportunity towards Munster." Wexford was the chief seat of the rebellion of 1 798, the leaders there being the priests.

Evidences of the Danish occupation are seen in the numerous raths, or encampments, especially at Dunbrody, Enniscorthy and New Ross. Among the monastic ruins special mention may be made of Dunbrody abbey, of great extent, founded about 1 178 for Cistercian monks by Hervey de Montmorency, marshal of Henry II.; Tintern abbey, founded in 1200 by William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, and peopled by monks from Tintern abbey in Monmouthshire; the abbey of St Sepulchre, Wexford, founded shortly after the invasion by the Roches, lords of Fermoy; Ferns abbey, founded by Dermod Macmorrough (with other remains including the modernized cathedral of a former see, and ruins of a church) ; and the abbey of New Ross, founded by St Alban in the 6th century. There are a considerable number of old castles, including Ferns, dismantled by the parliamentary forces under Sir Charles Coote in 1641, and occupying the site of the old palace of the Macmorroughs; the massive pile of Enniscorthy, founded by Raymond le Gros; Carrick Castle, near Wexford, the first built by the English ; and the fort of Duncannon.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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