“Oh, no, this bus doesn’t go to Fethard. Some of them on this line do, but not this one. I think the next one is in the evening.”
The driver said it like it was obvious, then glanced over his shoulder for confirmation at two old ladies sitting in the front row of the bus with sacks of groceries on their laps. They agreed with him, and then began to discuss the matter in depth between themselves. I thanked them, then disembarked the bus I had just gotten on ten seconds before.
I had asked if the bus went to my destination purely as a formality, because after all, my ticket and the posted information had told me that I could take line 370 to Fethard, so surely I could rely on that?
Another lesson in the quaint unpredictability of public transit in Ireland: always ask if the bus you’re getting on is actually going to the place you think it is.
That morning, myself and two of my friends from school, Melissa and Maddie, had left Parnell Place in Cork on a bus bound for Waterford. That part was easy. Our final destination, however, was further off the beaten path. We were headed for the tiny seaside village of Fethard-on-Sea in County Wexford (not the Fethard of County Tipperary), on the Hook Peninsula, just southeast of Waterford. We didn’t know much about Fethard, other than that it was near the ocean, and near Loftus Hall – said to be the most haunted house in Ireland.
We had two hours to kill in Waterford. It seems like a cool town, and I’d like to return for a longer visit sometime. We found a quiet pub with a mural near the front door of a man and an ox staring at each other in a very intimate way, and there we had a pint and played cards while the bartender playfully harassed the regulars sitting at the bar and a small dog wandered between the legs of the low tables.
After being told that we couldn’t take the bus, we hailed a cab and asked him to bring us to Fethard. The drive took an hour, and it was expensive (around €75), but not so bad when split three ways.
If you decide to take this trip yourself from Cork, your best bet is to drive. If that’s not an option (like it wasn’t for us), then you can take a bus to either Waterford or New Ross, then:
A – take a regular taxi (like we did – although that’s expensive – but it would be less expensive from New Ross, which is closer to Fethard).
B – try to hire a taxi through a local company, which we ended up doing on the way back the next day. If you’re doing this from Waterford to Fethard or vice versa, have the driver take the ferry across the little channel, rather than going around. It’s more direct and will cost less, but will still probably be around €40-50.
C – hitchhike, which is dicey but not as dicey as you might think. Choose this option at your own risk, but it’s pretty safe honestly – just trust your gut. Know too that this area gets very empty (albeit very beautiful) very quickly, so you might not encounter too many drivers going that way in the first place.
or D, try to sweet-talk the 370 line bus driver into dropping you off at Fethard anyway, as we were later told they’ll do sometimes, since the 370 line goes through that area but Fethard itself just isn’t a regularly scheduled stop.
What to do
Our first priority when arriving in Fethard was to find the shore. On that cold, rocky beach, the entire rest of the world seemed to disappear. Low in the sky, the sun cast a dim light that gave everything the illusion of glowing gently from within. On the beach I found a hag stone, a small, flat, smooth stone with a hole worn through it. It’s said that looking through the hole can reveal faeries, or the other world. Looking through it that evening on the beach, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, although the scene was magical enough as it was.
A tip for others who decide to visit the beach at dusk: pay attention to the rising tide. A few minutes after wandering out onto a small sandy peninsula, we looked back to find that it had become an island, and we had to wade back through a foot or more of water.
There are a few pubs in Fethard, and we made our way to two of them that night: Droopy’s and Molloy’s. Droopy’s was very local, and Molloy’s had live music, but both were fun. Going to these pubs was a very different experience than going out to the pubs in Cork, and you’ll feel in your bones that you’re not in a big city but rather in a very, very small town. It’s a difficult thing to describe, but well worth the experience.
We ate dinner at the chipper – garlic chips and curry chips and burgers and fish n’ chips (chips, chips, chips), and it was the most decadent, fried, sauce-covered meal, perfect after a long day of walking and missed connections and wet feet. We were also told by everyone we met that the Village Cafe has excellent curry, and the Wheelhouse Cafe, where we ate the next morning, serves a wonderful Irish breakfast.
Where to stay
With socks and boots soaked through, we made our way back to our AirBnb – a beautiful, fully renovated old schoolhouse – and what was one of the warmest, most comfortable, relaxed and happy nights I’ve ever had. Tina, the owner of the house, is a healer and psychic medium, and the four of us had a great time talking and hanging out while our things dried near the wood stove. The house had a big claw foot bathtub, and I took the first (and only) hot bath I’ve had since leaving the United States. It was heavenly.
In the week before we embarked on this little trip, Melissa, Maddie, and I decided that we wanted to get out of the city for one night and go somewhere, anywhere, that weekend. Preferably, we all agreed, somewhere spoooooky.
With this criteria in mind, my entire research strategy was as follows: I typed “ghost tours Ireland” into Google, found the Loftus Hall website, looked it up on the map and saw that it was reasonably close to Cork, then found an AirBnb nearby and booked it.
However – getting to Loftus from Fethard is yet another challenge, and more proof of how Google Maps simply doesn’t know how to handle Ireland. Maps told me that Loftus is 4-odd miles away from Fethard, which, while long, isn’t an impossible trek.
When we stopped in a cafe that morning to ask directions, though, the people eating breakfast laughed at us when told them that we planned to walk. But, in yet another example of the relaxed friendliness of the Irish, a local man finishing his breakfast in the cafe offered to drive us. His name was Michael, and he’d grown up in the area, and on the drive down the peninsula he gave us a small tour, pointing out the farmhouse he’d grown up in, the small cemetery where his parents were buried, the lighthouse (the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world), and the old harbor, built during the famine times.
Loftus Hall is hauntingly beautiful (pun not intended – it’s simply the most accurate word for it), and has a curious and fascinating history. The tour is a little hokey, but very fun, and focuses almost exclusively on one legend of the hall: in the 1700s, the caretakers of the hall had a beautiful young daughter, Lady Anne, who was very lonely and bored and the isolated old house on the wild and rugged Irish coast.
One foggy night, it’s said, a dark and handsome stranger rode in from the coast claiming that his ship had wrecked, and he asked to stay the night, as he knew no one in the area and had no way of returning home (which was said to be Spain, or Italy, or somewhere else suitably exotic). His stay of one night turned into weeks, and soon Lady Anne fell in love with him.
The family and the handsome young stranger would spend the cold and stormy nights playing cards, and one night Lady Anne accidentally dropped her cards. As she reached under the table to retrieve them from the floor, she glanced at the feet of the handsome stranger sitting across from her, but saw instead the cloven hooves of the devil himself. She screamed, and the devil flew upward in a burst of flames, punching a hole in the ceiling that, reportedly, has never been able to be properly repaired.
Lady Anne was never the same. She became “a confirmed maniac”, and was locked away in a back bedroom for the rest of her life, where she spent her days curled into a ball, gazing out at the ocean. When she died, they say, she had been in that one position for so long that they were unable to straighten her body, and a special coffin had to be made.
I left the house with more questions than answers. There’s so much in the history of Loftus to explore – what of the house after it was vacated by the Loftus family? The story about the devil – surely there’s something there about how this was a Cromwellian Protestant family in a majority Catholic area, and they were also rumored to have been seen as a miserly and status-hungry family? A cursory Google search and the Wikipedia article don’t reveal any information not available on the website, but I asked one of my professors about where I might look to do more research, so expect a post soon taking a deep dive into Loftus.
Visitors were not allowed to take photos inside of the house, but the interior is even more breathtaking in its dilapidated grace – search for images of the Loftus Hall interior, and it still looks exactly like that.
Despite the hiccups, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to ring in the autumn than the trip down to the Hook Peninsula. If you’re adventurous and brave enough to face uncertain transportation, rising tides, charmingly-yet-heavily inebriated small town young men, ghosts, and curses, then make it a point to make it down to this isolated, haunting corner of Ireland.