County Wexford's second-largest town, Enniscorthy (Inis Coirthaidh), has a warren of steep streets descending from Augustus Pugin's cathedral to the Norman castle and the River Slaney. The town is inextricably linked to some of the fiercest fighting of the 1798 Rising, when rebels captured the town and set up camp at Vinegar Hill.
Hook Peninsula & Around
The road that leads around the long, tapering finger of the Hook Peninsula is signposted as the Ring of Hook coastal drive. Around every other bend is a quiet beach, a crumbling fortress, a stately abbey or a seafood restaurant, and the world's oldest working lighthouse stands tall at the peninsula's tip.
The big attraction at New Ross (Rhos Mhic Triúin) is the opportunity to board a 19th-century Famine ship. But New Ross' historical links stretch back much further – to the 12th century, when it developed as a Norman port on the River Barrow. A group of rebels tried to seize the town during the 1798 Rising.
Kilmore Quay is part commercial fishing port, part picturesque village lined with thatched cottages, where the cry of gulls and smell of the ocean provide the appropriate atmosphere for sampling the local seafood. The harbour is the jumping-off point for Ireland's largest bird sanctuary, the Saltee Islands.
Busy, functional Rosslare Harbour has connections to Wales and France from the Europort ferry terminal, home also to Rosslare Europort train station. The road leading uphill from the harbour is the N25. The only reason to stay here is if you have to catch an early ferry.
Duncannon & Around
The small, dusty holiday town of Duncannon slopes down to a sandy beach that's transformed into a surrealist canvas during August's Duncannon Sand Sculpting Festival. About 4km northwest of Duncannon is pretty Ballyhack, where a car ferry makes the short crossing to Passage East in County Waterford.
Surrounded by suburban-style homes, Rosslare (Ros Láir) town is rather soulless but opens onto a glorious Blue Flag beach. In summer, the beach is the habitat of hordes of ice cream-fuelled children. In winter, the empty sands billow at the feet of the occasional solitary walker. The long shallow bay is perfect for windsurfing.
South of Rosslare Harbour
A maze of minor roads meanders among the flatlands and tidal lagoons that spread from Rosslare Harbour to Kilmore Quay. Traditional Wexford thatched cottages, with mud walls, half-hipped roofs and trademark small, square porches, brighten the roadsides, and a sandy beach is never far away.
It's hard to believe that the workaday village of Ferns was once the powerhouse of the kings of Leinster, in particular Dermot MacMurrough (1110–71), who is forever associated with bringing the Normans to Ireland. The Normans left behind a cathedral, an abbey and a doughty castle, later smashed to pieces by Cromwell.
Hook Head & Around
The journey from Fethard to Hook Head takes in a hypnotic stretch of horizon, with few houses between the flat, open fields of the tapering peninsula. Views extend across Waterford Harbour and, on a clear day, to the Comeragh and Galtee Mountains. This is prime day-trip country, from Wexford or Waterford.
Once the haunt of privateers, smugglers and 'dyvars pyrates', the Saltee Islands now have a peaceful existence as one of Europe's most important bird sanctuaries. Over 375 recorded species make their home here principally the gannet, guillemot, cormorant, kittiwake, puffin, aux and Manx shearwater. The best time to visit is the spring and early summer nesting season.
In better structural condition than its Welsh counterpart, from where its first monks hailed, Ireland's moody Tintern Abbey is secluded amid 40 hectares of woodland. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, founded the Cistercian abbey in the early 13th century after he nearly perished at sea and swore to establish a church if he made it ashore.
The highest peak in the Blackstairs Mountains, Mt Leinster (796m) has magnificent views of Counties Waterford, Carlow, Kilkenny and Wicklow from the top. It's home to some of Ireland's best hang-gliding: contact the Irish Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association for further information.