New Ross seems to draw me. Every trip I’ve made to Ireland has included time in New Ross and three times I’ve stayed for many weeks or months in the countryside nearby. It’s become “my town” in Ireland. I find the people here to be very friendly and the town is a good base for exploring southeastern Ireland.
William Marshall was an important Norman-English knight who won the friendship and admiration of King John of England. He was given a wealthy bride, Isabella de Clare, the daughter of “Strongbow” (Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke). Together they brought the southeastern corner of Ireland out of the middle ages. Isabella is credited with beginning the town of New Ross in the year 1189. William Marshall made New Ross his port city because of its location on the river Barrow. This “power couple” began the city of Kilkenny and built the Irish Tintern Abbey a few miles from New Ross.
Today this 800-year-old town is becoming a popular stop on tour itineraries. That’s largely because of the connection to New Ross of President John F. Kennedy. The president’s ancestors lived on a farm six kilometers outside New Ross. His great-grandparents departed Ireland on a ship from here. Today a replica of that ship, the Dunbrody, provides an opportunity to discover the miserable conditions immigrants to the New World were made to endure. One of the last public appearances President Kennedy made was in New Ross. That event has never been forgotten and it’s memorialized on the main street of the town today. Irish-American donors and the Irish government cooperated to create the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near the old Kennedy family farm.
The town is hilly. The old town center lies along the river banks and a new, modern town is developing on the other side of the hill. Little has changed in the old town. Three tall steeples grace the skyline. The thosel – Irish for town hall – is at the center of a small nest of shopping streets. It appears to date from the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Many of the shops and pubs are old, and bear the names of their owners. Not much has changed in the last 50 or 100 years, and I like that. I’m already making plans to return next year.
The photo above is of the ship Dunbrody. The building behind it is the very good tourist information center. It houses a small museum about Irish emigration and a good restaurant.