Thursday, February 28, 2013

Baginbun, County Wexford

'Baginbun – where Ireland was both lost and won'

In a little departure from our usual historical sites, this tranquil looking beach is Baginbun, the scene of epic high drama in 1170 AD. While the first Anglo-Norman invasion landed at Bannow Bay in 1169, the second wave landed here at Baginbun just south of the Hook Head Peninsula in Co. Wexford in early May 1170. The invasion consisted of just around 80 men, but they were led by Raymond le Gros, a man with great military skill and cunning. Raymond had chosen Baginbun as he knew that there was an ancient Irish promontory fort that could serve well as a temporary defensive camp before he moved on to attack nearby Waterford.

Raymond knew that Waterford would be well defended and he also needed supplies for the invasion, so he decided to coax the Waterford men out to fight on his terms. He had his men raid the surrounding countryside for cattle, they drove the massive herd back to the ancient promontory fort where the Normans had established their camp. This enraged the Waterford men, and they quickly gathered their forces to attack.

It is estimated that between 1000–3000 Waterford men marched to Baginbun to kick these cheeky invaders back into the sea, and when they saw the tiny size of the Norman force they must have felt confident of victory. However they reckoned without the cunning of Raymond le Gros, he ordered his small force to attack the large army of Waterford, and then he ordered them to quickly retreat, feigning panic. The Waterford men were jubilant at the site of the fleeing Normans and charged after them along the narrow promontory. When they were committed to the narrow pass Raymond had the massive herd of cattle stampede into the ranks of the onrushing Waterford men, scattering them and causing panic and devastation to their ranks. His men followed hot on the hooves on the cattle, cutting down the now panicked Waterford force in droves. They captured a large number of men, Raymond had hoped to use them as bargaining chips to gain ransoms from Irish chieftains but he was to be disappointed. It was recorded by the Norman Chronicler Gerald of Wales, that a fearsome female Welsh warrior, Alice of Abergavenny, was enraged by her husbands death on the battlefield, she took an axe and beheaded seventy of the Waterford men in revenge for her husband, and threw their bodies off a cliff.

The bloody scene was set for the Norman assault on Waterford. It just goes to show that even a tranquil a spot as Baginbun can often have a dark story to tell.

Baginbun is located at the very southern tip of the Hook Head peninsula. It is about 2kms south of Fethard on Sea on the R734. The promontory has restricted access but the beach is open to the public. If you are in the area, why not visit the Bishops Palace in Fethard on Sea. This is located on the outskirts of the village, and dates to the fourteenth century. There is an earlier motte (a type of Anglo Norman fortification) located behind the palace.