The poet Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queene, leased the castle in 1581, though it seems he never actually lived there as he believed the region to have become too dangerous and unsettled. Spenser is often portrayed as something of an enlightened and romantic poetic figure, but he was a vicious imperialist even by the standards of the time. He regarded that Ireland was “a diseased portion of the State, it must first be cured and reformed, before it could be in a position to appreciate the good sound laws and blessings of the nation“. In his View of the Present State of Ireland (written in 1596), Spenser suggested that starvation was the best way to subdue the Irish. He also went on encourage a scorched earth policy in Ireland, noting its effectiveness in the Second Desmond Rebellion:
“‘Out of everye corner of the woode and glenns they came creepinge forth upon theire handes, for theire legges could not beare them; they looked Anatomies [of] death, they spake like ghostes, crying out of theire graves; they did eate of the carrions, happye wheare they could find them, yea, and one another soone after, in soe much as the verye carcasses they spared not to scrape out of theire graves; and if they found a plott of water-cresses or shamrockes, theyr they flocked as to a feast… in a shorte space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentyfull countrye suddenly lefte voyde of man or beast: yett sure in all that warr, there perished not manye by the sworde, but all by the extreamytie of famine … they themselves had wrought.’
The castle was surrendered to Cromwell in 1649. Almost 150 years later, Enniscorthy would again be the setting for conflict during some of the fiercest fighting during the 1798 Rebellion that took place in the streets of Enniscorthy and on Vinegar Hill on the opposite bank of the Slaney. The story of the rebellion and its aftermath can be discovered in the nearby National 1798 Rebellion Centre.
The castle today has become the home of the Wexford County Museum. The ground floor has an introduction to the castle’s history from its earliest origins to the 20th century. The first floor is dedicated to the Roche family, who were the last occupants of the castle: Henry J. Roche, his wife Josephine and their five children lived there until Dodo (Josephine) Roche could no longer manage the castle in 1953. The Roche family were in the brewing industry, and were considerable landowners in the region. You can see many fascinating mementos and pictures of their life. Other exhibitions in the castle include a history of 1916 (outside of Dublin, Enniscorthy was the largest urban area to be taken by rebels, and the last place to surrender) and an exhibition documenting local woman Eileen Grey, the famous furniture designer and architect.