Around 24km north of Wexford, the attractive old town of ENNISCORTHY straddles the River Slaney, its main streets rising steeply from the west bank towards the Market Square. From the square, Rafter Street leads south after a ten-minute walk to the National 1798 Centre, a high-tech sound-and-vision fest, capturing the excitement of events prior to the Rebellion, the rising itself and its aftermath, all cogently set within broader intellectual and political contexts that brought about American independence and the French Revolution. There’s a marvellous display on the conflict between revolution and counter-revolution set out on a giant chessboard. Another highlight is an audiovisual featuring an enthralling debate between actors playing the roles of the Dublin-born Whig politician and philosopher Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, the English radical and American revolutionary whose Rights of Man (1792) was a direct riposte to Burke’s more conservative Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). It was on the gorse-covered Vinegar Hill, opposite on the Slaney’s eastern bank, that the rebels of 1798 met their demise at the hands of British forces.
Just west of Market Square along Main Street, St Aidan’s Cathedral is an imposing Gothic Revival edifice, designed in the mid-nineteenth century by Augustus Pugin, whose other works include Killarney’s cathedral and the interior of the Palace of Westminster. As well as impressively high pointed arches, the cathedral features an oak carved pulpit, beautiful stained-glass windows depicting saints and bishops, and a small exhibition on Pugin’s career.