DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE WONDERS ON YOUR DOORSTEP
A lick of paint and the artist’s eye have transformed our town over the past year. Many buildings, walls and gables have given up their ugly duckling personas to emerge as swans emphasising a part of our heritage that had previously been hidden by familiarity.
The positivity which abounds about the murals and the new colour schemes on streets and shop fronts is a just reward to all those behind these initiatives. There is also a tangible resurgence of pride in the local history and heritage which is part of the makeup of the Rossonian.
Now is the time to step forward and highlight the treasure trove of sites and stories hidden in plain sight on our streets.
When friends or family are visiting the area put a stroll around New Ross at the top of your “to do” list instead of taking them to tourist attractions in neighbouring counties and towns.
WHERE TO START
The steep slopes of New Ross do not lend themselves to a comfortable walking tour to many. The simple solution therefore is to start at the top and work your way down.
Start at The Fair Gate at the junction of Houghton Place and The Irishtown. There are so many stories that can be told from this spot alone which was one of the five gates in the walls of our ancient town. Touching the remains of this once impressive building will connect you with the great thirteenth century community undertaking which was The Walling of Ross.
The gate itself underwent name changes through the centuries being referred to as The Bishop’s Gate, The Earl’s Gate, The Maiden Gate and The Fair Gate. There is a story behind every name.
The raising of the walls around the town emphasised two specific identities, those who lived inside the walls and those who lived outside, namely The Irishtown.
A stroll along the medieval market place of The Bullawn with its Celtic origins and past Cromwell’s temporary abode will take you to a landmark built by one of the greatest Norman knights and his Irish princess wife, St Mary’s Church.
The view from atop The High Hill is of the ancient borough of Rosbercon and the rolling hills of south Kilkenny. Below lies the goodly Barrow which for centuries was the commercial highway northwards into the heartland of Leinster and southwards a trail of tears for thousands of our emigrant ancestors.
The Three Bullet Gate is another starting point. Like the other gates in the town walls it endured name changes from Aldgate or Old Gate to Bewley Gate to Three Bullet Gate compliments of an artillery salvo from Oliver Cromwell. The events of 5th June 1798 at this spot assured its place in Irish history as it is enshrined in our National Anthem as The Bearna Baoil. You can walk down Neville St and Bewley St in the footsteps of Kelly the Boy from Kilann and his brave Bantry men as they fought their way to the Mainguard at The Tholsel. Stories of bravery, tragedy and horror from that history changing day can be told in every step. Stand on Mary St and imagine the ranks of poorly armed United Irishmen charging towards the muskets and cannon of the Crown Forces drawn up in military order at The Tholsel.
The downtown area contains many buildings, lanes and sites worthy of a comprehensive narrative in their own right.
If you start at the Emigrant Flame and the Dunbrody replica ship you can leave the storytelling to the wonderful re-enactors on the ship. Priory Lane has the story of the Crutched Friars and their centuries long curse on the town. It is also where the first temperance society in Europe was formed by GW Carr in 1829. Priory St has some wonderful Georgian architecture and was the scene of a gun battle during the War of Independence. You can point out the bullet holes in the buildings to the unbelievers.
South St is a veritable treasure trove of architectural heritage and stories of people and events that range from the medieval to the modern era. Trinity Houses or Hospital are the result of a 16th century Elizabethan Charter and built on the site of the medieval Chantry of St. Saviour. Moving along we pass St Catherine’s Chapel of Ease, the site of the Sugar House and the Tottenham Townhouse. St Michael’s Theatre previously the parish church covers the site of the 14th century Augustinian Friary some vestiges of which are reputedly visible in the nearby laneway to Doyle’s Yard. The great 16th century English poet Edmund Spenser once owned our Augustinian friary.
One of the many blue plaques around the town draws attention to the birthplace of executed 1916 rebel, leader and author Michael O’Hanrahan.
Lady Lane has stories to tell BUT, discreetly.
The Man Over Merry’s gazes down on us silently waiting for his story of the specialised tea trade from China to be told. The well preserved and well-presented shop fronts tell their own story and are well used to the favourable comments of visitors.
The Tholsel simply bursts with history and bears the contradictions of our heritage in the form of plaques and inscriptions on its façade forcefully emphasised by a defiant Matthew Furlong from across the road.
One building in North St can boast connections to Robert Louis Stevenson, the Battle of the Boyne, and the founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.
Further up and looking right the medieval thoroughfare of the High Hill that linked six of New Ross’ seven bridges to the uptown area.
Next time you have to plan a “to do list” for visitors make sure you adopt a NEW ROSS FIRST approach and show off the history and heritage of your town with pride.
Credit to Myles Courtney from New Ross Street Focus.