Kilkenny Castle, Medieval Mile Museum, Walking

This morning, I journeyed by train from Dublin to Kilkenny. Walking is among my favourite activities, but I took a taxi to the station. It would have been a more than half-hour walk. Unsurprisingly, schlepping my luggage in the steady drizzle that fell on Dublin didn’t appeal to me.

Along the way, the cabbie asked if my business went well. This pleased me tremendously. I was thrilled that I didn’t appear to be so old that I couldn’t possibly still be working. However, it goes against my nature to enjoy even small pleasures for more than a second or two. I quickly assumed he was simply being polite and my decrepitude was, indeed, readily apparent to him, and anyone else who might see me.

But, enough about me.

I arrived at my hotel in Kilkenny before noon. My room was ready so I had time to settle in, have a quick lunch then spend the whole afternoon exploring. I visited the Kilkenny Castle and the Medieval Mile Museum. I also walked around a bit. And got a little wet. Sounds exciting, right? Read on.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle as seen from the rose garden.
Kilkenny Castle as seen from the rose garden.

The Kilkenny Castle sits atop a hill beside the River Nore. (Not, my little autocorrect friend, the River Note. Please stop fighting with me about that.)

When I arrived at the castle, just a short walk from my hotel, the sky looked ominous. But it didn’t rain. The rain god unleashed the occasional sprinkle, but that was it. Not the rain god’s strongest effort, fortunately.

Something about a gloomy sky casts a somewhat dramatic quality on an old castle. In a way, it enhances and deepens its appearance.

A room in Kilkenny Castle
A room in Kilkenny Castle

I’m sorry. What utter balderdash. I can’t believe I typed that. Truth is, I just wanted to put a better face on a gloomy sky. A little sun would have been nice. I don’t need full sun. However, I appreciate a spot of blue sky now and then. But never mind that.

The fourth Earl of Pembroke, William Marshall commissioned the construction of the castle in the first decade of the 13th century.

The little pamphlet handed out at the entrance says, “The original Anglo-Norman stone castle was built by William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke (c.1146-1219)…”

Who the heck do they think they’re fooling? I seriously doubt that William built it all by himself. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he never got his hands dirty. Hence, I changed it to “commissioned,” rather than “built.” Power to the workers!

A bedroom in Kilkenny Castle

The castle is in a squared-off U shape. However, it originally had four sides around a square courtyard. But then Oliver Cromwell came to town. He laid siege to the city and destroyed one of their castle’s sides. Rather rude of him, I’d say.

Oh, and Cromwell converted Kilkenny from Catholic to Protestant. Part of that conversion involved killing a lot of Catholics. I intend to say more about that in the next section. If I forget to do so, please remind me.

Toward the end of the 14th century, a powerful family, the Butler family, bought the castle. I wouldn’t have thought that a family of butlers could afford it, but there you go. Then again, maybe Butler was just their name. Historical chronicles can be so ambiguous sometimes. Although, the capitalization makes me think it’s the latter.

The Picture Gallery
The Picture Gallery

The Butler family owned the castle for 600 years. In 1967, the 6th Marquess of Ormond, a Butler descendent, turned the castle over to Kilkenny for just £50. The pamphlet doesn’t say if that was generosity or if the family couldn’t afford the upkeep and no one else wanted to take it on either. Let’s be magnanimous and call it generosity, shall we?

These days the common folk, such as myself, can tour the castle on either a self-guided or guide-guided tour. I chose the self-guided option, which involves walking through the publicly accessible rooms of the castle and either reading some scant information on signs in each room or reading the same scant information in the pamphlet handed out at the entrance. In the first two rooms, I read both. After the first two rooms, I felt confident that the two texts were identical. Then I just read the signage unless other people stood in front of the room’s sign. In that case, I switched to the pamphlet. Aren’t I clever?

Rose garden
Rose garden

The rooms are attractive and decorated with period pieces. One room hosts large, old tapestries on two of its walls. A longish corridor, named the “Blue Corridor,” has a series of small rooms off it. This served as an art gallery for the Butlers’ collection. The walls in those rooms now sport images and texts that are informative, rather than artistic. I guess £50 didn’t include the artwork.

The fairway garden
The fairway garden

A large room, the “Picture Gallery” has, even today, paintings and two more large tapestries hanging on the wall.

Outside, a beautiful rose garden, with precisely laid out flower beds and a fountain in the centre, sits on one side of the castle. On the other side of the castle sits a large park with a carefully manicured fairway with tree borders, that went on farther than my eye could see.

Medieval Mile Museum

The Medieval Mile Museum is so named not because it has a large medieval collection, but because it’s located in a district called the “Medieval Mile.” Either that or because whoever named it liked the alliteration. If it’s the latter, I can get behind that. I also always appreciate alliteration.

A relic at the Medieval Mile Museum
A relic at the Medieval Mile Museum

The Medieval Mile Museum is located in St. Mary’s church. It too offers either self-guided or guide-guided tours. This time I chose the guide-guided option. It wasn’t much more expensive than the self-guided option. Because I’m a senior, the guide-guided tour cost me only €9.

I arrived a little after 2:30 in the afternoon. The next tour started at 3:00. In between, I was free to wander around the museum. It’s a very small museum. I managed to glimpse all of the items inside easily in the time before the tour.

At 3:00, I went to the tour meeting point. The guide arrived a few minutes later. I was her only guest, so I got a private tour. The tour lasted about an hour.

For brevity, I’ll refer to the tour guide, not as “the tour guide,” but as Lyn because, at least phonetically, that’s her name. She didn’t wear a name tag, so it could have been Lyn, Lynn, Lynne, Lin, Linn, Linne, or some variation of that. In the astronomically unlikely event she finds this post and her name is not spelled Lyn, please accept my apologies and let me know in the replies below how to spell your name.

And, if the fickle finger of fate does mysteriously direct her to this, she probably won’t have read my previous posts. So she won’t know about my notoriously terrible memory. So, again forgive me for omitting some of the best information and, no doubt, getting some of it wrong.

Lyn started by telling me some of the history of Kilkenny. It is a fascinating narrative.

Bones at the Medieval Mile Museum
Bones at the Medieval Mile Museum

For example, at one time, Ireland was lousy with kings. Lyn said there were once 200 kings simultaneously. When Lyn said that, I imagined them constantly tripping over each other. Maybe they didn’t literally trip over each other, but having so many kings did cause battles between them.

Lyn told me the story of one king who, if my memory serves (don’t count on it), had Kilkenny in his Kingdom. According to the records, he stole the wife of another king. Lyn doubts that the word “stole” is entirely appropriate. The wife already had all of her gold, jewelry, and other valuables packed up. She took them with her. The wife seemed to be entirely complicit in the “theft.”

In the section above on the Kilkenny Castle, I asked you to remind me if I forgot to talk more about Oliver Cromwell killing a lot of Catholics. You don’t have to remind me. By some cosmic miracle, I remembered.

As I mentioned, one of Cromwell’s intentions was to convert Kilkenny from Catholic to Protestant. St. Mary’s was a Catholic church. Cromwell ordered his men to attack it. They did and killed everyone inside.

Once they took over, they converted the church from Catholic to Protestant. This involved keeping the nave, but demolishing the transepts and destroying any Catholic iconography. This was, to say the least, not great for the people of Kilkenny at the time, particularly the killing part, but it ended up giving the museum some of its most valuable displays today.

Gravestones had Catholic iconography engraved on them. But the soldiers didn’t have tools that were up to the task of breaking the inches-thick gravestones. Instead, they knocked them over, engraved side down, and covered them with the rubble from the demolished transepts. This served to preserve them well.

The museum always knew there were bodies buried under the floor of the church and in the graveyard outside. One of the kings (Lyn told me, but I forget which) turned Kilkenny into a bustling town and built St. Mary Church, initially as his private church. When wealthy people moved to Kilkenny they became parishioners of St. Mary’s. Back then, people were required to donate ten percent of their wealth to the church. St. Mary’s became a very rich church.

The church worried the wealthy would move away to estates in the countryside, causing the church to lose that revenue. So the church convinced the wealthy that being buried at the church would reduce their time in purgatory, and the closer to the altar the better.

A tomb in the burial vault in the graveyard
A tomb in the burial vault in the graveyard

Consequently, the museum knew that bodies lay under the floor and, obviously, out in the graveyard.

What they didn’t know until recently was how many bodies there were. In 2014 the church performed a ground-penetrating scan inside and around the church. They determined there are, I forget if Lyn said 60,000 or 65,000 bodies there.

The museum has since done some excavations and gotten into some burial vaults under the floor of the church. The public isn’t allowed in there. The excavations also uncovered some of those well-preserved gravestones.

There is also an above-ground crypt out in the graveyard. The public isn’t usually allowed in there either. Lyn said she didn’t normally take tours inside it because crowds would eventually destroy it, but because it was a tour of one, she’d take me in.

She got the key and we went in. The crypt has four tombs. Lynn told me about the occupants of one, or maybe two. At least one was famous in Ireland, but I forget who he was. She also pointed out the engravings on the tombs. One in particular was interesting. People in Kilkenny were by then required to be Protestant, but Lyn pointed out some iconography that suggested the couple inside the tomb were secretly Catholic. There was a swan that Lyn said was the Catholic symbol of the Virgin Mary.

There was also a hand engraved on the tomb. Lyn said that when there is a hand engraved on a Protestant tomb one of its fingers is usually pointed either up or down, suggesting that the occupant(s) were either in heaven or hell. On this tomb, the pointing finger on the hand pointed neither up, nor down, but straight ahead to a cross, indicating that the occupants were with Christ.

Inside the museum, Lyn also took me into a room containing the city’s ceremonial sword and sceptre. They are still used by the city. No election in the city is complete until the city clerk lays the sword and sceptre on I forget what. They also take the sword and sceptre out for special occasions such as St. Patrick’s Day and weddings and funerals of big shots.

Lyn says that when the city clerk comes to collect the sword and sceptre for these occasions, he walks in, they open the case, and then he picks up the sword and puts it under one arm and picks up the sceptre and puts it under the other arm and walks out.

According to Lyn, the casualness and lack of security shocks visitors in the museum when that happens. The staff then tells the visitors there’s nothing to worry about because he has the sword. In truth, a police officer waits just outside the door to escort the city clerk.

The same room contains a certificate from I forget how many centuries ago declaring Kilkenny to be a city. Apparently, a lot of people argue that Kilkenny is a town, not a city because of the small number of people who live here. But the town, um, I mean the city has the receipts to prove its city status.

That room also contains a glass case with a book from, I forget when, but long ago. It’s the city record. Lyn said that, in addition to minutes of council meetings, it also consists of town gossip, such as who was having affairs with whom. And when the scribes grew bored, they doodled in the margins

It’s not nearly as valuable as the Book of Kells in Dublin, but like the Book of Kells, the museum staff flip the page every once in a while so the same pages aren’t always on display.

Walking Around

A Kilkenny high street
A Kilkenny high street

In addition to walking from the train station to my hotel, after leaving the Medieval Mile Museum I spent an hour or so wandering around Kilkenny. It’s charming. Too good for the likes of me, some would say, but only people who know me.

Kilkenny got its start as a medieval town. The streets here don’t qualify as higgledy-piggledy, but many have at least a gentle curve or two somewhere along them and they don’t necessarily intersect at right angles with other streets.

The shopping streets are quaint and lined with stores in short buildings. I don’t think any of the buildings have more than four storeys, and many have only two or three. One of the shopping streets I walked along was pedestrianized, but I don’t know if that’s a permanent feature. 

The River Nore as seen from beside the castle
The River Nore as seen from beside the castle

The Nore River runs through Kilkenny. The city provides a nice walking path beside the river. I strolled along it.

In doing so, I found that the long fairway of a park at the castle does indeed have an end beyond where my eye could see from the castle. The river walk eventually makes a turn away from the river to run behind the back of that park, including by an entrance into the park.

I went into the park. The back end has patches of tall, wheat-coloured grasses. A path borders the back of the park, with perpendicular parallel paths on either side of the fairway leading back to the castle.

Early Rain

Before I set out from my hotel in Kilkenny today, I checked the weather forecast. It called for some rain, but not until well after I planned to return to my hotel before dinner. So I didn’t take my umbrella.

A Kilkenny shopping street
A Kilkenny shopping street

That turned out to be a mistake.

When I got to the back end of the castle park, almost the farthest point of my whole walk from my hotel, it started to drizzle lightly. Then it drizzled heavily. Light showers came next, followed by heavy showers. It never reached the magnitude of a deluge, but it was unpleasant.

Fortunately, I wore my rain jacket. Unfortunately, it’s a rain jacket, not a raincoat. It offers no protection much below my waist. My pants and shoes got very wet.

Also, unfortunately, I discovered that my rain jacket is no longer completely waterproof. I guess some sections of the rubberized interior wore off. By the time I got back to my hotel some of my shirt was wet.

The path behind the castle park.
The path behind the castle park.

Despite the forecast I looked at earlier calling for rain later this evening, by the time I had an aperitif at the hotel, typed up some of this post, and headed out for dinner, the rain stopped. There were even some blue patches in the sky. The rain didn’t return this evening, but tomorrow is another day. We’ll see what happens.

Despite the period of rain this afternoon, today was a good day.

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