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Thursday 5 December 2019

Book shines new light on stories of the past

Fashionable ladies on North Main St, Wexford, circa 1900
Fashionable ladies on North Main St, Wexford, circa 1900

Maria Pepper

'Fascinating Wexford' is a new book by the writer and researcher Des Kiely whose previous publication 'Famous Wexford People in History' was a major local success.

The 200-page book is filled with stories from Wexford's distant and recent past which graphic designer Des unearthed as he travelled around the county interviewing people with knowledge of historical places and happenings.

Well-known and lesser-known events are featured, including bombing of Campile, the killing of 14 people in Bunclody over the sale of two heifers, the village of Rosslare fort which was submerged by the sea, how the Guinness Book of Records began in Castlebridge, the mysterious origin of the Doll's House in Rathaspeck, the brutal murder of a sweet shop owner in Cinema Lane, the Aer Lingus Flight 712 crash, Wexford's Dutch landscape at the North and South Slobs, the horrific deaths of 15 workmen at Tuskar Lighthouse and the farmer who gave shelter to 10 evicted families.

Was stolen money from Tintern Abbey used to set up the Kennedys in Boston, is the question posed by Des in one of the articles. Lieutenant John Kennedy was employed as a steward at Tintern Abbey estate by the Colclough family and was accused of embezzling £80,000 (about €7 million today) over 20 years. He was eventually dismissed from his position in 1818 but the money remains unaccounted for to this day.

Des writes that another Kennedy, Patrick, emigrated from New Ross to Boston a generation later in 1849. His son P.J. bought three saloons and his own whiskey importing business while still in his twenties. P.J.'s son Joseph Kennedy became one of the wealthiest businessmen in America and his son became President of the United States. Was Tintern Abbey the source of the Kennedy fortune? Des examined the Colclough Papers held in the National Library in an attempt to find out.

He recounts the story of the Blue Whale, the largest animal known to have ever lived, which was stranded near the mouth of Wexford Harbour in 1891 and brought onlookers from far and wide.

The whale was put out of its misery and the carcass was eventually sold to the Natural History Museum in London where it is on display to this day.

Another article recalls the day in 1940 when Hitler's Luftwaffe bombed Campile, killing three young Wexford women and also lists lesser known German air attacks on the county in 1941 as well as crash landings on Wexford's south coast.

In one incident near Our Lady's Island, the surviving crew of four were detained in the Curragh camp for the duration of the war. Three of them married Irish women and settled in Ireland. The pilot was repatriated to East Germany but escaped in 1949 and returned to marry his Irish fiancee.

Also featured is the story of the MV Kerlogue and its brave crew who rescued 168 German sailors in the Bay of Biscay in 1943. Later that year, the Wexford coaster endured a near catastrophic attack by the RAF. Ironically, it was its British cargo of coal that saved it from disaster.

Richard Donovan from Camolin is remembered for the part he played in the success of D-Day by undertaking the management of the construction of floating harbours close to the beaches of Normandy.

Des also takes a detailed look back at the Aer Lingus crash near Tuskar Rock in 1968 that killed all 61 people on board including stewardess Ann Kelly from Wexford. He examines the official reports and considers whether or not there was a cover-up.

There is the story of the first successful flight between Britain and Ireland which was achieved by a brash Etonian, the son of a wealthy London barrister, who took off from Fishguard and landed 100 minutes later in a field near Monageer on April 22, 1912, suffering a broken propeller, just one week after the sinking of the Titanic.

The book includes accounts of gruesome murders and killings in the county, including the murder of a young Wexford girl upstairs in the Cape public house (now Macken's) in the Bullring and the shooting dead of the owner of Bishopswater Distillery by an excise man.

Also included is an article about the last two Wexford men hanged for murder - both of their victims were men living alone and were beaten to death for their life savings.

The Mayor of Wexford, Cllr. George Lawlor writes in the foreword that the book's title doesn't disappoint ' the stories and recounts are all absolutely fascinating in every sense.'

Des plans to publish Volume Two of 'Fascinating Wexford History' in 2020.

Volume One will be launched by the Mayor in the Book Centre, Wexford on Thursday, November 14 at 6.30 p.m.

Wexford People

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