August 28 – Kilkenny to Rosslare
Today was our last day of exploring Ireland and what a ripper it was. We had sunshine and a top place to roam and it was a great send off for our time on the Emerald Isle.
When we arrived in Kilkenny yesterday, it looked like it would be worth a roam, so that was the plan for today. It ended up being the nicest town we’ve been to in Ireland, with lovely streets and lots to see, all very central and easy walking distance to each. So…since it’s been a while since we’ve done a walking tour, I thought I’d take you along with us once again. Ready…let’s explore Kilkenny.
Kilkenny has a ‘Medieval Mile’, with significant sites along the route. It’s really well signposted, with information boards along the way, as well as having maps at the information posts. So, we can do this little tour under our own steam and at our own pace and it’s all nice and central. We’ll start at Kilkenny Castle, a big, grand, imposing building right in the centre of the city. Some castles we’ve seen haven’t been particularly ‘castle-like’, but this one is most definitely a fine example of a ridgy-didge castle!
The first castle here was actually wooden and was built in 1172, then the stone one was constructed between 1192-1195. The 3rd Duke of Ormonde, James Butler, bought the castle in 1391 and it stayed in the Butler family. They handed it over to the people of Kilkenny in 1967 for the grand sum of £50. It’s been beautifully preserved and is quite a stunning building to see in the heart of the city.
Just across the road we can walk through the arch and into the Castleyard, which was once the stable block for the castle. After centuries, the shape of what would have been the stables and mounting yard is still perfectly intact.
Down the street we go and we pass by the Shee Almshouse. This was built by Sir Richard Shee, a wealthy merchant, in 1581 for the poor of Kilkenny. It was used as accommodation for the underprivileged until the 19th century. I’ve often wondered about what help there was for the poor during those times, because each time we’ve set foot into a cathedral, with all its grand trappings and gold trimmings, I’ve thought of the money spent on such a place, while there would have been the poor and needy right outside the doors. We’ve seen quite a few almshouses on our travels, which seem to be an attempt at providing some support and keeping people out of the workhouses. The Shee Almshouse is one of those, a place that gave a home to those who needed one.
Now down the street, along a passageway, up some steps and around a corner and we come to the Tholsel. That’s one of the things that makes roaming Kilkenny so interesting, there are myriad lanes and alleys and passageways to duck down and cut through. It’s more than just roaming streets, it’s stepping into nooks and crannies of the past as you make your way through the city.
The name of the Tholsel comes from the Old English words, ‘tol’ and ‘sael’ meaning the hall of taxes. It was built in 1578, then rebuilt in 1761 and served Kilkenny as a meeting place, a custom house and today it houses the Kilkenny Borough Council.
Now we’re going to do a cut through. Kilkenny has ‘slips’ and we’re going to duck down Butter Slip to continue our explorations. The layout of KIlkenny’s streets still follows the original Norman design and there are several ‘link ways’ from the High Street to other streets and these linking passageways are known as ‘slips’. Butter Slip is one of those link ways, so under the arch and through we go.
We come out near a pub, Kyteler’s Inn, that was once Kyteler’s Hall, home to a somewhat infamous resident of Kilkenny. Alice Kyteler, a rich and powerful woman, had four husbands, three of whom died in mysterious circumstances. Her children were somewhat alarmed by this pattern of untimely departures and cried sorcery and witchcraft. She was eventually charged with witchcraft, in 1323, after a confession forced from her by her eldest son, William Outlawe (who, just to add another twist, was to be the beneficiary of various estates owned by the family, so would have done quite nicely out of his mother being done as a witch). But… the night before her trial, Alice escaped! But…her lady-in-waiting, Petronella, was not so fortunate and she was convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake, right there in High Street, which was the first ever public burning of a “witch” in Ireland. Poor Petronella. I hope Alice just didn’t bunk off and leave her behind to her fate, I hope there was more to it than that and Alice did try and save Petronella too. I don’t know what became of Alice.
On we go, roaming and strolling and we pass by the Courthouse, once known as Grace’s Castle. From 1566 it was used as a jail and then a courthouse in the 18th century. I have to say it looks pretty ominous, with the metal doors still there and the iron railings. Looking down, there are stone steps and recesses that would have once been holding areas for prisoners. It looks like a place you definitely wouldn’t want to find yourself.
Not far from the Courthouse we pass the Roth House, which was an Irish merchant’s townhouse, built between 1594-1610. Behind the frontage, there are actually three other houses, three courtyards and a garden. It’s not open at the moment so we can’t go in to see those. John Roth was a wealthy merchant in Kilkenny and he built the first house in 1594 but when his family grew to eleven children, he built the second and third houses. I’m not sure if that was to house his family as they grew, so they all lived together, or if it was to have space to separate himself from the growing number of children!
Along the street, past rows of shops and up some steps and we come to St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower. This site was founded in the 6th century and the Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny, predating the cathedral itself.
Let’s head for the canal. The sun’s shining, there’s some heat in its rays and it’s a glorious morning, just right for a stroll by the water. We walk along the old city walls, then along the shopping streets and we come to the wide path alongside the canal. It’s a lovely place for a stroll, with the swans and ducks paddling below, the sun on the water and the trees ahead.
Off the path, we can duck up some stone steps and along a trail and we find ourselves in the “backyard” grounds of Kilkenny Castle. The grounds extend into a huge park and we can walk through the rear yard of the castle. The perfect spot to end our tour, where we began. Kilkenny is a lovely city and a wonderful place to roam and explore, with so much to see, historic buildings, parks and gardens, walking paths and everything so beautifully central. A fabulous roam.
From Kilkenny, we packed up and hit the road, stopping in New Ross, a nice little harbour side town, with a very nice park, where we paused for elevenses.
Then on we went, stopping only to do some laundry and then arrived in Rosslare. This is where we will catch the ferry on Friday, over to Wales, where we will recommence our adventure on two wheels and pedal power. Today was a great final day of exploring a part of Ireland. We had a lovely town, with great places to roam and some learning along the way. We also had a sensational day of sunshine and sunshine that really had some heat in it too. Just fabulous.
There won’t be a blog post tomorrow because it will be a purely practical commuting day. We drive the van back to Dublin, to return it, then catch a train back to Rosslare, all of which will take all day. So, no post tomorrow, on account of just being captives of some form of moving metal transport device from one place to another and back again. We will pick up our next instalment when we make our way over the water, back to the UK, although there has already been some glitches in our travel plans, so…stay tuned for some possible blunders ahead!