In 2015 Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology was commissioned by Wexford County Council to undertake a Conservation Plan of Duncannon Fort in Co. Wexford. Duncannon Fort is a National Monument in the ownership of both the Office of Public Works (OPW) and Wexford County Council. The Conservation Plan was part-funded by a grant from the Heritage Council under its 2015 grant scheme. The fort is an important 16th century coastal bastioned defence situated on a rocky promontory. It is one of only three bastioned forts in Co. Wexford, and the only one of which is accessible to the public.
The promontory on which the fort is located may be the site of a prehistoric fort, as evidenced by the place-name, ‘Dunmechanan’ or ‘fort of the son of Conan’, and the obvious defensive location.
The earliest surviving written record of the locality is in the foundation charter of Dunbrody Abbey in 1172. In 1422 King Henry IV made a grant of Duncannon to John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, Waterford and Wexford. It was granted to Sir Osborne Itchingham in October 1545 and in 1569 was granted to Sir Nicholas White. The first mention of the castle is in 1580 when John Itchingham, who was involved with pirates there, resisted arrest by the sheriff. The initial construction of the characteristic line of the defences of the fort was first begun in 1587 under the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada.
Two early maps of the fort survive. The earliest dates to the late 16th or early 17th century and shows a castle within a curtain wall, gatehouse and hall, and also a ruined medieval church towards the centre. The characteristic defences are shown in this map.
The second map dates to 1611 under the direction of Sir Josias Bodley who undertook improvements at the fort, which included doubling the rampart, adding stone walling to the cliffs and doubling the size of the gun platforms.
The declaration of the garrison for the anti-royalist British parliament led to the siege of 1645, when the fort was besieged by the anti-parliamentarian Confederates. Four ships arrived to assist the fort, one of which, The Great Lewis, sank. Ships timbers and canon were uncovered from a wreck in the estuary which may be the remains of this ship. The fort surrendered and in the period of 1645-50 was held by the Confederate government.
Two further sieges took place and in 1650 the fort was retained by parliamentary forces. The defensive capability of Duncannon Fort deteriorated from the end of the 17th century in favour of Passage East in Co. Waterford but the fort was renovated in 1724, and again in 1753.
During the 1798 Rebellion the fort was a place of refuge for loyalists and it was a place of incarceration for captured rebels prior to their transportation to Geneva Barracks in Co. Waterford.
In 1814 two Martello towers were built on the landward side of the fort. In the early 20th century the fort was occupied by local militia. It was burned by the anti-Treaty IRA in 1922 after which it lay derelict until 1939 when it was occupied by the Irish Army. During this period the fort was refurbished. In the 1980’s the fort was acquired by Wexford County Council and operated as a tourism attraction until its closure in 2015 due to health and safety reasons.
The buildings which occupy the fort today are largely a product of the 18th and 19th centuries. There are no upstanding or visible remains of the promontory fort, castle, curtain wall, hall, or medieval church which once occupied the site. The defences are also likely to date to the later period.
The Conservation Plan was undertaken to provide an understanding of the historical significance of the fort, the current condition of the built heritage, the ecology of the fort, to understand the role of the fort as a potential driver of heritage tourism in Co. Wexford and to provide policies for improvement and works in relation to all of the above. The plan was undertaken with specialist contributions from an Ecology Consultant and a Conservation Engineer.
It is hoped that the policies and recommendations outlined in the Conservation Plan will be implemented on a staged basis, beginning with maintenance tasks in the near future.
Guided tours of the fort by Hook Tourism are available during the summer months. Booking and contact details can be found at www.duncannonfort.ie. Hook Tourism is a local organisation dedicated to the promotion of tourism on the Hook Peninsula.