The Emerald Isle

as to its history, the county has managed to recreate its past at the excellent Irish National Heritage Park, built at Ferrycraig, a few miles up the Slaney from Wexford harbor. Here, visitors can experience daily life in ancient Ireland, including a reconstruction of a Viking settlement, complete with thatched roundhouses made of mud, straw, and animal skins, set behind palisades of wood and straw. A Viking longboat is moored nearby on the Slaney, the longest of the rivers flowing into the sea at Wexford. Viking raiders left their mark much further inland, too. A grim reminder of the effects of a Viking raid recently came to light in the Dunmore Cave, situated in the limestone country north of Kilkenny, which has a good share of Irish myth and legend attached to its many caverns and stalactite-hung galleries. The bones of 50 people, mostly women and children and dating from the early tenth century, were found in the cave in 1973. The fact that none of the skeletons had broken bones suggests the people were taking refuge from a Viking raid, only to die of starvation or, in the event of an attempt having been made to smoke them out, suffocation. THE ANGLO-NORMAN HERITAGE If the Vikings left few obvious signs of their presence in this part of Ireland, the Anglo-Normans left a great many, often buildings on land given them by the Crown, partly as a means of controlling the country. Great castle-builders, the Anglo-Normans were also strong supporters of the church – though they never hesitated to destroy any monastery whose occupants failed to toe the Anglo-Norman line – and in many places castles and monasteries, with their attendant places of worship, existed virtually side by side. The Emerald Isle OPPOSITE: This 13th century castle overlooks Enniscorthy and the river Slaney. Enniscorthy is County Wexford’s second largest town. OVERLEAF: The Ferrycarrig Round Tower in the Irish National Heritage Park, County Wexford, is a replica built in 1857. It is dedicated to the Wexford soldiers who lost their lives during the Crimean War. 121 THE DREAM OF AENGUS Aengus’ first glimpse of his future wife, Caer, was in a dream and, on waking, he realized that he was desperately in love. He told his mother Bóann of his dream, and she set out to search the whole of Ireland for the girl. After a year had passed, and Bóann had still not found the girl, the Dagda was called and he too searched for a whole year but failed to find her. Eventually, Bodhb Dearg (Bov the Red), the Dagda’s aide, was called and finally, after another year, Caer was found. Aengus was taken to a lake where 150 maidens were paired up and chained with gold. He spotted his love immediately and learned that her name was Caer and that she was the daughter of Ethal and Anubal. On November 1 (the Celtic festival of Samhain), Caer, and the other maidens, were transformed into swans for one year, and Aengus was told that if he could correctly identify her from among the others he could marry her. A year from that day he went out to the lake and called to her, and when he found her he turned into a swan himself. Aengus and Caer flew off together, singing a beautiful song, and all who heard them fell asleep for three days and three nights. Aengus is a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann and a god of love, beauty, youth and poetic inspiration; some tales tell how he even had the power to breathe life back into the dead.