One thing I’ve ways tried to do when travelling is to get a real sense of a place. To go where the locals go, off the traditional tourist trail. That’s not always simple, because you have to trust a combination of instinct with a random story here, a half told tale there; never fully sure of where you might end up who’ll you’ll meet.
And then there are places like Wexford. And pubs like Heffernan’s.
Managed by Patrick, founded by his great grandfather, this is the epitome of the Irish family pub. And like the very best authentic Irish pubs, only Guinness and lager are offered on tap. Anything else, you’ll have to ask nicely for.
As it happens, in this dank and damp Saturday night, Patrick has three members of the extended family around – all from England. They’ve been coming here for several years, having traced their heritage to Wexford. The beer flows and stories about of who married who, where cousin so-and-so hailed from, together with more general themes of the Irish economy and the importance of family.
Conversations like this happen throughout Ireland on a daily or even hourly basis. And yet most are never witnessed, save for the passing nosey tourist like me. So here’s to the Heffernans, with great grandfather in the picture on the wall.
Before I leave, I casually ask where I should go next. Without hesitation, Patrick says “Mary’s Bar”. And his recommendation doesn’t disappoint.
Catherine is the daughter of Mary, of Mary’s Bar fame. And like Herffernan’s, you may not find it in every guidebook. But a couple of drinks here will make lifelong memories. Immediately, there’s a warm welcome, along with an inquisitive “where are you from?” in a completely unthreatening manner. Before long we are joined by locals Lorcan and Mick, along with another Patrick, this time from Kansas City. He’s been coming to Wexford for over a decade and always makes a point of coming to Mary’s Bar. As does the house cat, complete with Bond villain.
I’m pleased that I’ve witnessed these lovely backstreet bars, because in downtown Wexford, the pubs are awash with drunk young locals. Don’t get me wrong, they’re having the time of their lives based on the limitations of what’s essentially a large market town.
And there are still surprises. In Kerrys pub, Andrew bangs out everything from Oasis to Westlife, even though all of his vocal sound remarkably like Nottingham singer Jake Bugg
When I mention this to him, he says “Yeah, I get that all the time.” But like every good pub singer, he’s just happy to be performing,
When it comes to tourism, Wexford seems like a forgotten part of Ireland – which is ironic since nearby Rosslare literally ferries in tens of thousands of visitors each year. Many on the ferry head straight for Dublin or the west. Which is a shame, because they’re missing something special.