Wexford’s Market Town Of Gorey Finds A Tourist Niche With Restaurants, Cafes and Arts Venues

by Sean Hillen

Once a quiet parochial Irish town, Gorey, in county Wexford, has expanded exponentially in recent years as residents and visitors alike realise its multi-faceted appeal – it’s just over an hour from Dublin, it’s located in ‘the sunny south-east’ and it’s close to a chain of soft, sandy beaches. 

Greater numbers of tourists and home-buyers has meant greater variety of services, including shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants, as well as arts and sports venues.

Here are some highlights of this lively market town –

Arts and Culture

(l to r) Actors Richard Lister and Daniel Cotter-Quirke, members of a dynamic Wexford arts and drama scene. Photo by Sean Hillen

Imagine my surprise recently when seeking some live weekend entertainment, I was presented with not one but two one-act drama festivals to attend in and around Gorey, a tribute to the town’s lively arts scene. 

The first – though it became the second due to my mistake in mixing up venues – was the result of an amusing telephone conversation with a certain Richard Lister, lively raconteur, sexagenarian-bordering-septuagenarian who took to the stage just a few short years ago.

Richard is trophy officer and former treasurer of the Coolgreany Amateur Dramatic Society and persuaded me to attend the opening of his society’s festival. The fact that I ended up at another location, the Gorey Little Theatre, instead was due to my failure to understand there were two festivals happening at the same time.  

Under the Presidency of Nancy Byrne and chairperson, Jan Cullen and with a modern, 300-plus seater auditorium, Gorey Little Theatre hosts a variety of shows from concerts to plays and is a mere five-minute walk from the town’s Main Street. Indicating its diversity, events this year will include performances by well-known singers such as Belfast-born Brian Kennedy; comedy sketches including ‘Dirtbirds – No Filters’ starring Sinead Culbert and Sue Collins; and the annual South Leinster Drama Festival next month in which amateur drama groups from all over Ireland perform.

Young and old enjoy a slice of dramatic fun at Gorey Little Theatre.

As for the Coolgreany drama group, it continues to be a thriving amateur drama club hosting, among other activities, both acting and script-writing workshops, as well as live performances. 

For culture of a different sort, drive out to the 300-year-old Ballymore Historic Features, part of the Wexford Heritage Trail, and a meeting with friendly Margaret Donovan. Here in a converted stables, hayloft and pantry, this lovely lady has managed to collect what she describes as ‘a little bit of everything from everyone,’ meaning a treasure trove of artefacts most of which belonged to her family. 

Margaret Donovan relates nostalgic stories abut her fascinating family.

Here, among thousands of objects, you’ll find a potpourri of esoteric objects, including butter churns, fine china and ceramics, farming equipment, military uniforms, paintings by much admired artist Phoebe Donovan, stuffed birds, even Margaret’s grandmother’s 19th century wedding dress and a 100-year-old French bean slicer. 

Venture into the surrounding grounds and you’ll find the ruins of a Norman castle dating back to the 14th century, Ballymore Church and graveyard (1869), and a former 1798 Irish rebel camp site. You may even spot a buzzard or some other wildlife. Tea is served in a reconstructed greenhouse.

Kevin Rowe creates a wonderland of light and sound.

If you happen to visit Gorey when Kevin Rowe’s Land of Lights outdoor display is on, it’s worth a visit to awaken that child within as you encounter fairies, elves and other fantastic creatures on the grounds of the Wells House. Kevin also creates impressive visual shows in venues throughout Ireland.

Cafes and Restaurants

Oozing elegance and warmth, The Conservatory has gained a strong reputation as a fine-dining restaurant in a peaceful rural setting. Photo by Columbia Hillen

Gorey offers a wide variety of eating-out options but a stand-out choice for a memorable fine-dining experience is the Conservatory Restaurant at Marfield House Hotel set on 36 acres of grounds close to Gorey.  

We arrived on a damp, wet, windy evening (weather like this occurs in Ireland sometimes) and were charmed by the soft rays of lighting forming a penumbra on sturdy oak trees in the parking area. 

Crispy pork belly makes for a delicious starter at The Conservatory. Photo by Columbia Hillen

This sense of natural tranquility continued inside with a romantic setting complete with fresh yellow roses and lilies on the table, flowering plants in containers and framed portraits and landscape paintings strategically placed throughout the restaurant. 

Crisp white tablecloths, lighted candles and sparkling silver added the overall ambience while white frescoed walls and ceiling enhanced the kaleidoscope of color in the furnishings, including soft, candy-striped seating and gold satin curtains. Alabaster busts were everywhere, making me think I should know of whom who they are, but I didn’t, uncivilised savage as I am.

Natural light floods in through floor-to-ceiling windows at The Conservatory. Photo by Columbia Hillen

Our starters comprised crispy pork belly, with a spiced ginger glaze adding comforting warmth on a raw, autumnal evening, and pan-seared scallops, their texture enhanced by slices of both fresh and dried apple. This was followed by a leak and potato soup served in an espresso-style cup, flavored with herbs from the hotel’s own garden. 

Knowing we’d soon be battling rambunctious Nature outside, my companion and I chose two hefty meat dishes, seared fillet of aged Wexford beef in a béarnaise and red wine jus and roast loin of venison with thyme roasted parsnips and juniper berry jus. 

The dessert menu was too tempting to forgo, thus I chose chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice-cream and my companion a tarte tatin of Marfield orchard apple, cinnamon ice-cream and cider sabayon.

Hotel director, Margaret Bowe, a member of the family who owns the entire property, provided her own brand of dry wit and slices of local news throughout our dinner, making sure we lacked for nothing. 

After enjoying a veritable feast, it was no surprise to notice enroute to the bathroom a plethora of prestigious awards covering the walls of a narrow corridor.

Friendly service and fine food characterises The Hungry Bear. Photo by Sean Hillen

A short walk along Gorey’s Main Street and the arteries off it presents one with a wide variety of other options, among them being the ‘Hungry Bear,’ where you may be served by friendly Alba, Gwen or Liam Cooney, manager-cum-musician-singer-songwriter-and-actor. Their menu is a diverse one but be sure to try chef Danii’s delectable crispy panko fried flat mushrooms with garlic and truffle oil and the vegan coconut banoffee waffles.

Taking A Break 

Dee’s Lingerie is just one of a diverse series of boutique shops along Gorey’s main street. Photo by Sean Hillen

Gorey is a bustling place boasting many enticing independent stores including Dee’s Lingerie but – regardless of the many sensual delights on show at the latter, I, like many men, needed a shopping break. And, lucky me, I found the perfect place – Ban Phai Thai Massage, one of several such therapy centres that have opened in the town recently. 

Enjoy a relaxing massage at Ban Phai with well-qualified Thai therapists. Photo by Sean Hillen

Located in a new studio just off Main Street, well-qualified therapists provide a range of treatments. I enjoyed a vigorous massage with hot stones which left me as well-oiled as a brand new Lamborghini (though without the sleek body to match). Hot showers and warm towels are available but the oil was so aromatic I decided to let it do its work on my skin overnight (in the hopes of .…never mind). 

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