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Wexford Town: 142km (88 miles) S of Dublin, 63km (39 miles) E of Waterford, 90km (56 miles) S of Wicklow, 187km (116 miles) E of Cork, 214km (133 miles) SE of Shannon Airport

Although it's in easy reach of County Wexford, Dublin might as well be hundreds of miles away -- this area feels so bucolic and peaceful. Wexford is known for its long stretches of pristine beaches, and for the evocative historic monuments in Wexford Town and on the Hook Peninsula.

The modern English name of Wexford evolved from Waesfjord, which is what the Vikings called it when they invaded in the 9th century. The Normans captured the town at the end of the 12th century, and you can still see remnants of their fort at the Irish National Heritage Park.

The next significant conqueror was England, in the form of Cromwell, who arrived in the mid-17th century expecting a pushover, but found that Wexford stood up to him. A bitter battle ensued and he won, as usual, by basis of overwhelming force. Afterward, he handled victory in his usual fashion -- gathering together 1,500 of the town's 2,000 residents and slaughtering them. Among the dead were all of Wexford's Franciscan friars. After the massacre, Wexford remained a hotbed of Irish resistance for centuries -- in 1798, another uprising against the English left thousands dead here.

With a population of about 10,000, Wexford Town is a hardworking Irish harbor community with a surprisingly sophisticated social calendar, highlighted by its opera festival in late October.