Viking Places to Visit in Wexford

Wexford’s location on the south east coast of Ireland between the two Viking strongholds of Dublin and Waterford meant that it was greatly influenced by the power struggles that played out between Irish and Viking Kings. Its beaches and natural harbour were a welcome haven to the Viking longboats and the tributary of the the Three Sister rivers allowed them to reach into the interior of the hotly contested lands in Leinster and Munster. Originally, thier visits meant plunder and rampage of the lucartive monasteries but over time when the Vikings had integrated more they managed to establish settlements from where they traded and farmed and were employed as allies and mercenaries by the local chieftains.

Ferns, Wexford, the Vikings

Ferns, Co. Wexford

In Celtic times Ferns in north county Wexford was the capital of the kingdom of Leinster, and became the capital of Ireland when the kings had their seat of power here. Only for a fire that destroyed most of it, it is said that would have been a significant Irish city today!

The first Christian monastic settlement in Ferns was in the 6th century by St. Mogue. This site was raided by the Norse Vikings in 835 during their early forays on the island, and again in 919 when they were more established.

Diarmuid Mac Murrough founded St. Mary's Abbey here in 1158 and was buried here in 1171. He died just months after the arrival of Strongbow, whom he had invited to Ireland, heralded the Age of the Normans. These are the ruins that stand here today. Ferns Castle was built here by William Marshall, reputedly the greatest of Knights, in the 13th century. 

Irish National Heritage Park

The National Heritage Park is in Ferrycarrig just 3 miles from Wexford town on the R730. Here in 35 acres of beautiful woodland and wetland you can follow several heritage walking trails including crannógs, Viking forts and ringforts. There is a reconstructed Viking village on the shores of the lake. You can also try your hand at archery, rowing on the lake, wattling your own house, throwing spears and many other medieval activities and crafts. The Park and its facilities are open all year round. Sat Nav: N: 52.348 W: -6.51673

 Irish National Heritage Park
Westgate Heritage Centre

Westgate Heritage Centre

This interpretative centre is named after the Westgate Tower which is located in the centre of Viking and Norman Wexford. Walking tours are available to explore this sole-remaining gateway to medieval Wexford. It was built as part of the fortification orders of Henry II in 1172 when Wexford fell under Norman control. Next door and part of the visit is Selskar Abbey.

Selskar Abbey is a 12th century structure that replaced an older pre-Christian temple dedicated to Odin, and therefore a Danish foundation. 

It is here that a treaty was first signed between the Normans and the Gaelic in 1169 toward the end of the Viking Age. At this time the town was surrendered to Robert Fitzstephen, one of the early Cambro-Normans to come to Ireland hoping to gain lands and wealth. He was an ally of Mac Murrough, who awaited the arrival of Strongbow. Selskar Abbey was suppressed in the reign of Henry VIII, but not destroyed. Cromwell finally destroyed it in 1649. The present Abbey Church (Protestant) was built in 1818 on the east side of the ancient tower, and the ruins of the original Abbey Church are to the west. 

Wexford Harbour Islands

Wexford Harbour is the natural harbour of the River Slaney and it was here the Vikings arrived in 819 and built their first settlement on this inlet of the mudflats. The area to the north is known as the Sloblands and is an area of significant natural beauty, providing as it does a natural habitat for plants and wildlife.

Many island were inhabited in earlier times and we know from the annals that in 821 the Vikings plundered Wexford harbour islands and again in 919 probably by the same fleet who raided Ferns Abbey in the same year.

Wexford Harbour Islands

For example, Begerin was formerly an island and now is reclaimed slobland. There was a monastery here built in the early 5th century by St Ibar. It is thought that some Vikings may have joined the monastery at Beg Erin.

In around 1170 the Normans began to arrive and upset the relative harmony, as they took control of the town of Wexford. There was a short battle after which the Hiberno-Norse withdrew within the walls leaving their ships unprotected. These were set on fire by the attackers - this may have been the origin of the Wexford Town crest, the three burning ships.

In 1171, the inhabitants of Wexford town imprisoned the Norman leader, Robert Fitzstephen on Beg Erin. The Benedictines built a church on the island in the thirteenth century, some remains of which can still be seen.