Vinegar Hill looms high over the Wexford town of Enniscorthy. The 1798 battle fought out on its slopes is one of the most famed in Irish history, creating a legacy that has reverberated around the globe. Today the site continues to offer the same spectacular views of the Wexford countryside that made it so important in the summer of 1798. A visit to the battlefield and the town of Enniscorthy offer the best opportunity to engage with the landscapes and history of Ireland’s 1798 Rebellion.
If you decide to explore Vinegar Hill today, the primary point from which to view the battlefield is from the hill’s summit. The carpark there can be accessed via a small laneway that runs from west to east up towards the high point. Archaeological works conducted here as part of the recent Longest Day Archaeological Research Project have shown that this lane was present on the day of battle, and was used by the Government column under Dundas to align their assault. The fields immediately to the south of the lane, in the “saddle” of the ridge, witnessed some of the hardest fighting. Here the archaeologists found evidence for firing lines, as well the remnants of hand-to-hand fighting. Terrifyingly, their results also indicated that the Government forces advanced in step with their artillery, firing the pieces directly into the faces of the United Irishmen sent to repulse them. It is worth making the short walk from the carpark down the lane to see this area of fighting.
Another must is the short climb from the carpark up to the hill’s summit, and the ruined windmill that was there on the day of the battle. It is depicted in many of the contemporary illustrations. From here you can look out at the panoramic view that was the reason why Vinegar Hill was selected by the United Irishmen. Looking east, you can see the town of Enniscorthy, and the bridges over the Slaney where such desperate fighting took place on the day of the battle. Looking north, and especially west, keep an eye out for the original field boundaries that survive. They also lined the battlefield in 1798, positions that the United Irishmen made use of as defensive lines during the engagement. It is not hard to imagine what a sight it must have been here on the day of the battle.
After a trip up the hill, it is worth making the journey back across the Slaney and into Enniscorthy town itself. There you can pay a visit the National 1798 Rebellion Centre. Through a series of displays, artefacts and audio-visual presentations, it tells the story the 1798 Rebellion in an engaging and informative way, and it has plenty to offer both children and adults. Enniscorthy is also home to Enniscorthy Castle, another visitor attraction worth exploring. For those who catch the 1798 “bug” at Vinegar Hill, the county is unusual in having installed memorials and car-park facilities at a number of other battlefields, such as Oulart and Three Rocks, two sites where the United Irishmen met with early success. As with Vinegar Hill, they enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding countryside— a common feature of Wexford’s battlefields!
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