Thursday, July 20, 2006

Exploring Kilkenny City

Last night I went to one of Kilkenny's many local pubs where they had some traditional music on offer. Two musicians played, and each of them played a variety of instruments that they changed to suit the particular song. They played old music and not so old music. Sometimes it was instrumental and sometimes singing as well. Some tunes I knew. They were superb musicians and I might go hear them again this evening.

Kilkenny is not so very big, but it is a "city". This morning I went on a really interesting walking tour where some of the mystery of this was explained. It lies way back in history when Kilkenny was a very powerful place and was in fact the largest settlement in Ireland, dating back to Norman times. Outside the city walls was "Irishtown". People moved freely inside the walls for work during the day etc, but the city walls held the wealthier ( English-aligned) folk. Kilkenny suffered mightily under Cromwell, with a lot of destruction and confiscation.

One thing that bemused me was that a 12th century church, made of the local black marble, and with its exterior stones still in excellent order, lies largely unused. It apparently has traded places between Protestant and Catholic numerous times and now neither uses it as a church. In other places, a 12th century building would be a treasured part of the heritage, but here it languishes as a hall, with cars parked outside in its unkempt grounds. The only reason I even saw it was via a guided walking tour. Unfortunately, this sounds like a not uncommon thing here in Ireland.

The guided tour also took us to the local jail, underneath the courts which are still used. But one day they decided to use the jail no more and it was just abandoned. So it is still in very original condition. We were able to go into a cell. Apparently if your crime was bad enough you were hanged, which having seen the jail would seem a more humane option. Quite a few people were crowded into one small dark cell and the standard sentence for stealing a loaf of bread was four years. We were told that few ever survived this period. The cells were unheated and food had to be provided by families. Death of inmates was the usual outcome.

We saw a modern marble statue of the early saint that the town is named after. Apparently he was here for ten years and was a town planner as well as a bishop so made sure the town was laid out well. The statue is made of the local black marble, and where people have touched it, it has already become a shiny black.

Our walking tour ended near the Abbey church of the Dominicans which had some lovely stained glass. An old small gate into the city was also near here. It wasn't far to walk to the Church of Ireland cathedral from the 12th century. I didn't go into the church but did climb the round tower near it, older than the church, and like the one I had just seen in Glendalough in the old monastic settlement. It gave a great view over Kilkenny and the whole area.

It is warm again today, though not as warm as yesterday. I have had a wee walk along the river but have not been too adventurous this afternoon. Supposed to be cooler tomorrow when I am hiring a bike so that will be good. Watch this space for me to be complaining about the rain soon enough.

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