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Wexford Harbour

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Overview





Wexford Harbour and is located ten miles north of Ireland’s southeast corner. Home to the county town, it welcomes visiting boats who may come alongside fishing boats moored against the town quay, to anchor off or pick up club visitor moorings inside the harbour.

Wexford Harbour and is located ten miles north of Ireland’s southeast corner. Home to the county town, it welcomes visiting boats who may come alongside fishing boats moored against the town quay, to anchor off or pick up club visitor moorings inside the harbour.

The harbour provides complete protection. Attentive daylight navigation in moderate conditions, and possibly, a rise of tide, is required for access as the harbour is situated in a shallow, eastward-facing river estuary. This said, the five-mile-long channel though to the quays is well-marked so it is simply a matter of following the marks one to the next.
Please note

Parts of the entrance channel can be shallow depending on recent storms. This makes it essential to make preliminary enquiries of the depth status before a planned entry. The harbour should be avoided entirely in strong easterly conditions where the sea breaks on the entrances sand bar making it impassable.




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Keyfacts for Wexford Harbour



Last modified
April 26th 2020

Summary* Restrictions apply

A completely protected location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Water available via tapTop up fuel available in the area via jerry cansExtensive shopping available in the areaFuel by arrangement with bulk tanker providerSlipway availableLaundry facilities availableShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaDoctor or hospital in the areaPharmacy in the areaChandlery available in the areaMarine engineering services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaBus service available in the areaTrain or tram service available in the areaBicycle hire available in the areaCar hire available in the areaTourist Information office availableShore based family recreation in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBerth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementJetty or a structure to assist landingSailing Club baseUrban nature,  anything from a small town of more 5,000 inhabitants  to a large cityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: may be subject to a sand barNote: could be two hours or more from the main waterways



Position and approaches
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Haven position

52° 20.360' N, 006° 27.370' W

This is in the middle of the moorings off the town quay.

What is the initial fix?

The following Wexford Harbour Bar Buoy Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
52° 19.183' N, 006° 19.453' W
This waypoint is the 2020 position of the Bar Buoy Safe Water Mark. The 'Bar Buoy' is a red/white safe water marker LFl.10s.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are southbound vessels are available in eastern Ireland’s coastal overview for Dublin Bay to Rosslare Harbour Route location. Details for vessels approaching from the southwest are available in southwestern Ireland’s coastal overview for Rosslare Harbour to Cork Harbour Route location.
  • Confirm the entire channel has sufficient depth of water with the harbour office in advance.

  • Find the Bar Buoy and look inshore for the first channel marks.

  • Follow the chain of markers all the way in.

  • Do not diverge from the marked channel as there is little tolerance.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Wexford Harbour for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Rosslare Bay (or South Bay) - 4 miles SE
  2. Rosslare Europort (Rosslare Harbour) - 4.2 miles SE
  3. Ballytrent - 5.4 miles SSE
  4. Carne - 5.8 miles SSE
  5. Kilmore Quay - 7 miles SSW
  6. Little Saltee (landing beach) - 7.9 miles SSW
  7. Little Saltee (east side) - 8.1 miles SSW
  8. Little Saltee (west side) - 8.2 miles SSW
  9. Great Saltee (landing beach) - 8.8 miles SSW
  10. Gilert Bay - 9.1 miles SSW
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Rosslare Bay (or South Bay) - 4 miles SE
  2. Rosslare Europort (Rosslare Harbour) - 4.2 miles SE
  3. Ballytrent - 5.4 miles SSE
  4. Carne - 5.8 miles SSE
  5. Kilmore Quay - 7 miles SSW
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

Resources search



What's the story here?
Wexford Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur

Formed by the estuary of the River Slaney, Wexford Harbour is fronted by a shallow, eastward-facing largely drying estuary that is fronted by a shallow bar at its entrance. Wexford, the county town of County Wexford, is situated on the west bank of the river about 3½ miles west of the entrance. The town is fronted by quays, and two conspicuous church spires, standing on the rising ground above the river’s western bank, can be seen from a great distance.

In the past, Wexford Harbour was somewhat exposed to the southeast but a new pier, established on the opposite side of the river to the town, protects this exposure. The central issue with the harbour is the depth in the approach channel that snakes its way inward around the estuary.


Checking the foresail on a still morning in Wexford Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


The channel is subject to frequent change as the estuary sands shift. This largely depends on the winter storm activity, plus to a lesser degree silting, that cause the channel and its depths to alter each year. As such, all charted depths and sandbank structure are entirely historic and cannot be used for navigation. This has to be seen as a benefit as the estuarial charts present a daunting picture.


The Slaney Estuary as seen from the south
Image: Michael Harpur


Fortunately, the problem of navigating the shifting sands has largely been overcome by the placement of closely spaced channel markings each year that make the routing plain. The harbour channel markers are regularly maintained and can be relied upon to follow the shifts. An interactive preview of the current position of the marks External link is available for web browsers in which the details of the marks and their positions are available by clicking on their icons. The channel is further supported by a free 'Wexford Harbour Navigation app' available for smartphones intended to aid navigation into Wexford Harbour. The web page Wexford Harbour Navigation app External link provides a video overview of the installation process and an overview of it running.

Wexford Harbour Navigation Mapviewer External link

Image: Wexford Harbour Office


Though the path is plain it is the depths at various points along the channel remain a limiting factor for Wexford Harbour. It is therefore essential, before making any approach, to check that the entire channel has sufficient depth, or can be made so by working the tides, to support the vessel’s draft. The latest information can be obtained in advance from the Harbour Office via phone Landline+353 (0) 9122300 / +353 (0)53 9129955 or E-mailharbourmaster@wexfordcoco.ie. If the harbour office cannot be reached try Rosslare Radio, [Rosslare Radio] VHF Ch 12, Landline+353 (0) 9133249 or Wexford Harbour Boat Club, available on Landline+353 (0)53 91 22039. All will be delighted to advise on the current status and depths within the channel.


Local boats on moorings in Wexford Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


A reasonable expectation is that the town quays can be comfortably accessed by vessels of a draft of 1.8 metres and can support vessels carrying drafts of up to 3 metres that are prepared to work the tides to access the harbour. It is always advisable for first-time visitors to time their visit to utilise good conditions, ideally HW minus 2 hours, daylight with fair visibility to follow the closely spaced channel markers.

Deepwater will always be found in the harbour fairway located in the mouth of the River Slaney, between the south and north training walls alongside the town. The deepest berths charted in the harbour are 3.7 metres. Vessels are always welcome to come alongside the quay or mussel dredgers (that generally do not fish in summer months) without berthing fees. The price of moorings are posted on the harbour office site during the season but a reasonable expectation is about ‎€10 per night.

Outside of this, most of the harbour is silted up with more than half of its present extent uncovering and the remainder shallow.


How to get in?
The entrance to Wexford Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Use eastern Ireland’s coastal overview for Dublin Bay to Rosslare Harbour Route location when approaching from the north or southwestern Ireland’s coastal overview for Rosslare Harbour to Cork Harbour Route location for vessels approaching from the south, southwest and east. Wexford Harbour is entered between Rosslare Point and The Raven Point, which form the southern and northern sides of the harbour entrance.

The least depth over the bar has been reported to be about 1.5 metres. In strong winds between southeast and northeast, the seas break heavily on the bar rendering it impassable. In these circumstances, it would be best to round Carnsore Point and head for Waterford Harbour that provides excellent all-weather protection. If the tide requires a late evening approach or an early morning departure, it would be prudent to take some key waypoints from the Wexford Harbour Navigation Mapviewer External link. During these times, should there be cleary skies, the low sun can be blinding over the water making it a challenge to pick out the marks and to then discern if they are port and starboard.

Wexford Harbour Bay Buoy
Image: With thanks to the Wexford Harbour Office
All approaches centre upon finding the constantly changing Bar Buoy, that lies in the North Sheer Channel, somewhere between the entrance and Long Bank, typically on the 10-metre contour and 1½ to 2 miles outside the estuaries' entrance points. This marks the start of a line of clearly visible port and starboard channel markers that lead into the quays.

Initial fix location From the initial fix situated in the immediate vicinity of the 2020 position of the 'Wexford Harbour Bar Buoy', the Bar Buoy as it is known locally, should be visible.

Buoy (Lighted) Safe Water Mark L Fl 10s position:52° 19.183' N, 006° 19.453' W


Wexford Harbour Channel with seals on the nearby sandbanks
Image: Burke Corbett


From the bar buoy, the channel marker buoys should be clearly visible out to the west as there is little distance between them. Then it is simply a matter of following the chain of markers leading in. The town’s conspicuous church spires will be clearly visible in the distance. Although the harbour has a very well marked and maintained channel, there is little margin for error, so keep tight to the marks.


Small boat following the channel marks into the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


The channel is long, approximately 5 miles, and snakes around the bay so a transit hour should be factored into tidal planning. The shallowest point of the channel is typically found in the sheltered inner reach of the harbour.


The training wall leading out to the Black Man and the Ballast Bank
Image: Michael Harpur


The conspicuous Black Man south cardinal is located on the end of the north training wall but the wall itself covers at high water and it is important to pass well south of this marker.


Blackman Cardinal with the training wall covered
Image: Michael Harpur
The town is situated on the west bank of the river fronted by ½ a mile of quays below Wexford Bridge that spans the mouth of the river.

A new quay has been added on the opposite and eastern side of the river to the town from which the north training wall extends southeast to the Black Man marker. The bridge restricts vessels of any airdraft higher than the 5.8 metres centre arch’s vertical clearance.


Yachts on moorrings in the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Leisure craft may anchor in the river harbour between Ballast Bank and Wexford Bridge, in depths from 2.3 to 6 metres. Streams are strong, attaining a rate of about 2 knots at springs in both directions. A tripping line is highly advisable in this historic harbour.


Fishing boats alongside Wexford Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Alongside berths are available at the town quays or rafted up with from 0.3 metres to 3.7 metres, and 2.7 metres. Some visitor moorings are provided by WHBTC, close north of the Ballast Bank.


The ballast bank with local club moorings in front
Image: Michael Harpur


Vessels that can pass under the bridge will find Wexford Sailing Club half a mile above the bridge off the south bank of the river, with the pathway marked by two further channel marks. There is a boat slip 300 metres from the clubhouse.


Wexford Harbour Bridge
Image: Michael Harpur


Craft with little airdraft that do not exceed a draught of 1.1 metres will find the River Slaney navigable for a distance of 19 miles. With some planning, it may be possible to reach Enniscorthy which is 13 miles upriver from Wexford.


Why visit here?
The ancient County town of Wexford, in Irish Loch Garman, is situated where the River Slaney widens into a spacious harbour before exiting into the Irish Sea. According to local legend, the town acquired its 'Irish' name from a young man called Garman Garbh who drowned on the river mouth’s mudflats in floodwaters released by an enchantress. The resulting lake was thus named the Lake, Loch, of Garman.

Crescent Quay Wexford Town
Image: Tourism Ireland


The name 'Wexford' comes from the much later Viking period who founded the town in about 800AD. The name is derived from the name 'Veisafjoror' that translates appropriately to 'inlet (fjord) in the mudflats' in the Old Norse and the name has altered little through the centuries. For the 350 years that followed, the Viking establishment remained a largely independent Wexford settlement of Ostmen, as the Danes or Norwegians were called, who only paid token dues to the Irish Kings of Leinster. They built a formidable walled town that ran down running to the water's edge. These walls included towers or turrets at intervals and it was defended on the outside by a ditch, beyond which there was rising ground. Although the Irish had several times won battles against the foreigners they were quite incapable of taking the town by storm. Likewise, as long as the sea communication remained open, the town could not be reduced by siege. So the harbour town of Wexford remained a secure enclave for the Danish and a perfect harbour for their vessels to carry on a level of trade with South Wales and Bristol that was only superseded by that of Dublin and Waterford.


The ruin of Selskar Abbey
Image: Nicola Barnett via CC BY-NC 2.0


This all changed with the Norman invasion of Ireland. This invasion was a two-stage process. The first wave was a loosely associated collection of Norman knights led by Fitz-Stephen that landed in Bannow Bay Click to view haven in 1169. The invasion only began in earnest the following year when the main body of Norman, Welsh and Flemish forces landed in Baginbun Click to view haven under the command of Raymond le Gros, Raymond Fitzwilliam, and then, shortly afterwards, the invasion leader Strongbow, Richard de Clare. Wexford Town, however, was to be the focal point of the first invasion and it would feel the brunt of the first wave. With the objective to taking Leinster, the southeast province of Ireland, Fitz Stephen could not leave so important a holding in hostile hands in his rear. Accordingly, Wexford Town was the first objective of the invaders.

Diarmait MacMurrough
Image: Public Domain
After landing in Bannow Bay Fitz-Stephen joined forces with Diarmait MacMurrough’s forces, the ousted King of Leinster, who brought about the invasion to regain his kingdom. They immediately set out for Wexford town after a brief passing skirmish in Duncomick, Dún Cormaic meaning 'fort of Cormaic', they set up camp outside Wexford fort laying siege to the town. Their first attack did not fair well. On the rising ground behind the town they placed archers so as to command the turrets on the walls. Under the shelter of their arrows, Fitz-Stephen's men in mail proceeded to fill in parts of the ditch fronting the wall with rounds of rushes. Over the levelled areas they set to scale the walls with ladders or some extemporized substitute. But the townsmen stood to the defence, and, hurling great beams and stones from the battlements on the heads of the assailants repulsed the assault. Withdrawing then from the walls, the assailants rushed to the neighbouring strand and set fire to all the vessels they could lay their hands on. According to a folk song, eighteen of the English were killed, while the townsfolk lost but three.

The next morning, Fitz Stephen proceeded to renew the attack, but this time with more circumspection than before. His next move was classic Norman military tactic for 'when the besieged will not abandon all hope of defending their town, send in envoys to treat for peace'. And this would work as the Norse inhabitants were persuaded by the Bishop of Ferns to accept a settlement with MacMurrough. This may seem an unnecessary concession but it would somewhat represent a return to the status quo. MacMurrough had earlier claimed overlord of the 'Foreigners of Wexford' after Donnell Kavanagh has defeated them in 1161. That was only 8 years earlier and it was an autonomy that had only lapsed with his Diarmait's recent difficulties. Through the Bishop's negotiations, they agreed to submit and renew their allegiance to Diarmait giving him four hostages for their future fidelity. No violence was done, but the town was henceforth held by the victors and distributed to the Normans by Diarmait to keep them keen. Therein, technically, the first Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in this settlement in Wexford's Selskar Abbey that was founded at the end of the 12th-century on the supposed site of a former Viking temple. King Henry would shortly after spend the Lent of 1172 within its walls as a penance for the 1170 murder of Thomas Becket.

Oliver Cromwell
Image: Public Domain
The fatalities of the first offensive are believed to have been the only deaths during this relatively bloodless siege. This was not to be the case for the next 1649 Oliver Cromwell Siege of Wexford that was a much more bloodthirsty affair. Wexford had been a thorn in Parliament’s side since the Irish rebellion of 1641. It had ejected its Protestants in 1642, leading to 80 of them drowning and was the hub of Royalist Privateers that was perilously close to the English mainland. For all these reasons, Wexford was the next in line after Drogheda had been taken in September 1649. In October his parliamentary army of 6000-foot soldiers, 2,000 cavalries along with, critically, mighty siege guns camped north of the town. They first sent a detachment to capture Rosslare fort that lay at the time at the mouth of the harbour. Once this was secure Cromwell's fleet could enter the harbour unopposed. The army moved to the south of the town from where they bombarded Wexford Castle. Initially, Cromwell issued a summons to surrender, offering lenient terms in the hope that he could secure Wexford intact and use it as winter quarters for his troops. The mayor, aldermen and many citizens of Wexford were prepared to surrender but the military commander David Sinnot, knowing that the Duke of Ormonde’s main Royalist army was close at hand, started to play for time. Cromwell lost patience and talks broke down.

After a week’s bombardment, his troops breached the defences the town’s castle was inexplicably surrendered without a fight by its English Royalist captain, Stafford, and after this, any notion of a fight was over. The troops of the New Model Army, on their own initiative, immediately assault the walls of the town, causing the Confederate troops to flee in panic from their positions. A rout commenced with Irish troops flee from their stations in a panic to be pursued and often massacred by Cromwell’s men. Many more tried to cross the nearby river Slaney to escape the orgy of violence unfolding in the town, but most, including the governor Sinnot, drowned or were shot as they tried to swim. The Castle guns were then turned on the town and Cromwell's troops launched an immediate attack on the town's defenders. Irish troops made a stand in the market square, called the 'Bull Ring', but were quickly overwhelmed.

The 1798 Wexford Pikeman Memorial
Image: lhourahane via CC BY 2.0
Violence in the town grew out of hand, spreading to its civilian population and the buildings as well as the survivors of the garrison. Cromwell and his officers made no attempt to restrain their soldiers, who slaughtered the Wexford defenders and plundered the town. Hundreds of civilians were then shot or drowned as they tried to escape the carnage by fleeing across the River Slaney. Estimates of the death toll vary. Cromwell himself thought that over 2000 of the town's defenders had been killed and much of the town, including its harbour, was burned and looted. As many as 1,500 civilians were also killed in the sacking. Cromwell’s principal regret was that the town was so badly damaged during the sack that it was no longer suitable as winter quarters for his troops. He reported that the remaining civilians had "run off" and requested soldiers to be sent from England to re-populate the town and re-open its port.

The later 1798 United Irishmen revolt was to see more slaughter in the town. At the time County Wexford was the centre of the Rebellion against English rule, Wexford town was held by the rebels throughout the fighting. The 'Bull Ring' was the scene of another notorious massacre of local Loyalists by the United Irishmen who executed them there and on the then wooden bridge over the river. Immediately afterwards the 'Bull Ring' became an open-air armaments factory where pikes and other weapons for the insurgents were built and repaired. This is commemorated today by the 'Pikeman' statue which stands centrally in the Bull Ring.


Commodore John Barry
Image: Kenneth Allen via CC BY-SA 2.0
With this legacy of uprising and defeat, it is unsurprising that one of Wexford’s most cherished sons was to feature in a more successful revolution. This is John Barry, March 25, 1745, to 1803, who was an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later the United States Navy. He is widely credited as being "The Father of the American Navy". Appointed a Captain in the Continental Navy in 1775 he was the first Captain placed in command of a US warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag. He went on to become America's first commissioned naval officer, at the rank of Commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797. A significant statue on Commercial Quay portrays him looking out over Wexford Harbour.

Throughout these trials and tribulation, the town’s axis of history moved slightly southward to the small square known as the 'Bull Ring'. Originally a beach where boats laid up to land their produce into the town's markets, it got its name from the bloodthirsty sport of bull-baiting. This was introduced to the town by the Butchers Guild when from 1621 to 1770 bulls were baited twice a year and their hides presented to the Mayor.

In the 19th-century the Port of Wexford became important. It derived great commercial advantage by being the only harbour between Dublin and Waterford, and the outlet of a rich agricultural district. Coal was its major import plus agricultural machinery whilst grain, cattle, pigs, butter, bacon, oysters, and pit wood were its chief exports. In 1861 alone, 813 vessels carrying 81,779 tons of freight arrived, of which 161 were steamers and 40 from the UK colonies and other countries. The custom dues amounted to £175,701; this was a wealthy hive of activity in its time.


Wexford Harbour Boat And Tennis Club dingies in the fairway
Image: Burke Corbett


However, in the 20th-century the increase in the size of commercial ships as well as the estuary's constantly silting sands cased the port to fall into decline. It became unprofitable to dredge the channel from the harbour mouth to the town quays in order to accommodate these larger ships, and so in 1968, the port closed. In the 1990s the old wooden fronts to the quays were removed as part of a development plan to upgrade the area as a town amenity, as well as to retain it as a commercially viable waterfront. Today the port is now used exclusively by the local mussel dredgers and fishermen, and for local and visiting pleasure craft.

Wexford's Tourist Information Office overlooking the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur
Wexford town has a diverse wealth of leisure attractions to offer visiting yachtsmen. It retains the winding streets that were first set down by the Danes in the 9th-century but of the ancient fortifications of Wexford, which once included four castles and five fortified gateways, scarcely anything remains except for fragments of the West Gate Tower. Close by it are the remains of the churchyard of Selskar Abbey where the treaty was signed.

What the town has is plenty of lively pubs, bars and hotels which provide quality live entertainment most evenings, plus several top-class restaurants to choose from. For art lovers, a visit to the Wexford Arts Centre is very rewarding as the Centre provides a year-round programme of artistic activity for the town. On the outskirts of the town, no more than 5km from the quay, there is the Irish National Heritage Park. For further details of what's on during your visit, there is a Tourist Office conveniently situated on the quay.

Sunrise over the harbour
Image: Blair Kelly


From a boating perspective, Wexford is an excellent place to reprovision a boat. There are two major supermarkets close to the quay and the town’s main high street is a short stroll away. It is also a very good pick-up or drop-off point for crew with very good connections to Rosslare Europort, which is only 11 miles away, an hour to Waterford with its airport, and two hours to distant Dublin serviced by national rail and local and national bus networks.


What facilities are available?
Wexford is a primary regional town featuring shopping, restaurants, cinemas, trains and bus connections to Dublin and elsewhere in the country.

Wexford Harbour Boat Club welcomes visiting yacht crews providing a bar, showers and toilet facilities. Wexford Harbour Boat Club is however above the bridge, about a kilometres walk by road, and most people find it quicker to use the dingy to pass under the bridge and tie up at the club pontoon. Power boat cruisers are welcome to come up to the Boat Club and arrange for a refuelling lorry at the club pontoon. Contact a local member to have this arranged.


Any security concerns?
Wexford does not have any particular security issues. You can leave a boat unattended but it is advisable to lock it up and don’t leave anything visible on the decks.


With thanks to:
Jack Higginbotham and Brian Coulter, Wexford Harbour Boat Club.


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Please zoom out to see the 'initial fix' for this location.
The above plots are not precise and indicative only.






Aerial overviews of the Wexford Harbour area


About Wexford Harbour

The ancient County town of Wexford, in Irish Loch Garman, is situated where the River Slaney widens into a spacious harbour before exiting into the Irish Sea. According to local legend, the town acquired its 'Irish' name from a young man called Garman Garbh who drowned on the river mouth’s mudflats in floodwaters released by an enchantress. The resulting lake was thus named the Lake, Loch, of Garman.

Crescent Quay Wexford Town
Image: Tourism Ireland


The name 'Wexford' comes from the much later Viking period who founded the town in about 800AD. The name is derived from the name 'Veisafjoror' that translates appropriately to 'inlet (fjord) in the mudflats' in the Old Norse and the name has altered little through the centuries. For the 350 years that followed, the Viking establishment remained a largely independent Wexford settlement of Ostmen, as the Danes or Norwegians were called, who only paid token dues to the Irish Kings of Leinster. They built a formidable walled town that ran down running to the water's edge. These walls included towers or turrets at intervals and it was defended on the outside by a ditch, beyond which there was rising ground. Although the Irish had several times won battles against the foreigners they were quite incapable of taking the town by storm. Likewise, as long as the sea communication remained open, the town could not be reduced by siege. So the harbour town of Wexford remained a secure enclave for the Danish and a perfect harbour for their vessels to carry on a level of trade with South Wales and Bristol that was only superseded by that of Dublin and Waterford.


The ruin of Selskar Abbey
Image: Nicola Barnett via CC BY-NC 2.0


This all changed with the Norman invasion of Ireland. This invasion was a two-stage process. The first wave was a loosely associated collection of Norman knights led by Fitz-Stephen that landed in Bannow Bay Click to view haven in 1169. The invasion only began in earnest the following year when the main body of Norman, Welsh and Flemish forces landed in Baginbun Click to view haven under the command of Raymond le Gros, Raymond Fitzwilliam, and then, shortly afterwards, the invasion leader Strongbow, Richard de Clare. Wexford Town, however, was to be the focal point of the first invasion and it would feel the brunt of the first wave. With the objective to taking Leinster, the southeast province of Ireland, Fitz Stephen could not leave so important a holding in hostile hands in his rear. Accordingly, Wexford Town was the first objective of the invaders.

Diarmait MacMurrough
Image: Public Domain
After landing in Bannow Bay Fitz-Stephen joined forces with Diarmait MacMurrough’s forces, the ousted King of Leinster, who brought about the invasion to regain his kingdom. They immediately set out for Wexford town after a brief passing skirmish in Duncomick, Dún Cormaic meaning 'fort of Cormaic', they set up camp outside Wexford fort laying siege to the town. Their first attack did not fair well. On the rising ground behind the town they placed archers so as to command the turrets on the walls. Under the shelter of their arrows, Fitz-Stephen's men in mail proceeded to fill in parts of the ditch fronting the wall with rounds of rushes. Over the levelled areas they set to scale the walls with ladders or some extemporized substitute. But the townsmen stood to the defence, and, hurling great beams and stones from the battlements on the heads of the assailants repulsed the assault. Withdrawing then from the walls, the assailants rushed to the neighbouring strand and set fire to all the vessels they could lay their hands on. According to a folk song, eighteen of the English were killed, while the townsfolk lost but three.

The next morning, Fitz Stephen proceeded to renew the attack, but this time with more circumspection than before. His next move was classic Norman military tactic for 'when the besieged will not abandon all hope of defending their town, send in envoys to treat for peace'. And this would work as the Norse inhabitants were persuaded by the Bishop of Ferns to accept a settlement with MacMurrough. This may seem an unnecessary concession but it would somewhat represent a return to the status quo. MacMurrough had earlier claimed overlord of the 'Foreigners of Wexford' after Donnell Kavanagh has defeated them in 1161. That was only 8 years earlier and it was an autonomy that had only lapsed with his Diarmait's recent difficulties. Through the Bishop's negotiations, they agreed to submit and renew their allegiance to Diarmait giving him four hostages for their future fidelity. No violence was done, but the town was henceforth held by the victors and distributed to the Normans by Diarmait to keep them keen. Therein, technically, the first Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in this settlement in Wexford's Selskar Abbey that was founded at the end of the 12th-century on the supposed site of a former Viking temple. King Henry would shortly after spend the Lent of 1172 within its walls as a penance for the 1170 murder of Thomas Becket.

Oliver Cromwell
Image: Public Domain
The fatalities of the first offensive are believed to have been the only deaths during this relatively bloodless siege. This was not to be the case for the next 1649 Oliver Cromwell Siege of Wexford that was a much more bloodthirsty affair. Wexford had been a thorn in Parliament’s side since the Irish rebellion of 1641. It had ejected its Protestants in 1642, leading to 80 of them drowning and was the hub of Royalist Privateers that was perilously close to the English mainland. For all these reasons, Wexford was the next in line after Drogheda had been taken in September 1649. In October his parliamentary army of 6000-foot soldiers, 2,000 cavalries along with, critically, mighty siege guns camped north of the town. They first sent a detachment to capture Rosslare fort that lay at the time at the mouth of the harbour. Once this was secure Cromwell's fleet could enter the harbour unopposed. The army moved to the south of the town from where they bombarded Wexford Castle. Initially, Cromwell issued a summons to surrender, offering lenient terms in the hope that he could secure Wexford intact and use it as winter quarters for his troops. The mayor, aldermen and many citizens of Wexford were prepared to surrender but the military commander David Sinnot, knowing that the Duke of Ormonde’s main Royalist army was close at hand, started to play for time. Cromwell lost patience and talks broke down.

After a week’s bombardment, his troops breached the defences the town’s castle was inexplicably surrendered without a fight by its English Royalist captain, Stafford, and after this, any notion of a fight was over. The troops of the New Model Army, on their own initiative, immediately assault the walls of the town, causing the Confederate troops to flee in panic from their positions. A rout commenced with Irish troops flee from their stations in a panic to be pursued and often massacred by Cromwell’s men. Many more tried to cross the nearby river Slaney to escape the orgy of violence unfolding in the town, but most, including the governor Sinnot, drowned or were shot as they tried to swim. The Castle guns were then turned on the town and Cromwell's troops launched an immediate attack on the town's defenders. Irish troops made a stand in the market square, called the 'Bull Ring', but were quickly overwhelmed.

The 1798 Wexford Pikeman Memorial
Image: lhourahane via CC BY 2.0
Violence in the town grew out of hand, spreading to its civilian population and the buildings as well as the survivors of the garrison. Cromwell and his officers made no attempt to restrain their soldiers, who slaughtered the Wexford defenders and plundered the town. Hundreds of civilians were then shot or drowned as they tried to escape the carnage by fleeing across the River Slaney. Estimates of the death toll vary. Cromwell himself thought that over 2000 of the town's defenders had been killed and much of the town, including its harbour, was burned and looted. As many as 1,500 civilians were also killed in the sacking. Cromwell’s principal regret was that the town was so badly damaged during the sack that it was no longer suitable as winter quarters for his troops. He reported that the remaining civilians had "run off" and requested soldiers to be sent from England to re-populate the town and re-open its port.

The later 1798 United Irishmen revolt was to see more slaughter in the town. At the time County Wexford was the centre of the Rebellion against English rule, Wexford town was held by the rebels throughout the fighting. The 'Bull Ring' was the scene of another notorious massacre of local Loyalists by the United Irishmen who executed them there and on the then wooden bridge over the river. Immediately afterwards the 'Bull Ring' became an open-air armaments factory where pikes and other weapons for the insurgents were built and repaired. This is commemorated today by the 'Pikeman' statue which stands centrally in the Bull Ring.


Commodore John Barry
Image: Kenneth Allen via CC BY-SA 2.0
With this legacy of uprising and defeat, it is unsurprising that one of Wexford’s most cherished sons was to feature in a more successful revolution. This is John Barry, March 25, 1745, to 1803, who was an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later the United States Navy. He is widely credited as being "The Father of the American Navy". Appointed a Captain in the Continental Navy in 1775 he was the first Captain placed in command of a US warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag. He went on to become America's first commissioned naval officer, at the rank of Commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797. A significant statue on Commercial Quay portrays him looking out over Wexford Harbour.

Throughout these trials and tribulation, the town’s axis of history moved slightly southward to the small square known as the 'Bull Ring'. Originally a beach where boats laid up to land their produce into the town's markets, it got its name from the bloodthirsty sport of bull-baiting. This was introduced to the town by the Butchers Guild when from 1621 to 1770 bulls were baited twice a year and their hides presented to the Mayor.

In the 19th-century the Port of Wexford became important. It derived great commercial advantage by being the only harbour between Dublin and Waterford, and the outlet of a rich agricultural district. Coal was its major import plus agricultural machinery whilst grain, cattle, pigs, butter, bacon, oysters, and pit wood were its chief exports. In 1861 alone, 813 vessels carrying 81,779 tons of freight arrived, of which 161 were steamers and 40 from the UK colonies and other countries. The custom dues amounted to £175,701; this was a wealthy hive of activity in its time.


Wexford Harbour Boat And Tennis Club dingies in the fairway
Image: Burke Corbett


However, in the 20th-century the increase in the size of commercial ships as well as the estuary's constantly silting sands cased the port to fall into decline. It became unprofitable to dredge the channel from the harbour mouth to the town quays in order to accommodate these larger ships, and so in 1968, the port closed. In the 1990s the old wooden fronts to the quays were removed as part of a development plan to upgrade the area as a town amenity, as well as to retain it as a commercially viable waterfront. Today the port is now used exclusively by the local mussel dredgers and fishermen, and for local and visiting pleasure craft.

Wexford's Tourist Information Office overlooking the harbour
Image: Michael Harpur
Wexford town has a diverse wealth of leisure attractions to offer visiting yachtsmen. It retains the winding streets that were first set down by the Danes in the 9th-century but of the ancient fortifications of Wexford, which once included four castles and five fortified gateways, scarcely anything remains except for fragments of the West Gate Tower. Close by it are the remains of the churchyard of Selskar Abbey where the treaty was signed.

What the town has is plenty of lively pubs, bars and hotels which provide quality live entertainment most evenings, plus several top-class restaurants to choose from. For art lovers, a visit to the Wexford Arts Centre is very rewarding as the Centre provides a year-round programme of artistic activity for the town. On the outskirts of the town, no more than 5km from the quay, there is the Irish National Heritage Park. For further details of what's on during your visit, there is a Tourist Office conveniently situated on the quay.

Sunrise over the harbour
Image: Blair Kelly


From a boating perspective, Wexford is an excellent place to reprovision a boat. There are two major supermarkets close to the quay and the town’s main high street is a short stroll away. It is also a very good pick-up or drop-off point for crew with very good connections to Rosslare Europort, which is only 11 miles away, an hour to Waterford with its airport, and two hours to distant Dublin serviced by national rail and local and national bus networks.

Other options in this area


Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Alternatively here are the ten nearest havens available in picture view:
Coastal clockwise:
Rosslare Bay (or South Bay) - 4 miles SE
Rosslare Europort (Rosslare Harbour) - 4.2 miles SE
Ballytrent - 5.4 miles SSE
Carne - 5.8 miles SSE
Little Saltee (landing beach) - 7.9 miles SSW
Coastal anti-clockwise:
Cahore (Polduff) - 10.4 miles NE
Courtown Harbour - 12.5 miles NNE
Arklow - 18.4 miles NNE
Wicklow Harbour - 25.8 miles NNE
Greystones - 31.5 miles NNE

Navigational pictures


These additional images feature in the 'How to get in' section of our detailed view for Wexford Harbour.






















































Aerial overviews of the Wexford Harbour area



A photograph is worth a thousand words. We are always looking for bright sunny photographs that show this haven and its identifiable features at its best. If you have some images that we could use please upload them here. All we need to know is how you would like to be credited for your work and a brief description of the image if it is not readily apparent. If you would like us to add a hyperlink from the image that goes back to your site please include the desired link and we will be delighted to that for you.


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Ron Lub wrote this review on May 30th 2019:

Wexford is a nice town to visit.
With a nice shoppingcenter. we took a mooring here, the fee was €10.00 a night but anchoring is also possible.
The entrance thrue the banks looks difficult but is no problem.
Before you go contact Phil the harbourmaster and he tells you the best time to come.
Also you can download a app with the latest buoy movements, you can also use this app to navigate on it works very well! find the app etc.. on: http://wexfordharbour.com/?page_id=8

Average Rating: ****


Michael Harpur wrote this review on Mar 23rd 2020:

Ron,
Thank you for your update I have included a direct reference to the application in the main body of the text thanks to your insight. You also made me aware that I should stop by and see Phil. He was the HM of Kilmore Quay when I met him last, I was asking him about the quay when I was writing up the very first haven that would be the spark of an idea that has become the eOceanic you use today.

Average Rating: Unrated

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