Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Wexford - A Quare Auld Place!

Wexford was a “quare auld place” to grow up in and I doubt if any of it’s 12,000 or so inhabitants back then would have disagreed with me.

It perched precariously on the banks of the River Slaney where it thumbed its nose at the rest of the world.

I often wonder if its as quare an auld place nowadays, for though I return once a year it’s only for a night and I’m accompanied by a couple of busloads of friends and fans.

Probably not, for with television and the Internet you can now visit so many other worlds. Whereas back in my day, we had the “pictures,” the daily newspaper, and the county library for inspiration – the rest of the time you lived in your own imagination and that could be a quare auld place unto itself.

Auld, indeed, Wexford was, for Ptolemy charted it on his third century maps when it was known as Menapia. The Vikings thought it was a hell of a place for looting and called it Weissfjord, and Strongbow’s Normans took over the joint in 1169.

From my grandfather’s house on George’s Street where I grew up I could see Selskar Abbey, the Norman stronghold and church where King Henry II came to do penance for the whacking of Archbishop Thomas á Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral.

One of our pet peeves was that the bould Henry did not declare Wexford a city – no, to our mortification, Waterford, Kilkenny and even Sligo were deemed cities while a metropolis the like of ours will always be a town, even though it’s a far quarer and older place.

Such is life and one must suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without too much bellyaching.

One of Wexford’s great attractions was that, given its size and narrow streets, you ran into people on a regular basis. This could also be a trial, for if someone disliked you they could beat the head off you regularly too.

My guess is that I knew upwards of 1000 people while living there, not intimately, for there was little sex in Wexford back then, or so the priests and Christian Brothers reassured us. That was something that happened in faraway pagan places the like of Waterford, Kilkenny, and even Sligo.

But given that there was only one degree of separation in Wexford, if I was curious about someone, then I could ask one of my 1000 non-intimate friends for a report on this stranger and get a full account of their background, vices, who their family supported in Parnell versus the Bishops, and if any of the girls of that family had to flee to London after finding themselves in the family way, the Lord save us!

I mean who in God’s universe needed television or the Internet with so much information to be had without stepping beyond the walls of our quare auld town.

The Kardashians had nothing on some of Wexford’s characters. For once you had done something of note then you or your family would be elevated or more likely tainted forever. 

And God help you should you have some pronounced physical feature. Say for instance I had a set of big ears - then I, and all of my progeny until kingdom come might be called “The Jennet Kirwan.”

Luckily I had no such affliction so I escaped that bullet, but with bright red hair, I was called everything from Ginger to Carrot Top. I don’t have to worry much about that anymore although some people still call me “red” because of my political opinions.

Wexford still has characters but they are fast disappearing, including my dear friend, Pat Kehoe, once proprietor of the notorious rock & roll Imperial Bar. 

Pat bit the bullet recently but as he was being wheeled into Macken’s crematorium he had Black 47’s Funky Ceili blasting! It goes to show that you never know where your songs will end up.

Ah yes indeed, from the mighty King Henry II doing his fake confession in the cauld auld draughty Selskar Abbey to Rebel Pat Kehoe bidding a boisterous farewell to his hometown, there’s no denying that Wexford was, and always will be, a quare auld place, God save it!

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