28 July, 2015.
Today I travel to Enniscorthy and carry with me the message of love and peace from my Father Jim Prendergast, my 5x Grandfather John Prendergast and I represent all the Irish Australian Prendergast family members whose Ancestors built the township and Castle at Enniscorthy.
It is a big responsibilty and an even bigger Honour.
And so to pack. I will travel to Enniscorthy from Leixlip by Airport hopper to the Dublin Airport and then by Wexford bus to Enniscorthy.
My own personal tour guide Cathy of “Heritage tours Wexford” will meet me and drive me to Ballinkeele House which will be my home for the next week.
Reliable as I had expected, when I arrived at Enniscorthy, there was Cathy waiting to greet me. I felt very emotional when the first words she said were “Welcome home!” What a lovely way to start my visit here.
We drove along lots of dear little country roads to arrive at Ballinkeele House.
The lovely home of Laura and Val.
29 July, 2015.
Laura was taking her children into Wexford for the school holidays programme today so I accepted a lift into town. Laura driving with me in the front and the four children seated in the back of the van.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to spend my day in Wexford so I visited the Tourist Information Centre to find out what there was to see. I had a lovely chat with Margaret and her collegue. I originally planned to take the €5 2 hour walking tour that they suggested to learn all about the points of interest around Wexford town.
To fill in my time before the guided walking tour, I decided to visit the Wexford Library to make an appointment to see Michael Dempsey to thank him for his help with my family history search. As it happened, I was able to see him straight away so instead of the guided walk I spent about an hour discussing all the latest finds with him showing me some of his reference material. It was a very interesting morning.
Around lunchtime I decided to take a stroll around town just as a shower of rain poured down. Following the locals lead, I darted into the nearest shop which just so happened to sell delicious smelling Pasties – so I indulged! Yum.
Later, I went exploring and found the Wexford historical city wall and some interesting little side streets.
This afternoon Val collected me from the Library and drove me back to Ballinkeele House. I have just enjoyed a slice of Laura’s delicious Ginger Cake and a well earned cup of Tea.
And now for a stroll (while the sun is still shining) around the property – not all 350 Acres just to the lake and also to see the Vegetable garden.
30 July, 2015
“Meet you on Vinegar Hill, Enniscorthy”were the parting words Cathy my Guide from Heritage Tours Wexford said as she ended our phone call. I sat there contemplating these words and compared them to “Meet me at the Guillotine, meet me at the tower of London” This truly is history in the making. I will walk in the footsteps of my Ancestors.
Today I am to visit all the places around Enniscorthy that created the history of this great township and also culminated in the last stronghold of the 1798 Rebellion. Enniscorthy also played a huge role in the 1916 Rising.
Val drove me to Vinegar Hill after we left the children at Summer School where Cathy was showing a couple from England the beautiful views over Enniscorthy.
Cathy also told her guests how Vinegar Hill became the largest camp and headquarters of the rebels of 1798 who controlled County Wexford for thirty days. By the day of the battle June 21st, its numbers had swelled to 18,000 but this included many women and children.
The British plan to encircle the hill and corral the Irish at the top never materialized because of the gap in the lines to this day known as the Needhams Gap. Eluding the Crown forces for 2 weeks.
Fr. Murphy was eventually captured and executed on the 2nd July at Tullow, Co. Carlow. His body lies in an unmarked grave but tradition says his head was buried in Ferns Graveyard. Most historians would agree that almost 37,000 lives were lost in this terrible holocaust of 1798.
We drove through historical districts and arrived at Ferns. There we visited the historic Village of Ferns- once the Episcopal City and capital of Leinster, home to a king, a Bishop and the Augustinian Friars.
Ferns first came to prominence when the resident king of Leinster “Dermot McMurrough” brought the first Normans to Ireland in 1169 to help him fight his battles.
At the visitor’s centre at Ferns Castle, we admired the detailed Tapestries that relate to the local history from the period 598AD with the arrival of St. Aidan to preach Christanity up to the coming of the Normans in 1169.
We were then given an entertaining and informative guided tour of Ferns Castle by Sinead.
The moat was recently excavated by a team of Archaeologists who made interesting discoveries including weapons and French pottery.
We later Visited Ferns Cemetery where we paid homage to Diarmuid MacMurrough who died in 1171.
Joseph, a young man explained how the game of Hurling is played. He was such a delightful young man. He was interested to know where I was from and who I was. When I proudly told him I was a “Prendergast”, he replied that he had heard that name. Cathy reminded him that my family had built Enniscorthy Castle 800 years ago. Joseph’s eyes widened in surprise and he quipped “You don’t look that old!” Cathy and I shook with laughter.
Throughout the day Cathy drove me to many sites and explained the role they played in Enniscorthy’s history. I was able to piece together the events that culminated in the 1798 rebellion.
Back on Vinegar Hill, Cathy and a young visitor broke into a rendition of the 1798 Rebellion ballard. It seemed a fitting end to our day.
To anyone visiting Wexford and desiring a bespoke tour, I would highly recommend taking a tour with Cathy from Heritage Tours Wexford. Her local knowledge and tour guiding skills are unsurpassed.
31 July, 2015
There is a buzz of excitement around the township of Enniscorthy as the 1798 Rebellion re-enactment is about to take place this weekend.
I started the day at the Pugin designed St. aidans Cathedral. Pugin also designed the Houses of Parliament in London.
Then I visited the Enniscorthy castle and got a lovely warm welcome from the friendly staff and was delighted to meet Mary O’Higgins who was so helpful in my quest to find Prendergast family members.
Mary who showed me around the castle including revisiting the Dungen with the Grafitio in it.
We also took a look out across Enniscorthy from the keep.
I walked down the hill to the National 1798 Centre and discovered more about the 1798 Rebellion with their wonderful interactive displays.
After a tasty lunch of Hot soup and sandwich, Cathy collected me and drove me back to Ballinkeele House to get ready for tonight’s civic reception at Enniscorthy Castle.
31 July, 2015. Evening.
I have been told that the Red Coat re-enactors have arrived from England, I have seen Horse trailors being transported around the town, there has been a flurry of activity at both Enniscorthy Castle and the National 1798 Centre and I am feeling both nervous and excited because in just under two hours I will be making a speech at Enniscorthy Castle as an invited guest at the civic reception!
Arrested in Enniscorthy!
Cathy collected me From Ballinkeele House and drove me into Enniscorthy and as we stepped out of her car, I noticed a number of people dressed in authentic Irish Rebel outfits standing in Market square. Some bradishing Pikes. I had just started complimenting them on their outfits when a voice bellowed”You are under arrest!” “Take her to the Castle for questioning!”
My knees started to buckle as I realized it was Me that they were referring to. But I am innocent!”I screamed back above the shouts of “Treator” but I was ignored.
“Lock her in the Dungeon” He comanded. “I don’t want to be locked in the Dungeon” I feebly whimpered as I was frog marched up to the Castle. Their leader shouted for the insurgents to form a line.
A Piper played an Irish lament accompanied by his drummer boy whose beat kept the Marchers behind me in step. We stopped the traffic all along the route to the Castle.
In my mind I knew that this was play acting but I did wonder what John Prendergast thought when he was arrested. Did his knees go to jelly? Knowing his was a Real arrest, did he beg the authorities not to throw him in a Dungeon? How did he feel? This experience gave me a taste of what it must have felt like in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion.
By the time we reached the Castle, an earlier chapter in the Enniscorthy Castle history was being played out. This time I was being introduced to King Diarmuid Macmurrough who asked Strongbow to bring his Knights and fight for him. The Normans came and never left. The Enniscorthy castle was commenced in 1201. That year Phillip De Prendergast, our Ancestor, commenced the building of the 4 Drum Norman Castle that is Enniscorthy Castle, the longest inhabited Castle in Europe.
Luckily, by the time we entered the castle we were transported to modern day Enniscorthy and the smiling Mayor Paddy Kavanagh was there to greet me. I was surprised and thrilled when I realized that I was the guest of honour.
Mayor Kavanagh welcomed me and presented me with the beautiful book, Enniscorthy, A History by Colm Toibin.
I in turn gave a speech about the pride we, the Prendergast family, feel at having built the Enniscorthy Castle. How throughout history our family has always had a strong sense of Community and family. How we are resilliant and have overcome adversity.
Because this weekend is all about the 1798 Rebellion re-enactment, I was able to relate the story of our John Prendergast a United Irishmen member. How he was captured and released several times and finally transported to Australia. I could tell them about his journey on the Rebel Convict ship, the Minerva, to Australia and about his life in the Hawkesbury. How he and his family are credited with being first settlers in the Hawkesbury and the Monaro district of New South Wales and also the Victorian High Plains. How John never returned to his beloved Ireland.
The festivities continued with beautiful medieval music, dancing, locally grown food and wine being served. Oh, and the Redcoats joined in (peacefully)
At 7pm the launch of the Enniscorthy Festival celebrating local food and music was launched with a joint Irish and American partnership.
1 August, 2015
At 11 am a history making event took place in Enniscorthy – and I was there to see it taking place.
Monsieur Jean-Pierre Thebault, the French Ambassador along with Enniscorthy Mayor Paddy Kavanagh, unveiled a plaque on the William Barker Bridge to honour the United Irishmen at the Battle of Vinegar Hill 21 June, 1798.
At 12.30pm, the Re-enactment of the street battle commemorating the original battle that took place in the main street of Enniscorthy was loud, smoky and very realistic. Today the Rebels were the victors – not so tomorrow.
Following the re-enactment, a wreath laying ceremony took place at the Market square beneath the Father John Murphy statue. A wreath was laid by Mayor Paddy Kavanagh in remembrance of all the Enniscorthy soldiers, a Wreath was laid by Ambassador Monsieur Jean-Pierre Thebault, to commemorate the French soldiers and the Rebels were represented with a wreath laid in their honour.
The farmers markets were open, the music played and the thousands of people who had come out to watch the festivities stayed on to enjoy the afternoon.
2 August, 2015
Father John Murphy who lost his life during the 1798 Rebellion was represented by Father Murphy who rode astride his dappled grey horse in the 1798 Rebellion re-enactment today.
As he passed by me tears welled up in my eyes and I was filled with emotion. Seeing the priest going in to battle and knowing the disastrous result of the real 1798 battle hit a nerve. After all, our Father Prendergast met the same fait for his roll in the 1798 Rebellion.
The French Ambassador Thebault along with Mayor Paddy
Kavanagh rode up Vinegar Hill in horse drawn Carriage.
3 August, 2015
Sad farewells were said as I hugged Laura and Val good-bye this morning. “You’ve become part of the houshold” quipped Laura last night. And funnily enough that is exactly how it felt. Everytime I came down stairs for breakfast I was greeted with a cheery greeting. Every time I returned for the day I was offered a cup of tea and had a beautifully presented tray with afternoon teapot and freshly baked cake or biscuit served to me in the drawing room. Ballinkeele House really is a beautiful old world home with all the charm and graciousness of a bygone era. You couldn’t ask for a better host than Val and Lady of the manor than Laura. I will miss them.
Right on time, Cathy of Heritage Tours Wexford came to collect me to take me to the bus stop in Enniscorthy. Even though Cathy had driven a stranded family to Dublin at 3am and not gone to bed until 6am, here she was bright and cheery on time at 10.10am and ready to collect me.
True to the kind nature of the Irish people, it turned out that an acquaintance of Cathy’s had discovered a family in a broken down car, taken them home for a meal and then phoned Cathy to drive them to Dublin. You couldn’t ask for kinder people.
I have arrived in Dublin now and my room is made up ready for me in the very centrally located Radisson Blu Royal Hotel. This is a very modern hotel very close to St. stephens green and Grafton Street. It is also just 5 minutes walk from the Gaiety Theatre. As a finale to my holiday I have booked for tomorrow night to see “River Dance” at the Gaiety Theatre which I think is a very appropriate conclusion to a trip of a lifetime.