independent

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Uncovering Wexford's medieval town walls

James Lavin, Catherine McLoughlin, Martin Codd, Justin Codd and Joe Byrne beside the Town Wall in Rowe Street
James Lavin, Catherine McLoughlin, Martin Codd, Justin Codd and Joe Byrne beside the Town Wall in Rowe Street

Maria Pepper

Wexford's historic Town Walls, hidden behind centuries of vegetation, are emerging from the shadows to take their rightful place in the sun again.

A project is underway by Wexford County Council to uncover and preserve the walls with a view to making them more open and visible to the public.

A stretch of wall beside the People Newspapers building in Rowe Street has recently come into the limelight following the removal of a thick carpet of ivy which kept it hidden from public view for many years. The underlying masonry is being consolidated and repointed with lime mortar.

The work is being undertaken by Martin Codd Architectural Stonemasons and overseen by conservation archaeologist Catherine McLoughlin of Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology with John Quigley as structural engineer.

Before the task began, a laser survey of the wall was carried out by surveyor Joe Byrne.

'Everyone is encouraged to visit when it is completed, to enjoy this newly conserved and accessible stretch of town wall', said Senior Executive Planner James Lavin.

'The Town Walls of Wexford are a source of civic pride and contribute greatly to the overall quality of life and sense of place for residents and visitors to the town', he said.

The Council believes that opening them up to the public as a prominent and valued feature will stimulate pride in an ancient community and create opportunities for sympathetic new amenities close to them.

'It is the aim of Wexford County Council that the walls will be preserved in perpetuity for the enjoyment of citizens and visitors', he said.

'They will be maintained to the highest possible conservation standards and where possible, access will be promoted'.

The Council plans to improve public awareness, knowledge and appreciation of the walls and to produce an illustrated map of medieval Wexford to assist in their interpretation.

The Town Walls are an important surviving feature and reminder of the long history of Wexford town from its Viking origins and its later Anglo-Norman colonisation, according to Catherine McLoughlin of Drinagh.

Built after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in 1169, the stone defences ran in a loose C shape around the landward side of Wexford, leaving the town open to the sea.

Covering more than 59 acres, the walls were punctuated by seven gates - the sole surviving gate at Selskar was an access into the Abbey and not a gate to the town.

Fortifications were an essential part of early towns, serving as vital security and also status symbols that signified the wealth and industry of the townspeople within.

Sections of the walls and most of the gates were demolished in the 18th century but a number of 'mural towers' and significant sections of the original wall survived intact.

Instead of allowing demolition and decay to continue, it is now recognised that the walls, towers and gates are an asset and a valuable part of the character of the town that they have shaped and protected for hundreds of years, said Ms. McLoughlin.

A conservation and management plan carried out some years ago by Alastair Coey Architects of Belfast outlined policies to protect and manage the Town Walls and these are now being used as a guide to identify areas in need of attention and maintain the walls in the long-term.

The current phase of works to the Town Wall at Rowe Street is being carried out with funding from the Heritage Council and Wexford County Council and follows a project in St. Patrick's Graveyard in previous years, also part-funded by the Heritage Council.

As the project involves work to a National Monument, the consent of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht was required.

Wexford People

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