The town was founded by the Vikings in about 800 AD. They named it Veisafjǫrðr, meaning "inlet of the mud flats", and the name has changed only slightly into its present form. "Veisa" in modern Norwegian means "Way". So 'Veisafjǫrðr' could have meant "inlet of the way" or "Way Fjord". According to a local legend, the town got its Irish name, Loch Garman, from a young man named Garman Garbh who was drowned on the mudflats at the mouth of the River Slaney by flood waters released by an enchantress. The resulting loch was thus named Loch Garman.
For about three hundred years it was a Viking town, a city state, largely independent and owing only token dues to the Irish kings of Leinster. However, in May 1169 Wexford was besieged by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster and his Norman ally, Robert Fitz-Stephen. The Norse inhabitants resisted fiercely, until the Bishop of Ferns persuaded them to accept a settlement with Dermot.
Wexford was an Old English settlement in the Middle Ages. An old dialect of English, known as Yola, was spoken uniquely in Wexford up until the 19th century. The Yola name for Wexford was Weiseforthe.
Following the Crusades, the Knights Templar had a presence in Wexford. Up to the present, their name is perpetuated in the old Knights' Templars' chapel yard of St. John's Cemetery, on Wexford's Upper St. John's Street.
County Wexford produced strong support for Confederate Ireland during the 1640s. A fleet of Confederate privateers was based in Wexford town, consisting of sailors from Flanders and Spain as well as local men. Their vessels raided English Parliamentarian shipping, giving some of the proceeds to the Confederate government in Kilkenny. As a result, the town was sacked by the English Parliamentarians during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649. Many of its inhabitants were killed and much of the town was burned. In 1659 Solomon Richards was appointed Governor, but he was dismissed and imprisoned following the Restoration the next year.
County Wexford was the centre of the 1798 rebellion against British rule. Wexford town was held by the rebels throughout the Wexford Rebellion and was the scene of a notorious massacre of local loyalists by the United Irishmen, who executed them with pikes on Wexford bridge.
Redmond Square, near the railway station, commemorates the elder John Edward Redmond (1806–1865) who was Liberal MP for the city of Wexford. The inscription reads: "My heart is with the city of Wexford. Nothing can extinguish that love but the cold soil of the grave." His nephew William Archer Redmond (1825–1880) sat as an MP in Isaac Butt's Home Rule Party from 1872 until 1880. Willie Redmond sat as an MP for Wexford from 1883 until 1885. The younger John Redmond, was a devoted follower of Charles Stewart Parnell and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party until his death in April 1918. He is interred in the Redmond family vault, at the old Knights' Templars' chapel yard of St. John's Cemetery, Upper St. John's Street.
Redmond Park was formally opened in May 1931 as a memorial to Willie Redmond, who died in 1917 while serving with the 16th (Irish) Division during the Messines offensive and was buried on the Western Front.
Wexford hosts the internationally recognised Opera Festival every October. Dr Tom Walsh started the festival in 1951, and it has since grown into the internationally recognised festival it is today. A formidable fireworks display is held every year in conjunction with the festival.
Wexford has a number of music and drama venues including:The National Opera House (formerly the Wexford Opera House), developed on the site of the historic Theatre Royal opera house;
the Dun Mhuire Theatre, which holds community theatre events including music events and hosting shows by Oyster Lane Theatre Group and Wexford Pantomime Society;
the Wexford Arts Centre, which hosts exhibitions, theatre, music and dance events;
St. Iberius's Church (Church of Ireland), various concerts are held here.
Wexford is the home of many youth and senior theatre groups, including the Buí Bolg (Yellow Belly) street performance group, Oyster Lane Theatre Group, Wexford Pantomime Society, Wexford Light Opera Society and Wexford Drama Group.
The National Lottery Skyfest was held in Wexford in March 2011 included a pyrotechnic waterfall on the towns main bridge spanning 300m. Buí Bolg also performed on the night.
Until the mid-nineteenth century the Yola language could be heard in Wexford, and a few words still remain in use.
The food of Wexford is also distinct from the rest of Ireland, due to the local cultivation of seafood, smoked cod, mussels and rissoles being token dishes in the region.
Wexford has witnessed some major developments such as the Key West centre on the Quays, the redevelopment of the quayfront itself, White's Hotel and the huge new residential development of Clonard village. Proposed developments include the development of a large new residential quarter at Carcur, a new river crossing at that point, the new town library, the refurbishment of Selskar Abbey and the controversial redevelopment of the former site of Wexford Electronix. Also, the relocated offices of the Department of Environment have been constructed near Wexford General Hospital on Newtown Road.
Notable churches within the town include the "twin churches" St. Iberius Church, Bride Street and Rowe Street with their distinctive spires; Saint Peter's College, with a chapel designed by Augustus Welby Pugin; and Ann Street Presbyterian church. A former Quaker meeting hall is now a band room in High Street. The twin churches can be seen from any part of Wexford and in 2008, their 150th anniversary were celebrated.
Wexford's success as a seaport declined in the first half of the 20th century because of the constantly changing sands of Wexford Harbour. By 1968 it had become unprofitable to keep dredging a channel from the harbour mouth to the quays in order to accommodate the larger ships of the era, so the port closed. The port had been extremely important to the local economy, with coal being a major import and agricultural machinery and grain being exported. The woodenworks which fronted the quays and which were synonymous with Wexford were removed in the 1990s as part of an ambitious plan to claim the quay as an amenity for the town as well as retaining it as a commercially viable waterfront.
In the early 21st century a new port was built about 20 kilometres (12 mi) to the south at Rosslare Harbour, now known as Rosslare Europort. This is a deepwater harbour, unaffected by tides and currents. All major shipping now uses this port and Wexford Port is used only by fishing boats and leisure vessels.
Agriculture forms a backbone of the rural economy of Wexford. Johnstown Castle is headquarters to Teagasc, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environment. There is also the Irish Agricultural Museum.
Wexford County Council and Wexford General Hospital.
In May 2011 an official web portal for Wexford was launched which encompassed local government, Wexford Tourism, and the Wexford Means Business website, aimed at promoting the value proposition of Wexford as a business destination.
From an employment point of view, major employers in and around the town are: Wexford Creamery, Celtic Linen, Wexford Viking Glass, Parker Hannifin IPDE, Waters Technology, Kent Construction, Equifax and BNY Mellon. Coca-Cola operates a research plant employing up to 160. Eishtec operates a callcenter for British mobile operator EE that employs 250. Pamela Scott, A-wear and other retailers operate in the town.
Curracloe Beach in Wexford was the location in 1997 for the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.
The Irish National Heritage Park at Ferrycarrig includes various exhibits spanning 9000 years of Irish history, allowing the visitor to wander around re-creations of historic Irish dwelling including crannogs, Viking houses and Norman forts.
The Wexford Wildfowl Reserve is a Ramsar site based on mudflats, (known locally as slobland), just outside Wexford. It is a migratory stop-off point for thousands of ducks, geese, swans and waders. Up to 12,000 (50% of the world's population) of Greenland white-fronted geese spend the winter on the Wexford slobs. There is a visitor centre with exhibitions and an audio-visual show.
Wexford railway station opened on 17 August 1874. The railway line from Dublin to Rosslare Harbour runs along the quayside on the north-eastern edge of the town. In 2010 the Rosslare Strand-Waterford rail services were suspended, due to budget cuts at Irish Rail.
Wexford is also served by local and national bus networks, primarily Bus Éireann, Wexford Bus and Ardcavan. There are also many local taxi and hackney providers.
Rosslare Europort is 19 kilometers south of Wexford. Car ferries run between Fishguard and Pembroke in Wales and Cherbourg and Roscoff in France. The ferry companies operating on these routes are Stena Line and Irish Ferries. Foot passengers can use the SailRail tickets from Wexford railway station via Rosslare Europort and Fishguard Harbour to reach Swansea, Cardiff Central and onwards including London Paddington.
The closest airport to Wexford is Waterford Airport which is approximately one hour away (70 km). Dublin Airport and Cork Airport are both approximately two-and-a-half hours away.
The town also has a shuttle-bus service which has stops at the town's main facilities.
Wexford Golf Club has a newly built clubhouse and course, which were finished in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
The Wexford football club was admitted to the League of Ireland in 2007. Wexford was the first Wexford-based club to take part in the competition. The club was the brainchild of former property developer Mick Wallace TD, who funded the construction of a complex for the new team's home at Newcastle, Ferrycarrig. In 2015, the team won promotion to the Irish Premier League. The club launched Wexford Youths WFC, a Women's National League team, in 2011.
Wexford is also home to several Gaelic Athletic Association clubs. Though the town was traditionally associated with Gaelic football, with six teams providing ample outlets for its youngsters, it wasn’t until 1960 that hurling took its foothold, with much due to local man Oliver "Hopper" McGrath's contribution to the county's All-Ireland Hurling Final triumph over the then-champions Tipperary. Having scored an early second-half goal to effectively kill off the opposition, McGrath went on to be the first man from the town of Wexford to receive an All-Ireland Hurling winner's
One of the town's local hurling clubs, Faythe Harriers, holds a record fifteen county minor championships, having dominated the minor hurling scene in the 1950s, late 1960s and early 1970s. However, the senior side has only enjoyed briefly successful periods, having won just five county senior championships.
Although the team has not achieved county senior football success since 1956, Volunteers ("the Vols") of Wexford Town hold a record eleven county senior titles, as well as six minor titles. Other notable Gaelic football clubs in the town are Sarsfields, St. Mary's of Maudlintown, Clonard and St. Joseph's.
Wexford had a brilliant hurling team in the 1950s which included the famous Rackard Brothers, Nicky, Bobby, and Willie, Art Foley who was the goalkeeper, Ned Wheeler, Padge Kehoe, Tom Ryan, Tim Flood, Jim Morrissey, Nick O Donnell, to name but a few.
Wexford has one rugby club, called Wexford Wanderers.
Ireland's former boxing head coach and Olympian Billy Walsh is a native of Wexford town and has contributed greatly to the success of underage level boxers with local club St. Ibars/Joseph's.
There are five secondary schools serving the population of the town:
New developments are in planning in the educational sector (2016) and construction is under way for both the boys secondary school Coláiste Eamon Rís, Loch Garman - C. B. S., Wexford (for boys), and for the girls secondary school Loreto Secondary School, Wexford (for girls),. The other schools in the Wexford town area are St Peter's College, Wexford (for boys), Presentation Secondary School, Wexford (for girls) and Selksar College S. C. (mixed).
Wexford is twinned with the following places: Annapolis, MD, United States
Couëron, Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire, France
Lugo, Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Staten Island, New York, NY, United States
Yanga, Veracruz, Mexico