Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Irish Riviera arrow Youghal arrow Youghal - Editors review
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Youghal - Editors review

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Youghal has, by common consent, more natural assets than any other town in the South of Ireland. Beautiful beaches - 2 of which have designated blue flag status, a fabulous history, a plethora of hotels, self catering, and all other kinds of accommodation, the best kids entertainment facility in Ireland, a dog track, a top class golf course and a state of the art swimming pool complex together with phenomenal views.

Many people come to Youghal for the beaches and why not, they're fabulous. The views too are stunning, both at sea level and from the many hill top vantage points to be found in the town (the best vantage point has to be the Golf Club - built on the top of the hill with 360 degree panoramas out to sea, along the river and to the mountains beyond).

Many of others visit Youghal on their way to somewhere else - the main road across Ireland runs right by the town - or come and stay just a night or two to sample some of the famous eateries in the town. My recommendation is to stay a little longer, for in Youghal you'll find a combination of experiences that are not available anywhere else. Youghal makes the best base to explore the south of Ireland too, as east, west or central you can get to all of the other landmarks of Ireland in a day trip.

Youghal is also one of the best preserved examples of a 13th century town in Europe. Youghal is not a village, it was built as a town to defend and control trade on the Blackwater river which leads into the heart of Munster's rich farmlands. Youghal’s position was critical to the maintenance of that trade, and access to the most valuable farmland in Ireland.

The stone town walls were first constructed by the Normans and later, originally at the behest of Edward I. There were originally 13 towers of which but 3 remain and you can explore the walls and one of the towers from which it is possible to make out the original layout of the town – it is important to understand that the Blackwater has moved over the centuries and the waterline is now up to 100 metres away from its position when the town was built. The ‘new’ road along the waterfront was built in 1752.

The Watergate was an entrance, by water as its name implies, into the town from the fortified dock area. It allowed ships to offload supplies on to the quay and have them quickly conveyed to the merchants on the main street nearby. Youghal was once the premier trading town in Ireland, and its merchants among the richest. The main street of Youghal still follows the same course, and todays buidlings are on exactly the same plots that they occupied hundreds of years ago.The Watergate now stands inland from the local tourist office, close to the town quay. The Watergate is also known as 'Cromwell's Arch' for it was here that the hated Oliver Cromwell left Ireland after surpressing the Desmond revolts.

The most notable (and photgraphed) buidling in the town centre is the fine Clock Tower straddling the main street. This was a replacement structure (the former tower which was an integral part of the town walls was in danger of collapse) built in 1776 as a gaol to imprison the renegade Catholics. It was routinely used as a torture chamber and was universally regarded as a symbol of terror and tyranny.

St Mary’s Collegiate Church is a monument of national importance and is worthy of a lengthy investigation in its own right. Famous for the mausoleum built to his own specification by Robert Boyle who arrived penniless and built up an enormous fortune whilst siring 15 or 16 children - accounts vary – via 3 wives, perhaps the first man to whom the term 'capitalist' can be attributed. The ceiling is a wondrous sight built by local shipwrights on enormous stone walls it has the appearance of an inverted ships keel – the quantity of oak used in its construction beggars belief and reminds you that the whole of Ireland was at one time completely forested and that its denudation was processed at the behest of the English who had used up all of their home grown timber building the merchant and war ship fleets of Tudor times.

In its heyday, when sail was still pre-eminent, more than 150 ships sailed from Youghal to every part of the world and its sailors developed a special whistle so that when they landed in Boston or Sydney say, a loud rendition would advise other Youghal men that there were comrades in town – invariably a response would ring out and old friendships would be renewed in the local bars.

As you leave St Mary’s you pass the gateway to Myrtle Grove now commonly called Sir Walter Raleigh’s House – it was built in 1641 for the warden of the college – the college being the reason that the full name of the church is St Mary’s collegiate church. Raleigh lived there at various times during his long sojourns in Munster. Despite his various discoveries and the virtual gift of huge tracts of land Raleigh was never good at managing his finances and was forced to sell many of his assets to pay off debts. Apparently Raleigh never received full payment from Boyle despite a multitude of promises, being fobbed off by small amounts over the years which were immediately claimed by his creditors.

Raleigh’s incompetence was eventually the death of him, he was beheaded a pauper and branded a traitor for some political machination constructed by enemies of the crown using his weaknesses as a figurehead for a minor rebellion.

It's said that Raleigh brought the potato and tobacco to Ireland. It would make sense, as Youghal was the leading trading point in Ireland at the time, and Raleigh an inhabitant. No-one knows and other claims exist ( it's also said that as remnants of the Spanish Armada were forced to flee the British fleet by sailing all the way around the British Isles in order to get home, they faced severe storms in the Atlantic off the west of Ireland and many sank releasing their provisions to the sea. Spanish sailors were fed on potatoes as the conquistadors had found them decades earlier when they occupied South America. Irish beachcombers harvested the bounty from the shipwrecks and adopted the potato as their own). Wherever they came from, the potato is still a staple part of the Irish diet, despite being the cause of Ireland's greatest natural disaster. In the time of the Irish potato famine they were the staple food and a healthy male would eat 6 kilos (13lbs) per day – an average family of six consumed 25 kilos (56lbs) every day………….. The blight that destroyed the plants, destroyed a generation too. 

Back on the main street of Youghal a curious building is identified as the almshouses – this building thankfully preserved by local activity – is one of only 2 or 3 examples of what might be called working class architecture dating roughly from Elizabethan times. Most working class properties were built from timber and plaster and could not have survived into modern times but these were constructed in stone to house retired soldiers in 1610 . Boyle, who later became Earl of Cork, obviously an astute businessman was aware that soldiers morale was critical to his successful defence of the port.

Across the road from the Almshouse is a fortified building ‘Tynte’s Castle’ constructed in the 15th century – it is within the town walls and stood (as did at least 3 other 'castles' on the main street) as a bastion ensuring the safety of its inmates (presumably merchants) who were obviously uncertain of the quality of protection afforded by the town’s perimeter defences. Approximately 100 years after its construction the owners were ousted due to accusations of treasonable behaviour against the English government and the council subsequently leased the property to Sir Robert Tynte whose third wife was a cousin of the Earl of Cork and better known as the widow of Edmund Spenser who wrote the first lines of ‘The Faerie Queen’ whilst living in Youghal.

Molana Abbey is a fascinating ruin and the 1km walk to it through the grounds and along the banks of the Blackwater is a pleasure not to be missed. This is a five star attraction and all visitors to Youghal should ensure that this is included in their agenda. Car parking is approximately 400 metres up the hill from the gates and the loose gravel paths are not wheelchair nor pushchair friendly.

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