Walk for the Weekend: Vinegar Hill
This short walk offers time to reflect on the tumultuous events and ‘what ifs’ of the 1798 rebellion
Vinegar Hill, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
In this short 4-5km walk, you can reflect on the tumultuous events and “what ifs” of 1798 in the National Rebellion Centre, enjoy a coffee in the Riverside Park Hotel and a leafy promenade along the Slaney. You can admire the lovingly tended gardens and facades of Slaney View Park estate, be enthralled by the view from the top of the hill, and try to imagine the death-throes there of the only Irish rebellion that united, in Wolfe Tone’s words, “Protestant, Catholic and dissenter”.
My visit on Thursday, June 21st coincided with the 220th anniversary of that fateful Battle of Vinegar Hill on Thursday June 21st, 1798. I parked at the welcoming and informative Rebellion Centre on Parnell Road and immersed myself in the political and military context of the rebellion. What struck me most was the success of the United Irishmen in inspiring a common Republican fervour, and a preparedness to take up arms, in Ulster Presbyterians, Belfast businessmen, Catholics and liberal Protestants. Catholic clergy were drawn reluctantly from their neutral position into the conflict, though the Archbishop of Dublin described the Rebellion at Mass on May 27th, 1798 as an “anti-Christian conspiracy”!
A coffee in the Riverside Park Hotel was an opportunity to mull over a “what if” - if the United Irishmen had won, and established a form of provisional government, how long would the common cause of 1798 have survived a ferocious British counter-attack and British exploitation of its inevitable internal tensions?
I crossed the “new” bridge and walked straight up Spring Valley Road, soon taking a little pedestrian lane and steps to the left opposite Hillview House, and emerged onto a street confusingly called “The Shannon”; there I turned left, and slightly downhill, for about 300m, before turning right into Slaney Park View estate.
I loved walking up through this sunny estate with its well-tended front gardens and facades and the exuberantly colourful flowerbeds of its cropped communal spaces, all reflecting the pride Wexford people have in place and person.
Immediately to the right of the imposing St Senan’s School, I took an unmarked lane which quickly morphed into a steep but very attractive, sheltered and well paved path. This emerged into the main car park for the hill, affording easy access to the summit.
For any “real” hikers who may find this walk, and perhaps the whole notion of history, unremarkable, you are now joined by old friends. Away to the north, Lugnaquilla can be seen just clearing the windmills of south Wicklow while, away to the west and southwest, the shapely outlines of the Blackstairs and Comeraghs stimulate a recalling of past exploits.
The summit area then allows for a picnic on the many well-positioned picnic tables, and for a quiet reflection on how time and times have changed since that fateful day 220 years ago, when over 30,000 people engaged in battle, and 1,500 people and a dream died, in and around where you sit.
Start/Finish: 1798 Rebellion Centre
Effort: About 2hrs, about 4km and 110m of ascent
Note: Pedestrian route suggested is unmarked; assistance regarding directions is available in the National Rebellion Centre