They never thought to stay in Wexford when they drove to the ferry in Rosslare. But for once, Pet O’Connell stopped for a look.
OUR children normally sleep through Wexford.
The only glimpse they have of the Model County is staring bleary-eyed at the back end of a ferry when they are roused from a tetchy overnight car doze to find themselves in Rosslare port on our annual trek to Wales.
Not this time. We decided to open our eyes to the possibilities of Wexford as a holiday destination, rather than a milestone to be passed in our haste to beat the queues boarding the boat.
Those of us not asleep in the back of the car had seen the road signs proclaiming the area’s tourist delights before, of course.
At each of the myriad roundabouts approaching Wexford town we would pass them by each year, always rejecting their entreaties to stop and explore.
Now that we’d accepted their invitation, the only question was which of those attractions to choose.
Needless to say, the decisions were made by our four children, who for once agreed on something and drew up an action plan.
Their mission: To cram as many activities as humanly possible into a two-day period, with something for everyone, from the six-year-old to the teenagers and even the parents.
Full of excitement ahead of our grand adventure, we checked into our hotel, whose centrality as an exploration base was to prove the key to the escapade’s success.
The Ferrycarrig Hotel is just one roundabout away from the main N25 to Rosslare and on the doorstep of one of Wexford’s most popular family visitor attractions.
Elegantly set on the banks of the Slaney, the Ferrycarrig has all the amenities one would expect from a four-star hotel, but also goes out of its way to welcome children. Offering a supervised ‘Crazy Club’ for ages four to 10 and a babysitter by arrangement, the hotel also has a bar menu catering for children’s tastes, in surroundings sufficiently spacious to accommodate families and associated buggies, high chairs and restless toddlers without added stress.
A main course for two adults, two children, and two teenagers cost us €64 and though portions were not over-generous, there was the required steak, curry, and chicken fare, with warm quiche for the vegetarian.
The riverfront Reeds restaurant offers an early-bird menu for €25 or table d’hote for €37 per head, with Japanese pickled rainbow trout, Kilmore hake and pan-fried John Dory among the seafood options.
The breakfast buffet was a big hit with our hungry horde, who wolfed down pancakes oozing with Nutella, plus the usual sausages, cereals, and lashings of fruit juice.
It became evident that all this indulgence would necessitate a trip later on to the hotel’s health and fitness club, which as well as sauna, deliciously warm jacuzzi, and 20-metre pool, had a conveniently integral children’s pool sufficiently deep to allow our six-year-old to swim, but without fear of going out of his depth.
Fed, exercised and refreshed after a comfortable sleep in spacious interconnected rooms, the time had come to explore.
It would be unthinkable to take a family break at the Ferrycarrig Hotel without paying a visit to the Irish National Heritage Park (www.inhp.com), just a short walk away.
An afternoon discovering Ireland’s past might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but leave any preconceptions about history being boring at the gate – this place does interactive learning professionally.
We followed our costumed guide through reconstructed stone age camps, bronze age burial sites and ringforts, learning how cooking was achieved on fulachtaí fia and corn dried in primitive kilns.
Even those too young or inattentive to absorb the full instructive impact of these snapshots of Ireland’s past enjoyed peeping into the dwellings’ thatched gloom and savouring the silence in the simplicity of an early Christian monastery.
Having tried our luck at panning for gold at the river’s edge and wattling the walls of a house, the highlight of the visit, and indeed the weekend, for our 12-year-old daughter, was getting to grips with a bow and arrows under the watchful eye of the park’s resident archery instructor.
With a family pass well worth its €25 cost, visitors are advised to leave at least two hours to complete their walk through the past.
We could have stayed all day, but those anxious to stick to their plan of action opted to proceed to the equally fascinating Irish Agricultural Museum and Johnstown Castle Gardens (www.irishagrimuseum.ie), similarly priced at €24.
Irish historical artefacts of a more modern era, from the 18th to mid-20th century, are displayed in the castle’s expansive outbuildings.
Our own farmers, both young and old, were in Harry Ferguson heaven learning about the inner workings of his revolutionary 3-point hydraulic lift system, part of an awe-inspiring collection reflecting Irish country life, from settle beds and tinkers’ pans to harvesting machinery.
The younger members of our gang launched into in a treasure map challenge, which really did yield treasure, and engaged us all in a detailed exploration of the castle grounds.
The 19th century castle building is closed to the public but its ornamental gardens, designed by Daniel Robertson of Powerscourt fame, are worth a visit in their own right, their bygone grandeur like stepping into Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden.
Next on our whistle-stop tour was Hook Head Lighthouse (www.hookheritage.ie), built 800 years ago and still standing strong against the fury of the waves crashing around its base.
Puffing up the steps of the world’s oldest operational lighthouse in pursuit of spectacular views, our upwardly-mobile achievements were downgraded when our guide pointed out that the monks who once inhabited the building had to struggle up the same steps with full bags of coal on their backs in order to keep the warning flame constantly lit.
The wild and windswept Hook Head is also the atmospheric setting of Loftus Hall, reputedly Ireland’s most haunted house. Though the teenagers were up for the challenge, the marketing blurb recounting the hall’s gruesome past was too much for our youngest holidaymaker, who put his foot down and insisted instead on sandcastle-construction on the nearest sandy beach.
After a hearty dinner among the maritime memorabilia at Kehoe’s in picturesque Kilmore Quay, we took a stroll around the winding streets of Wexford Town before heading home.
In the back of the car the children were asleep once more as we drove away from Wexford after an all-too brief visit, but this time they’d seen enough to know that we will stay again.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved