independent

Monday 9 December 2019

Wexford's Medieval Heritage

Council Report

St. John's Graveyard after the works
St. John's Graveyard after the works

Maria Pepper at the monthly Wexford Municipal Borough meeting

The importance of protecting and providing access to Wexford's medieval heritage sites was underlined at a Borough District Council meeting by the conservation archaeologist Catherine McLoughlin.

Ms. McLoughlin of Stafford McLoughlin Archaeologists was invited to address the meeting following a tour that she conducted of historical town sites for local councillors.

The medieval streetscape and the lanes, streets and circuits of the town wall are still visible within the town which was founded sometime in the late 9th or 10th centuries as a Viking trading port, she said.

Wexford became the very first Anglo-Norman town in Ireland following the landings at Bannow in May 1169, when the Vikings surrendered the town following an attack of the combined Irish forces of Diarmuid McMurrough and the Anglo-Normans. In the following centuries, the town became one of the principal trading ports of the south east.

Wexford and New Ross are members of the Irish Walled Towns Network which is managaed by the Heritage Council which gives grant aid through the IWTN to member towns for conversation projects.

In 2008, a Town Walls Conservation Plan was undertaken for both Wexford and New Ross, with grant funding from the Walled Towns Network.

Wexford County Council has also availed of funding through sources such as the Structures at Risk scheme.

Ms. McLouglin presented a map of the Town Wall circuit including upstanding and below-ground sections and medieval sites which are national monuments, including Selskar Abbey, St. John's Graveyard, St. Iberius Church, Franciscan Friary, St. Patrick's Church and Graveyard, St. Peter's Church, St. Mary's Church and Graveyard and St. Doologue's.

Ms. McLoughlin has been involved in the management of a number of conservation projects on the surviving built heritage on behalf of the Council with the most recent being works on the wall at Rowe Street and the repair of a wall which collapsed at St. Mary's Church.

Last year, marble grave slabs at the Redmond Mausoleum in St. John's Graveyard were cleaned and a new path installed while conservation work was carried out on the town wall on the 17th century side of St. Patrick's graveyard.

Other works date back to the 1990's and 2010 including the conservation of Westgate Tower and town wall and the town wall works at Abbey Street.

Mayor of Wexford, Cllr. George Lawlor said there is a wealth of untapped heritage sites in the town.

Cllr. David Hynes asked Ms. McLoughlin if she would agree that a town like Wexford, with such a rich history, should have its own museum.

The archaeologist replied: 'It's an amazing Viking medieval town and as it is there is nowhere for people to go to see the town in context and to understand the medieval architecture'.

Cllr. Leonard Kelly said he believes that the heritage sites hold major potential for the town.

'The day you brought us into St. Patrick's Church I was blown away. Is there anything you would see that would bring easy wins, that we could do straight away', he asked.

Ms.McLoughlin said John Street graveyard is an obvious one, if there was a keyholder to open it up for a few hours a day.

'Selskar Abbey as well. It needs a bit of work done but why is it not open more. Everyone wants to go into Selskar.'

She said that when working on medieval heritage locations, the question most frequently asked by members of the public they come into contact with, is about access to the sites which have a high amenity value for local residents and visiting tourists.

'We always refer people to Wexford County Council, however an access policy does need to be considered', she said.

An active vegetation management plan is also required, as vegetation on town walls and churches will always grow back, she advised, adding that weedkiller should not be routinely sprayed in graveyards.

She said work on the town's medieval built heritage requires funding and there may be additional grant schemes available which are not being accessed.

Deputy Mayor, Cllr. Maura Bell said Wexford needs more events like the Walled Towns Day. She commended the organisers of Wexford Walking Tours and suggested looking at the idea of 'talking plaques' in areas other than John Street graveyard.

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