Hook Peninsula, County Wexford


Location of Hook Peninsula
I have a feeling not too many visitors to Ireland actually know about Hook Peninsula. I wanted to stay near Wexford and while planning I found an open campground within walking distance of the town of Wexford. But as I researched the campground I decided that probably wasn't the best place so I found another one that was closer to the Peninsula. This turned out to be quite the find! 
Roches Campervan and Campsite is located right on Bannow Bay, which is where the Normans landed in 1169 AD. In fact, you can see where they landed from the campsite.
I think I have the arrow pointing to the correct place
The campground is a working dairy farm complete with farm dogs. There was only 1 other person staying there so we had the campground almost to ourselves. During warmer months they have live music in the common area, but the owner had traditional Irish music playing for us that we were able to enjoy during trips to the bathroom. 
View from the top of the hill as we drove into the campground
We were close to a village, Wellingtonbridge (County Wexford), so we went into town to get dinner and more groceries. I don't remember what we ate at this pub, but it was good and pretty convenient.
More like a restaurant than a pub, but the food was really good.
Enough about the campground. For more details visit the post on our Flyin' the Coop blog. 

Thanks to a lady I spoke with at our first campsite, our first stop on the peninsula was Tintern Abbey. If it wasn't for her, we probably would have missed this gem!
The Abbey as we drove down the lane toward it
The history is amazing. In 1200, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, ran into stormy weather and his ship was almost wrecked. He vowed to find an abbey where ever he would land if he landed safely. He donated 3500 hectares for a Cistercian Abbey. The Abbey was then colonized by monks from Tintern Abbey in Wales. The Abbey became a residence in the 16th century; a member of the family lived here until 1959.
We arrived before the grounds opened, so we took a stroll to see the battlemented bridge and church ruins.
The church is believed to have been used by the villagers
The parts of the abbey that are still standing are the nave, chancel, and Lady Chapel. 
You can tell there used to be another floor
Also on the grounds is a walled garden. We bought entrance to both, thinking we got quite a deal because the guy allowed us to purchase student tickets since he was out of senior ones. We were a few weeks too early to enjoy the beauty of the garden. We saw pictures of it in full bloom and it and I'm sure it is absolutely spectacular at the height of the blooming season.
A glimpse inside...mid-March was definitely not the time to visit!
The main reason we stayed near the Hook Peninsula was the Hook Lighthouse, which is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. 
The lighthouse dates back to the 12th century
While on the tour, we were told that monks first ran the lighthouse even before there was one. They lit fires on the bank to warn ships of the land and probably helped to build the current tower. One look at the inside and how similar it looks to monasteries of the time supports this.
The ceiling looks very much like the ruins of the abbeys that we visited

The fireplace dates back to the 13th century and spans 3 floors

The chapel was one of the first things we saw as we came in the door of the lighthouse
I didn't take any pictures of the staircase holding the 115 steps to the tower, but it is unique considering that time period. Usually, the stairs within the castles and tower houses are clockwise so the knights coming down the stairs could hold their swords in their right hand, putting the opposing knights coming up the stairs at an advantage. In the lighthouse, the monks needed room to hold the bag of fuel for the light, so the stairs were built going the opposite way of the castles/tower houses.  

Luckily, we didn't have to climb all 115 stairs at one time; we stopped on each floor to hear the history. When we finally got to the top of the tower, the views were breathtaking.
Somewhere out there is the Graveyard of a Thousand Ships. The most recent ships lost were in 2007. There is a memorial close by; however, the guide didn't tell us about it and we didn't see it. Too bad; I like to visit memorials and pay my respects to those who lost their lives.

There is whale-watching and seal-watching on the Peninsula but we weren't there at the right time of the year for that. There are the ruins of a church that is near the lighthouse. St. Dubhán was a Welsh monk who came to the Hook Peninsula in the 5th century. The ruins of the church are believed to be from the 13th or 14th century. It is the monks from the monastery that he founded who were the first caretakers of the lighthouse. Dubhán means "hook", so the peninsula took its name from this monk.
We didn't stop because we were on the way to find a place for the night and we weren't sure how long it would take. I took these pictures as drove by:
County Wexford: DONE. We thought about staying another night at the same place we stayed the night before but I wasn't sure what to expect at the next location I wanted to see. So we headed up the coast toward Dublin. We were hoping to find a parking lot in Wicklow where we could park the van, walk to dinner, and walk around town. I found the town to be very crowded and not van-friendly. Every parking lot we found had a height restriction bar on it. I asked a lady if she knew of any place and she directed me to what would have been a good one, except for the height restriction bar. We actually found one parking lot that was adjacent to a park complete with a skateboard area which gave me a reason to wonder how safe it was. So we decided to just head farther north, staying on a regional road to see if we could find something. We saw signs for a bird sanctuary and thought that may be a place but before we found it, CH saw a pub in a village called Newcastle.
If you know who Hozier is, Newcastle is where he is from. I'm not sure if he still lives there, but Sinead O'Connor does. CH went into the pub and the manager gave us permission to stay in the parking lot overnight. We had an amazing dinner, complete with dessert (and a pint...or 2 of Guinness), and a good night's sleep. The manager even gave us 1/2 of a loaf of brown bread, butter, and homemade jam before we left for the night.
I was happy to see a mama sheep and her lambs in the field next to the parking lot the next morning:
We were ready for our last full day with the van. Next up: County Wicklow.

To find out more about our camping adventure in Ireland, visit Flyin' the Coop.

A Detour

We took a bit of a side trip on our way to the Hook Peninsula. No, it wasn't the Blarney Stone because...eeeew. I've heard some nasty stories about what local teenagers do to that stone at night! No, we went past that tourist place to another. The Rock of Cashel was something I knew CH would enjoy seeing, so we took a detour to drive north of Cork to visit. During the drive, CH pointed out this cross on a hill:
This is called "Devil's Bit". According to legend, the devil took a bite out of this hill then spat it out. The land is where the Rock of Cashel stands. 

As we entered the parking lot, we noticed that the bar allowing entrance was taken down and there was a man who appeared to be fixing it. Hooray for not having to pay to park! We parked and took in the sight of the castle on top of a hill:
Before we climbed the hill we wandered around Cashel just a bit to find someplace to eat lunch. On the way, we went through an alley with a wall that probably could tell quite the story if it could talk.
I'm not sure what captured my interest about that wall, but I just thought it was fascinating. There is no telling how old the building is. 

The Rock of Cashel (or St. Patrick's Rock) is quite impressive as it's on top of a hill, towering over the town of Cashel:
View of the Rock of Cashel 
As we trekked up the hill we noticed the ruins of what may have been a wall protecting the castle.
The climb was steep enough to warrant a resting bench for those who need it.
After much digging, I found out that this is called Scully's cross. It was built in 1867 and in 1976 it was struck by lightning. 
Scully's Cross
The view of the castle near the top of the hill was just as impressive. When we arrived at the top and went to the entry to pay, we were told that there was maintenance happening so we didn't have to pay. The bad part of that is that there were no tours and we weren't able to go inside the Hall of Vicars where the original St. Patrick's Cross is housed. In the cemetery, there is a replica but I must have missed it. Another downside of getting in free!

The left side of this building is a "tower house". Part of the stone was shipped to Watertown, WI, and was used in the cornerstone at St. Bernard's. the right side of the building is the cathedral. The round tower is the oldest part of the castle still standing. It was built in the 12th century.

Apparently, we missed part of the cathedral. There are more frescos than what we saw. I came to this one and didn't go any further because it looked dark and I thought that was the end of the building. 

The frescoes are weathered by time and weather; the ceiling was taken off of the building in 1749. 
The Cathedral

A Sarcophagus with intricate detail
A cross against a wall
I'd love to know the story of that cross. There was nothing else around it. The employees of the site were not to be found wandering around so I couldn't ask anyone. 
16th-century example of the Crucifixion
The view of the countryside from the graveyard was just amazing. This is the near-perfect picture of Ireland with a Celtic Cross and white dots of sheep in the field:

This grave marker caught my eye

Stunning views of the countryside with Mary & Celtic Crosses in the foreground

The outside of Cormac's Chapel
From the Rock of Cashel you can see the ruins of another abbey: Hore Abbey. A young man I spoke with in a gift shop told me that many of the kids have their first kiss there. 
The Cistercian Abbey was established in 1270

Hore Abbey was disestablished in 1540
I wish we had asked if it was possible to go down and have a look around. (On the list for next time!)

Before we left Ireland we had the news on the tv and we discovered why we didn't have to pay to get into the Rock of Cashel: Prince Charles & Camilla were there a couple of days after we visited. I'd like to go back and pay closer attention to the details of the buildings. I'd also like to find St. Patrick's well, which is where St. Patrick is said to have baptized King Aengus in 432 AD. The Hall of the Vicars Choral was closed because of the royal visit, so I'd definitely like to stroll through the museum and see the real St. Patrick's Cross.

After our detour, we headed to our next destination. The next campground is on a working dairy farm on Bannow Bay. It was a gorgeous site and not too far from a village where we were able to drive in, grab a bite to eat as well as some groceries. 
Check out the next post for more amazing places to visit in Ireland!

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