The Norman Way – Visit New Ross, Co. Wexford
A Brief Summary
In 1166, Diarmait Mac Murchada was ousted as King of Leinster, fled Ireland and sought help from Henry II. Henry gave Diarmait permission to recruit mercenaries and authorised his subjects to help Diarmait. In May 1169 the Normans first arrived to Ireland at Bannow Bay in Wexford. They set about conquering Leinster and the territories Diarmait had claimed sovereignty over.
The intriguing tale of the journey from invaders to becoming ‘More Irish than the Irish themselves’, can be rediscovered along the gems on the Norman Way of Wexford- it will win you over as we did the Normans all those years ago.
The route of the Norman Way, taking in each of the finished ten sites from Lady’s Island to Kilmore Quay, is approximately 22km. The distance between Kilmore Quay and St Mary’s Church in New Ross is approximately 43km, not every site is completed with information boards. The following sites are completed with information boards.
The Sites along the Way
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.
St. Iberius’ Church
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.
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.
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’.
St. Catherine’s Church
A Wonderful Place of Worship for the Normans
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.
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 a 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.
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 the 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.
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.
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 15thcentury.
Forth and Bargy
As you travel along the Norman Way in Wexford, Tomhaggard lies on the dividing line between the Norman barony of Forth on the Wexford side, and the lands of Bargy on the New Ross side.
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.
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.
Find out more about the Norman Way in New Ross: The Norman Way New Ross