MEMOIR: Strongbow 800 in County Wexford

Published in Features, Issue 3 (May/June 2019), Volume 27

By Nicholas Furlong

In 1169 and 1170, events of enormous significance in the history of County Wexford—and, indeed, of Ireland—took place: the landing of Norman mercenaries in Bannow and Baginbun in south-east Wexford. By then the Norse had been in Wexford for 350 years. Their place-names and family names proclaim their presence. Examples are Tuskar, the Saltees and the family name Doyle (Ó Dubhghaill).

In view of these events and the proliferation of Norman, Flemish and Welsh names in the south-east (Power, Roche, Walshe, Devereux, Furlong), it was confidently expected that due attention would be drawn by the local press to this highly important series of events in south Wexford and Irish history. I awaited with keen interest the expected excitement in County Wexford newspapers. It was also assumed that Wexford County Council and the four urban councils (Wexford, Enniscorthy, New Ross and Gorey) would be active in ensuring appropriate commemorations. Remarkably, the three newspapers of the People Group (serving Wexford town, New Ross and Enniscorthy) and the Enniscorthy Echo entirely ignored it throughout May 1969. So did the local councils. Not one syllable, notice or news item about these significant events was printed. This unleashed the anger of a contributor to The People newspaper:

‘In the resounding silence which will enshroud all Wexford on the 800th anniversary of the Norman landings this month I cry shame, shame on all who cried a halt on what should have been a gigantic tourist and festive occasion, no matter what view one might take of the whole issue.’

Above: ‘Arrogant Trespass—the Normans landing at Bannow Strand’, panel 3 (of twelve) of the Ros Tapestry, produced between 2000 and 2012, a combined professional and community art project by 150 voluntary stitchers commissioned for St Mary’s Church, New Ross. The 800th anniversary of the landing in May 1969 was ignored by the local press and councils.

As spring 1970 approached, I discovered that arrangements were being made to hold a commemoration that month at Baginbun, site of the second landing of the Norman mercenaries. An appropriate monument had been erected and a ceremony of unveiling would take place on the day. I looked forward eagerly to attending, in anticipation of due tribute being paid to these momentous events of 1169/70.

The event was attended by a Dublin group led by Richard Roche, later literary editor of the Irish Independent. With him was Cyril Cusack, a nationally and internationally renowned actor. The speech was delivered by Mr Hearne, a local farmer and landowner. At this remove I cannot remember one word of Mr Hearne’s address. When he concluded, the locals drifted away. The Dublin contingent, with the distinguished Cyril Cusack, went I know not where. Richard Roche was extremely dissatisfied and there was a pervasive feeling of having been let down.

Mr Hearne informed me recently that the ‘Shinners had vandalised the monument’. Some Bannow people also resented Baginbun’s staging of the pageant. Bannow had proposed to stage one themselves, but of what this might have consisted is not recorded. In 1968 Wexford had won a memorable All-Ireland Hurling final with Norman names like Colfer, Neville and Staples prominent. In 1969/70 County Wexford officially paid no attention whatsoever to these memorable events in Wexford, Irish and European history.

Nicholas Furlong was formerly a columnist with the newspapers of the People Group.

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