House, Garden, Cathedral, River

Today in Kilkenny I took in the Rothe House & Garden and then visited not one cathedral, but two. And I climbed a tower beside one of those cathedrals. I also took a boat tour on the River Lore and did some more walking around Kilkenny. Just writing this paragraph tired me.

Before I get into that, I feel the need to say that Kilkenny is a very beautiful, quaint town. Yes, I know the tour guide at the Medieval Mile Museum yesterday showed me the old charter proclaiming Kilkenny to be a city, not a town, but it has a charming small-town feel to it.

They keep the town clean and the shops and restaurants along the main streets add vitality, but not freneticism. It’s quite welcoming and calm, without being at all dull. This is my last day here, but I think I’d enjoy spending more time in Kilkenny and just being.

Rothe House & Garden

Rothe House as seen from an interior courtyard
Rothe House as seen from an interior courtyard

For my first activity of the day after breakfast, I visited the Rothe House and Garden. (Rothe is pronounced “Roath,” not “Roth.”

There, like at the Medieval Mile Museum, I took a guide-guided tour, rather than going on a self-guided tour. This time, I know I got the spelling of the guide’s name right, Sinéad, because she wore a name tag.

I remembered her name despite my pathologically pathetic memory for names only because Sinéad O’Connor died just over a week ago.

Sinéad (the guide at the Rothe House, not the recently deceased singer) is charming, enthusiastic, and the fastest talker I’ve ever heard. The tour lasted just shy of an hour. Sinéad packed into that what would probably take a full semester to teach in a course if speaking at a more normal speed. Her Irish burr wasn’t overly heavy, but I probably would have been able to retain more if we spoke with a common accent.

A room inside Rothe House
A room inside Rothe House

I don’t know how the Rothe House Sinéad would feel about me using a recently deceased singer, famous or not, as a memory aid for her name. Nor do I know how she would feel about me relaying here her fast-talker quality. Then again, she’ll probably never know.

You, dear reader, are a member of a very elite group. I always hope for fortune, although never for fame. But neither is likely to follow from this website. At the time of writing, my stats say that this journal has never had a daily visitor count that came anywhere close to three digits. The chance that Sinéad will ever see this is, therefore, near zero.

The information Sinéad delivered was truly fascinating as it sped through my ears. However, at most, I remember the broad subject areas, but none of the details.

Another room at Rothe House
Another room at Rothe House

Those subject areas spanned the history of Kilkenny, including, but nowhere near exclusively, Oliver Cromwell’s time here; the history, architecture, and construction materials of the house; the items and artifacts on display in the house; the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, which runs the place; and probably several other subjects that I forgot.

Unlike yesterday at the Medieval Mile Museum, I wasn’t alone on the tour today. One other person took it. The Rothe House offers only three guided tours a day, so it seems the tours aren’t nearly as popular as I think they should be, fast-talking notwithstanding.

The Rothe House garden
The Rothe House garden

Although, I’m not sure the other person on the tour would also recommend it. He often seemed to be off in his own world, exploring another part of the room we were in while Sinéad spoke.

At the start of the tour and at a couple of other times, Sinéad encouraged us to ask questions if we had any. However, because she spoke quickly and almost nonstop, asking a question required interrupting her abruptly. That seemed rude to me. Nevertheless, the other fellow asked a couple of questions and I asked a few. Sinéad didn’t appear the least bit perturbed about being interrupted. On the contrary, she seemed genuinely enthusiastic about answering our queries. So my perception of rudeness might have been nothing more than my perception, not hers.

A few factoids I do remember are:

  • John Rothe was a very successful merchant.
  • He had his house built sometime in the 17th century.
  • He later added two more attached houses to support his growing family. So what they now call “Rothe House” is, in fact, three attached houses.
  • Oliver Cromwell forced the Rothe family out of Kilkenny when he decreed that all Catholics had to either leave the city or die.
  • Kilkenny was the capital of Ireland at one time.
  • Even when it wasn’t the capital of Ireland, there was a period when the city still had a parliament because of the governing charter it held. The parliament is why Kilkenny has a Parliament Street.

After finishing the tour, Sinéad directed us to the house’s garden to each explore on our own. Shortly after Sinéad left us, the other fellow turned to me and said, “She talked fast, didn’t she?” So I guess he wasn’t completely oblivious to her.

Rothe House Garden

Another view in the Rothe House garden
Another view in the Rothe House garden

At one time, a carpark sat where the original garden had been. Excavations not all that many years ago uncovered its extent. Not only that, but the excavations revealed seeds and other evidence of the plants that grew there in the Rothes’ time.

With that information, the Kilkenny Archaeological Society recreated the original garden as best as possible. The garden is not wide, but fairly long. It’s beautiful and peaceful.

Flowers, aromatics, vegetables, herbs, and apple trees of several varieties grow there. Sinéad said the apples are ripe and delicious. She also said we were free to eat one. I did. It was indeed delicious.

One interesting thing about the garden is that, we had to walk up a flight of stairs from the courtyard of the third house to get to it. Sinéad explained that the land where the third house was built was originally higher than the land on which the first two sat. But Rothe wanted all three houses connected on the same level. So he had the hill dug out to build the third house. But the garden stayed up at the higher level.

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Exterior of St. Mary's Cathedral
Exterior of St. Mary’s Cathedral

Remember yesterday I told you that the Medieval Mile Museum resides in the old St. Mary’s Church? It does. But Kilkenny doesn’t just have a St. Mary’s Church, it also has a St. Mary’s Cathedral. Mary was certainly a popular gal, wasn’t she?

St. Mary’s Cathedral sits atop a hill and dominates the surrounding area. It doesn’t appear in the tour book I use while here. I found it on TripAdvisor.

Actually, I found it by seeing it before “finding” it on TripAdvisor. I think I mentioned that it dominates the surrounding area. *check’s preceding paragraph* Yes, indeed I did mention it.

In my opinion, it’s worth a note in the tour book.

St. Mary’s Cathedral is far from the most dramatic in the world. But it is a nice “old” cathedral. I put “old” in quotes because, as old European churches go, it’s not all that old. It opened its doors in 1857. But it was built in the Gothic style using locally sourced limestone.

Interior of St. Mary's Cathedral
Exterior of St. Mary’s Cathedral

It is imposing as I think Gothic cathedrals tend to be. The stained glass windows behind the altar let in a lot of light. And the high vaulted wood ceiling provides some warmth to the building. They let tourists into the building, but it’s an operational church that doesn’t cater to tourists. So there are no tours or informational displays inside that I saw.

Maybe if I had let them know I was coming they would have catered to me, as long as I didn’t tell them the part about me being a heathen.

It’s not worth coming to Kilkenny just to visit St. Mary’s Cathedral as a sightseer, rather than as a practicing believer. I don’t know if practicing believers consider it worthwhile coming to it just to pray. You’d have to ask one of them. But if you’re a tourist in Kilkenny anyway, it deserves a quick visit. And there’s no fee to enter.

St. Canice’s Cathedral and Tower

St. Canice's Cathedral and next door tower
St. Canice’s Cathedral and next door tower

The tour book I use does mention St. Canice’s Cathedral and the next-door tower.

The 100-foot, circular tower isn’t part of the cathedral. It’s beside it, with no physical connection between the two, but they’re separated by only a small distance. You can see the two in the accompanying picture.

The tower was built as a watch tower in the 12th century, before the construction of the existing cathedral. However, there were probably other churches in roughly the same spot before the current one. The standing cathedral dates from the 13th century, but it underwent some changes in the next few centuries, both to expand it and because of needed repairs due to damage.

The cathedral sells separate admission tickets to the tower, which visitors can climb, and the cathedral. They also sell a combo ticket to both. I bought the combo.

(By the way, Google Maps tells me that Kilkenny also has a St. Canice’s Church in addition to St. Canice’s Cathedral. Like St. Mary’s cathedral and church, St. Canice’s cathedral and church are in different locations. Not very creative here, were they? Couldn’t they come up with different names for the church and the cathedral? St. Joel’s has a nice ring to it.)

The Tower

A view from the tower
A view from the tower

The ticket seller told me to go to the tower first, then the cathedral. That was fine for me, but believers should visit the cathedral first to pray they survive the tower climb.

The diameter of the tower is not very large. Consequently, rather than a spiral staircase up the centre, as is the case in most of the towers I’ve climbed in my travels, there are a series of six ladders inside the tower. The ladders aren’t vertical, but not far off it. One of the ladders has railings to grab hold of on both sides for most of its extent. The others have railings on only one side.

Another view from the tower
Another view from the tower

The ladders don’t get you quite to the top of the tower. About a half dozen stone steps take you the rest of the way. Stone steps don’t sound so bad, but the steps’ treads are narrow and not perfectly flat. And there are no railings beside the steps. At the top of the tower, a waist-high or so wire mesh fence protects people from falling off. The gaps in the mesh are large enough that when you get to the top one or two stone steps, you can get your fingers into the holes and use that to steady yourself. But the lower steps don’t offer that.

The views of Kilkenny and the surrounding area from the top are spectacular. But no matter how old I might live to be, and no matter how spry I might remain, I will never do that climb again. Never.

The Cathedral

Inside St. Canice's cathedral
Inside St. Canice’s cathedral

St. Canice’s Cathedral does cater to tourists, hence the small entry fee. When I went back into the cathedral after I miraculously (it’s a miracle, I tell ya) survived the climb and descent of the next-door tower, the ticket seller handed me a large, laminated, double-sided card.

One side displayed an outline of the cathedral with numbers marking the notable features of the cathedral. The flip side of the card provided brief descriptions to go with each number.

Some of those features include a cute carving on a stone column, effigy tombs, a document, choir stalls, a fancy lectern with a metallic eagle statue on it, the tile floor, and more.

One of the “and more” was a former square hole in one wall not much above the floor. The hole has since been filled in with stone bricks that come close to matching the surrounding wall, but not enough that you can’t easily see where the hole was. They put the hole in the wall so lepers could watch the service through it. I don’t think those were the good old days, particularly not for lepers.

Effigy tombs
Effigy tombs

Boat Tour on the River Nore

This afternoon, I took a 40-minute boat tour on the River Nore. The small company that runs it has two identical boats.

A view from the boat
A view from the boat

I can best describe the boats as oversized rowboats, except with an outboard motor on the back and no oar locks or oars. The occupancy sign on the boat said the limit is 12 people. Seating is on benches along either side of the boat, rather than across the boat as you’d find on a rowboat. Okay. Maybe the rowboat simile isn’t perfect. But it does describe the shape of the hull of the boat.

The company runs tours hourly. I took the penultimate tour of the day. I arrived at the debarkation point in time to see the previous hour’s tour return. Only one of the boats had gone out, the other remained tied up at the dock. About eight passengers were on the one boat.

Then it came time for my hour’s tour. Again, only one boat went out. This time, including the guide/boat-driver, there were two people on the boat. Cliff and I had a nice chat.

He told me that the number of people on the tour each hour varies wildly. He’s had some hours where he filled up both boats (there’s a second guide/boat-driver for when two boats go out) only to have no one at all the next hour. He said he had five people booked for the final tour of the day, but some people don’t pre-book so there might be more. Tough business.

After talking about that, we talked about travels, his and mine. He’s been to Yukon, Antarctica, and Norway, where he saw the Northern Lights. The story of how he got to Antarctica was an interesting one, but I don’t remember enough of the details to be worth telling here.

Another view from the boat
Another view from the boat

He then went on to tell me about some of the buildings and parks on the banks of the river, the bridges over it, and a little of the history of the area.

One of the history stories he told me was fascinating in a “medieval times were sick” sort of way.

The story is of a local Kilkenny woman, Alice Kyteler (I remembered Alice, but I had to search the web to recall the Kyteler) who lived in the thirteenth century.

Alice was quite the entrepreneur. She was an herbalist, but also ran other businesses. However, much of her wealth came from marrying well and, well …

In total, she married four times. All of her husbands died and bequeathed her their wealth. The strange, or maybe not so strange, thing is that all of her husbands had the same symptoms when they died. I don’t know if they knew it at the time, but the symptoms were consistent with arsenic poisoning.

The local bishop suspected Alice of witchcraft and wanted her arrested for that under church law. But Alice had connections. She had the bishop arrested and locked up instead. Before the bishop got out, Alice fled the country.

But Alice left a servant, Petronilla, behind. Petronilla became a scapegoat. She was forced to confess to witchcraft. After confessing, she was taken to I forget how many cities to be publicly flogged in each, only to be brought back to Kilkenny to be burned at the stake.

According to Cliff, as a result of this, Kilkenny has the honour of being the first city in Europe to burn anyone at the stake for witchcraft. So, there’s that.

The moral of the story is, no matter how bad things are now, be thankful we don’t live in the Middle Ages.

While all of this talk happened, the boat trip went up the river to as far as Cliff could take it before the river started to get too shallow. Cliff then took us back down the river, past the dock, to a point close to a weir. He then turned around and took us back to the dock to end the tour.

Walking Around

I also did more walking around today. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, except to ask, have I ever mentioned that Kilkenny is a very beautiful, quaint town? *scrolls to near the top of this post* Yes. Yes, I have.


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