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Corona 19 lockdown, I was lucky to live close to woods. Photo : Town land boundary marker

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

During the Corona Virus lockdown, I was lucky to live so close to Courtown woods and beach and was able to ramble freely. My most frequent rambles were in the woods, a 25-hectare wood, dating back to the 12th century. This area has had a very chequered history since then with many owners until they were acquired by the state in 1950.They are a real treasure at any time of year.

On entering the woods, I generally follow the long broad avenue of sycamore, Horse chestnut and Beech trees. Here too we have majestic trees planted by the fifth earl of Courtown. These include Californian Redwoods, Swamp cypress, Japanese Cedar, Cedars of Lebanon and many more.

My first rest stop is the bench at the Old Cross of Kilbride. This is from the early Christian era and marks an old parish boundary of Ballinatray or Baile na tra, the town of the beach. I then progress along the trail to Ballinatray bridge, built in 1847during famine years. It is a wonderful structure lording over forest paths and the Owenavorragh River. This was once the highest viaduct in Ireland. It is now part of the main Gorey to Courtown road and the original structure is still in place.

Everytime I walk along here I think of the rich history of the place since Ireland was first invaded by the Normans landing on Baginbun beach in 1190. The first owner of Curtun was one Christian de Marco. I don't think he was a Wexford native.

Since those early times Courtown has changed hands several time.

In 1291 during the reign of Edward 1st Curton in the county of Wexford, was part of the dowry of Queen Eleanor now in the Kings hands from the feast of St Andrew the Apostle .

In 1312 During the reign Edward 2nd it is said that Maurice Mc Murrough held the Manor of Courtown as tenant at the will of the king’.

During the 9th year of the reign of James 1st he granted Curtun to Sir Edward Fisher who died in 1631.

It was then passed down to Edward Chichester who finally passed it on to the Stopford family who really developed the `Estate. They continued to live there until the death of Lord Carysfort in the 1970s. The Stopfords built the grandiose Courtown House and the Dower House which is now Marlfield House Hotel having been bought by the Bowe family in 1977 when Lady Carysfort could no longer live there.

The Stopfords, which was the family name of the Earls of Courtown, had their own family graveyard which still exists today. They had their own water well, cricket grounds, walks for ladies and bachelors, which are still called by those names today.

As I walk by the river along the same routes traversed by the Courtown gentry over many years I admire the diverse vegetation of rhododendrons, ditches full of cow parsley, ivy, foxgloves, ribwort plantain, valerian and now the sweet-smelling honeysuckle.

The peace and tranquillity are disturbed by the clatter of ravens nesting high in the giant Scots Pine.

I do not allow myself to be distracted too long and focus my attention on the vetches and thriving holly bushes and listen to robins and black birds and thrushes while smelling the wild garlic.

Now I stray across the spike bridge and see a little family of ducklings scurrying to the little island in the middle of the river.

An excited family out for a stroll, with busy daddy and 2 active children who could not catch the little ducklings.They also wanted to go fishing with just a little fishing net. They just were not willing to hear of the dangers because of the depth of the stream or the ban on fishing unless you were a member of the fishing club.

All is saved however when we hear a rustle of leaves behind us and see a busy squirrel scurrying up a tree, He stops and cheekily looks around at us as much to say, you won’t catch me now. Children are now distracted, and all is well.

And now at the end of two hours of walking and talking I stroll down past the seal sanctuary with much noise and clatter while they await their daily grub.

On my left is the Canal. This was built by The Stopford family as a famine relief project in 1847 to assist the people of Courtown.

Having had my morning constitutional I now head for home and the coffee and wait for tomorrow’s outing and thank the man above that we have such rich surroundings especially during cocooning times enabling us ,even for a short period, to remove ourselves from the serious business of avoiding Corona 19.

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