headland, originally known as Rosláir (the middle peninsula), was
actually formed by the drifting currents that moved along a
sweep of Wexford Bay and grew from a ‘mere sandpit of
gravel deposits' over many years.
It had extended almost three miles seawards when its strategic
importance was recognised by the Confederates of Kilkenny who,
during 1642, planned to utilise it for a defence fort as a safeguard and
protection of the walled town of Wexford against
Seven sturdy cannons were promptly installed
there, each pointing
seaward and a garrison, under the command of
Paul Turner was
appointed ‘in charge’..
Turner’s family then owned Ballygeary Castle in nearby Kilrane.
‘Reserve Force’ was also maintained at Butlerstown Castle,
seat of the Ormonde family. It is said to have been
an underground passage or tunnel to Bargy Castle, the home of
Insurgent leader Bagenal Harvey during
the short-lived Rebellion
of 1798. The fort extended over 750 acres. Speed’s map of Ireland dated
1610 indicates the existence of a lighthouse
near the fort. The earliest recorded mention of the peninsula is found on Boazio’s
Map of Ireland, dated 1599.
Houses were built gradually to accommodate the growing population there.
Close on 50 dwellings were built altogether. A cluster of 12 houses
in the form of a
square was first erected. It had a cobble-stoned courtyard with a central flagstaff, 70
feet high, and a large cannon in
readiness at its base. This served as the focal point of the
All the houses had earthen floors covered
with ‘refined silver sand.’
A frigate with 12 mounted guns stood firmly
by as a further safety measure.
An Observation Post erected on the highest
sand-dune on the
peninsula provided panoramic
views of the harbour, so that
could be clearly detected and
This was known to the Fort dwellers as ‘The Hill of
was manned continuously as a secure safety valve. The second
highest sand-dune was identified as ‘The Hill of Bull’.
wooden wharves extended into the harbour and were distinguished as
the ‘Pilot’ and the ‘Lifeboat’ jetties. Not far away the
rocket house, village pump and boathouse were located.
As soon as Cromwell arrived in Wexford during the autumn of 1649,
he ordered a well equipped ‘fleet of
twenty sail’ under his
son-in-law Henry Ireton to attack and seize the ‘Fort of
Rosslare’. Fierce storms
prevented their approach for more than
a week however. So, in the meantime, he dispatched a large
of horse and foot soldiers under Lieutenant General Michael Jones
to besiege it by land.
It was stoically defended under Captain Sinnott on October 5th.
The small garrison fought heroically
until their supply of ammunition was exhausted. Retreating to the frigate moored nearby,
last stand. Jones’s Dragoons took possession of
the Fort, while Cromwell’s fleet headed unimpeded for the
strongly walled town of
Jones’s army then promptly rounded-up the wives and children
left behind and forced them to trudge along to the cavern (long
since disappeared) facing the spot where the
Centra shop and post
office now stand.
Despite their pleas and the heart-rending
shrieks they were all massacred without mercy. For centuries
afterwards the dreaded cavern was known locally as ‘Cromwell’s
By all accounts the ravaged Fort lay idle for many years. Philip Hore in his 1906 ‘History of Wexford Town’ recorded
that in 1654, it was decreed that the Fort of Rosslare
be restored and preserved for the defence of the
Kingdom. It was then utilised for many years as a ‘Marine Revenue Station’ and Custom House.
In 1800 a commander named Warren was appointed in charge. He was
the first Catholic to hold such office and he promptly established
the first ‘Village Chapel’ there - utilising
the upper floor of a hipped-roofed house at
southern corner of the Square. By
1870 more than half of the Forts dwellings had fallen into disuse
and disrepair. By then the last school
teacher, Miss Shanahan, had
moved to Wexford town where she opened a private school in South
The old Fort continued to attract the interest
and curiosity of
Wexford people from all parts of
county nevertheless. Many
afar to explore it at weekends - during the
autumn months especially.
Some even acquired the vacant houses
as summer homes. A familiar sight at weekends was to see
‘Wexford cots’ moored along the wooden jetties while their
owners explored the peninsula or
spent their time fishing.
The Fort dwellers were ranked under three categories - Revenue /
Custom Officers; Pilots and Lifeboat men. The Head Revenue Officer
ranked as the Commander of the Fort. He alone had the
authority to decide when the ‘Big Guns’ should be fired. The
renowned because of the unusual shapely ‘Prawskeens'
(aprons) they wore in their homes.
They were rectangular in shape
and made of strong jute fibre.
By a strange quirk of fate the Wexford sea, that had played a
leading role in the formation of the Fort Peninsula during the earlier centuries
was mainly responsible for its ultimate demise.
The laying down of Wexford’s system changed the flow of the
that eroded, ultimately, the storied peninsula.
The final blow came during the winter of
1924-25, when gale force winds
drove a tidal wave across the peninsula, severely breaching it in two
By January 12th 1925, it had been reduced to a wind-swept ridge.
The Lifeboat men could no longer withstand the onslaught and were forced
to seek the safety of the Wexford mainland for their wives and children.
men Peter and Larry Furlong were the last to
leave, settling down near Raven Point. Only at low tide can the last vestige of the
Fort’ be seen.