Billy Colfer’s Wexford Castles expands the IRISH LANDSCAPES series by taking a thematic approach, while still staying loyal to the central landscape focus. Rather than adapting a narrowly architectural approach, he situates these buildings in a superbly reconstructed historical, social, and cultural setting -March 2013 ISBN 978-185918-493-6, €49, £39, Hardback, 299 x 237mm, 272pp
County Wexford has three strikingly different regions - the Anglo-Norman south, the hybridised middle and the Gaelic north - which render it a remarkable version in smallscale of the wider island. Colfer’s wide-angle lens takes in so much than the castles themselves, as he ranges widely and deeply in reading these striking buildings as texts, revealing the cultural assumptions and historical circumstances which shaped them.
In this most cosmopolitan of counties, we range far and wide in search of the wide-spreading roots of its cultural landscape - from the Crusades and the Mani peninsula in Greece to the Bristol Channel, from Crac des Chevaliers to Westminster, from the Viking north and the cold Atlantic to the warm Mediterranean south.
The book breaks new ground in exploring the long-run cultural shadow cast by the Anglo-Normans and their castles, as this appears in the Gothic Revival, in the poetry of Yeats and in the surprisingly profuse crop of Wexford historians and writers. While most books on a single architectural form can end up visually monotonous, creativity has been lavished on this volume in terms of keeping the images varied, fresh and constantly appealing. The result is a sympathetic and innovative treatment of the castles, understood not just as a mere architectural form, but as keys to unlocking the mentalité of those who lived in them. Wexford Castles: landscape, context and settlement is a worthy conclusion of Billy’s Colfer’s superb trilogy of landscape studies.
The book also includes a useful gazetteer of surviving Tower Houses.
Billy Colfer is the author of The Hook Peninsula, County Wexford (Cork University Press, 2004) and Wexford: A Town and its Landscape (Cork University Press, 2008). Billy died on February 2nd 2013.