Changing Environment

Riverchapel: built environment

Riverchapel lies 1km inland from the coast of Co. Wexford and is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations. In 1991, the parish of Riverchapel-Courtown Harbour was formed as the increased population of the Ballygarrett parish led the villages of Riverchapel and Courtown to merge. The new parish consists of most of the medieval parish of Ardamine, with parts of Kiltennell, Killenagh and Donaghmore.

What started life as a small community beside the Ownavorrah River in the 1700s, Courtown soon developed into a port town when Courtown Harbour was built in 1824. By 1851 there were fifty-eight families living in Courtown and seventy-two in Riverchapel. Then in the 1860s, thanks to the arrival of the railway from Dublin to Gorey and the southeast, the area was transformed into a tourist resort.

The outbreak of World War I saw the decline of Courtown Harbour as a viable trading port and in 1953 the post of Harbour Master was abolished. However, if it declined as a port it remained a Mecca for holiday makers, attracted by its long sandy beaches and proximity to Dublin. In 1977 Marfield House, originally home to the Stopford family, was sold to the Irish Tourist Board to become a prestigious hotel.

Work began on the widely used modern marina in 1981. In addition to sailing, there are clubs catering for a variety of interests from Gaelic games, soccer and golf, to drama and shooting. A once important port town has been transformed into a relaxing leisure area for tourists and locals alike.
At the time of writing (2009), the Riverchapel-Courtown area is in a state of transition. In Courtown several hotels have either been demolished or are boarded up, including the Ounavarra, built on the bakery of local leader and later T.D. and Government Minister, Sean Etchingham. Riverchapel-Courtown has also become increasingly urbanised in recent years. It has become a popular commuter-town for those working in Dublin and large housing estates have been constructed to accommodate the increasing population.
Such transformations as Courtown and Riverchapel from small port and fishing villages to a single urbanised commuter centre is mirrored in many towns along the east coast of Ireland.

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