The Norman history of Wexford dates back over 850 years. Exploring this particular aspect of our county’s heritage has been the focus of many people over the years. Credit is given to historians such as Billy Colfer, Nicky Furlong, Chris Corlett, James Maloney, Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology and other local organisations such as the Bannow Historical Society, Ferns Castle and the OPW, Hook Lighthouse, Dunbrody Abbey, the Ros Tapestry, Tintern Abbey, the Irish National Heritage Park and more for highlighting and championing the rich Norman history of Wexford.
With regard to the south of the county, in Wexford County Council (WCC) as far back as 1995, the then County Manager commissioned a report about Duncannon which went on to mention the idea of creating an actual tourism trail based on the Norman history of Wexford.
In 2016, a survey was commissioned by the Planning Section in WCC to investigate several the most southerly medieval sites in the county to see how accessible the sites were and discover the historical significance they had. Later that same year, the ‘Ancient Spaces Capital Grant’ scheme was announced by Fáilte Ireland’s Ireland’s Ancient East initiative. The purpose of the scheme was to encourage destinations to develop tourism offerings based on different aspects of their history. The Planning Section report partnered with the timing of the Ancient Spaces grant scheme proved to be the stimulus required for a dedicated team to be set up within Wexford County Council to develop a Norman-themed tourism route at that time.
The initial project team within Wexford County Council consisted of Sonia Hunt, Diarmuid Houston and James Lavin from the Planning Department, and the then Tourism Officer Siobhán O’Neil and Colum Kavanagh from the Tourism Department. They were assisted by Caroline Gethings, an IT Carlow heritage student who was on a work placement within the Planning Department at the time. After much debate, the name of the project was finally agreed upon and “The Norman Way” was born.
Also, around this time, the EuroVelo cycling route along the south coast of County Wexford was being developed by Frank Burke, the then Cycling Officer in Wexford County Council. The course of the EuroVelo happened to be the same as the proposed Norman Way route. This worked well for both projects in terms of increasing awareness and improving the offering to visitors.
Having successfully applied for the Ancient Spaces grant from Fáilte Ireland to help roll out Phase One of the Norman Way (running from Lady’s Island to Kilmore Quay), the Norman Way team were able to work with heritage and storytelling consultancy firm TellTale to further develop the overall concept of the Norman Way. Rather than provide a comprehensive and authoritative history of each of the sites which feature on the Norman Way, the goal of the project was to provide people with a clearly marked route to encourage them to spend time in the unique and beautiful landscape of south Wexford. Along the route people would discover a range of medieval ruins, important sites relevant to the Norman history of this part of Wexford, and several established visitor attractions. The Norman Way project would use these sites to show how the Norman way of life influenced the landscape and the daily lives of the people of medieval Wexford.
To align the Norman Way with other heritage and tourism offerings within the county, it was decided that the Norman Way should fall under the well-established branding of the Wexford Trails brand. Rocky Grennell and the team at Designworks were the graphic designers for the project while the magnificent illustrations for the Norman Way interpretive panels were created by professional artists and illustrators Steve Doogan, Uto Herzogil and Dr John Hodgson. Local Wexford contractors Paddy McGee installed the Norman Way’s unique interpretive panels which were designed and created by the Kent Stainless.
With Phase One nearing completion, the Norman Way team joined forces with WCC Director of Services, Eamonn Hore and Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology who were already working on opening up St Mary’s Church in New Ross and installing new signage and lighting there. Phase One of the Norman Way, running from Lady’s Island to Kilmore Quay, and now including St Mary’s Church in New Ross, was officially launched in May 2017 by then Minister of State for Tourism and Transport, Patrick O’Donovan TD.
Later in 2017 the Norman Way was one of three finalists in Ireland (out of 18 entries) considered for the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) Award. The EDEN Award is a European Commission initiative created to promote sustainable tourism, enhance the visibility of emerging and lesser known tourist destinations in Europe, and to create awareness of Europe’s tourism diversity and quality.
In 2018 Fáilte Ireland featured the Norman Way as a case study in their Ireland’s Ancient East best practice guide distributed to visitor attractions and trails around the country. 2018 also saw Phase One of the Norman Way win a Silver Award in the ‘Best Heritage Project’ category at the Local Government and Community Awards.
Based on the award-winning success of Phase One, in 2019 WCC committed to completing the Norman Way in its entirety. Phase Two would see the route officially begin in Rosslare Harbour, incorporate the Phase One sites and then run from Kilmore Quay along the coast, down the Hook Peninsula and then up through Duncannon, eventually linking with St Mary’s Church in New Ross. The project team for Phase Two of the Norman Way is comprised of Director of Services Eamonn Hore, Sinead Casey from the Special Projects team, Sonia Hunt from the Planning Department, Catherine McLoughlin from Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology and Colum Kavanagh from Paper Juice Creative.
September 2020 finally sees the on-the-ground installation of interpretive panels and waymarking signs for Phase Two of the Norman Way, completing the route along the south coast of the county from Rosslare Harbour to New Ross. Over the coming years, this curated route will attract more visitors to this beautiful part of Wexford. Due to their proximity to the Norman Way, local businesses and community groups are encouraged to create their own Norman-themed offerings and experiences for visitors and local people to enjoy.
It is hoped that the Norman Way will stimulate commercial and community benefits in the areas through which it runs and will bolster the case for conserving many of the irreplaceable medieval ruins found along the Way.