It’s the Vikings’ Fault

This morning, I took the train a half-hour towards the coast, to the city of Waterford. Waterford’s got an interesting history, and a really huge footprint on Irish history in general, especially in what they call the Ancient East.

Here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of things.

So, Ireland is a land with a small population of semi-nomadic bronze-age tribes. And the Vikings show up and start raiding them, because Vikings.  Then, in 914 CE, a band of 50-60 Vikings came and settled here. Now, they were all men, so they started… let’s use the word “intermarrying” with the local population. Remember, Vikings.

This worked because Waterford1 had a nice, sheltered harbour, good weather, and lots of stuff for the Vikings to take. The Vikings continued settling other cities around the Irish coasts, including Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Galway.

But Vikings are not a united nation. The various Viking cities war against each other, with the Irish people trapped between them. So, the King of Leinster2 sent to England for help. England sent Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke to help out. de Clare is popularly known as Strongbow3, and he and Leinster raise an army and set about kicking the Vikings out of Ireland.

Which they do. But they do it with an Anglo-Norman army, and this is the point at which Ireland begins counting the 800 years of British occupation.

So, yeah, it’s the Vikings’ fault, I guess.

Anyway, Waterford got heavily fortified after that, and was a very important and busy industrial port right up to very recently – like, the 1990s.

Here’s a model of the Viking Triangle, as they call the part of the city that was the original Viking settlement, later walled in by King John. There were a couple of these models around the area, on pedestals on street corners. This one was outside the tourist office where my walking tour started.

Apropos of nothing, I went into a pub beside the tourist office to wait for the tour to start. The windows called it The American Bar, in both English and Irish, and that kind of tickled me. Inside, it was solid Irish pub, without any trace of Americanism. Here’s their Facebook page.

Anyway, our tour started. Our guide, Michael, was great. I was more interested in the great stories he told of about Thomas Meagher and John Roberts.

Quick versions: Thomas Meagher debated Daniel O’Connell, designed the modern Irish flag, led a failed rebellion, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land4, escaped to the US, became a lawyer and newspaper publisher, established the Irish Brigades5 to aid the Union in the Civil War, got to be friends with Abraham Lincoln, was made acting governor of Montana, and may have faked his own death on a riverboat. He was 43 years old when he (probably) died. 43 years old!6

John Roberts wasn’t quite as active7, but still built both cathedrals in Waterford, including the first new Catholic cathedral to be built in Ireland after the repeal of the Penal Laws8. He died at the age of 82, finishing the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Now, we saw both cathedrals on our tour, but I didn’t get any pictures of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Our guide, Michael9 kept getting shushed by a woman in the cathedral as he was pointing out some of the cool bits. She would glare at him, with her finger on her lips, and waggle her head. And Michael had no idea who she was, or what she was doing, because he was speaking very softly. So, anyway, we didn’t linger there10, and I didn’t get any pictures of the weird tilted columns, the gorgeous carved pulpit, or the rippled and buckled floor.

See, with the repeal of the Penal Laws, Waterford was given permission to build a Catholic cathedral, but there were… conditions. For one thing, the exterior could not look like a church – it resembles a courthouse or bank. And it was built on the boggiest, softest tract of land in the city. So, it’s been subsiding for a while.

But at the Church of Ireland cathedral, Christ Church, I did get some pictures.

This is Christ Church. Note that it’s two words, rather than one, like it is in Dublin. Those chandeliers are, of course, Waterford crystal, and there are over 2000 individual pieces of crystal in each one. Originally, there were no stained glass windows here, but one was added in 1930 or so.
This I found really interesting. Above the altar is this sunburst design. In the middle of it is the Tetragrammaton – YHVH – the Hebrew letters used to represent God in the Torah. John Roberts, the architect, was renowned in Waterford for hiring folks regardless of religion, and this was his way of saying that the root of the Christian faith lies in the Judaic tradition.
You know what I haven’t shown you in a while? A pipe organ! This one is about 200 years old.

Couple of other items of interest I saw before the rain started:

This is Reginald’s Tower. It’s the oldest still-standing complete building in Ireland, built by King John after the Viking problem was taken care of. It stood at the point of the walled Viking Triangle, with a commanding view of the River Suir.
This is a replica of a Viking ship found in Roskilde in Denmark. The ship they found did, indeed, have the name Vardrarfjordr carved in it, so they know it was built in Waterford. The weird thing is that it’s a smaller boat, made for river travel, so finding in in Denmark was unusual.
This is just awesome. It’s the longest Viking sword in the world, carved from a 200-year-old fallen Douglas Fir. The fellow who carved it worked in art and design from throughout Viking history and mythology. It’s a little over 21m long, so getting it all in the shot wasn’t gonna happen – I standing near the “hilt”, and there’s about 3m of roots stretching behind me, which were left attached to prove the tree fell over and was not cut down. I think the red gem thing might be the sun, getting eaten by Fenrir, but what do I know? Still, super cool.

And the rain made me walk back to the train station, and wait there for two hours for my ride back to Kilkenny.

This is my last night in Kilkenny. Tomorrow, I pack up and take the train to Killarney. Apparently, the most direct, least number of changes involves taking the train back to Dublin and then taking a train out to Killarney. Gonna be a long train day, probably with very few pictures or interesting stories.

Still, we’ll see.

  1. Vardrarfjordr, originally, which I’m told means Ram’s Fjord. []
  2. From what I can tell, Leinster has allied himself with the local Waterford Vikings, really wants help trying to get rid of the Dublin Vikings, and incidentally maybe take over Dublin. []
  3. Yes, the cider guy. []
  4. Tasmania, today. []
  5. Including the Fighting 69th. []
  6. And I’m turning 50 in a couple of weeks, and haven’t led a single armed rebellion. []
  7. Honestly, who is? []
  8. Which effectively made Catholicism illegal. []
  9. Who works at Christ Church Cathedral and, through that job and his guiding job, knows everyone in the city, it seems. []
  10. I mean, it is a working place of worship, but this was between services. Fair enough, though, if she was a woman of faith and we were disturbing her. []

Old Churches

Today, I booked a ride with Kilkenny Taxi to take me out into the wilds of Co. Kilkenny to see some interesting ruins. I had wanted to see Jerpoint Abbey and Kells Priory, and Paul, the driver, suggested I add Kilree as well, as it was right in the area and pretty cool.

So, he picked me up around 11:30, and off we went. The day was generally overcast and not terribly warm, but though it looked to be threatening rain, that never materialized.

Jerpoint Abbey was built in the 12th century, with some expansion and decoration up to the 16th century. There was some restoration started in the 1950s, and it’s ongoing today.

The towers out front are in pretty good repair, for being 800 years old, though a lot of the restoration work is replacing the mortar.
These buildings were for the monks. The lay brothers would have had separate buildings that don’t exist any more. And the whole thing would have been enclosed in two sets of walls.Those walls also don’t exist any longer, but the abbey complex has it’s own walls, binding the buildings together.
They’ve restored part of the cloister arcade, starting in the 1950s. The pillars were apparently all carved at one time, with images of saints, churchmen, and mythical creatures, and many were painted. They’ve only got two sides done, right now.
There’s a lot of carving all around the place, much of it preserved from it’s original dates rather than restored, like the cloister pillars. Here’s a very lovely St. Christopher.
Here are a couple of carved tombs still in the church area.
Another carved tomb, this one with several of the apostles.
This carved tomb marker has two soldiers on it, and is referred to as The Brethren. Apparently the tomb had been in the floor, and a lot of that is being dug up as part of the restoration efforts.
This was an interesting thing in one of the small display rooms in the abbey. It’s an ogham stone. Ogham inscriptions are generally pre-Christian, so I assume this one was found on the abbey lands, rather than something the religious community here would have made.

We left Jerpoint Abbey after the tour, and made our way over the Kilree. On the way, Paul took us through the Mount Juliet estate, showing off the lovely golf course, gardens, and houses.

Kilree is a little site, with a small cemetary, a ruined church, a round tower, and a high cross.

The little cemetary is shrouded in heavy trees. It’s a very picturesque place.
The church at Kilree no longer has a roof, but there are still some tended graves inside it.
This is the round tower at Kilree. It rises up out of a little grove of trees, and you can see it quite a ways off.
There’s a high cross out in the field. It’s not that tall – maybe six feet – but still pretty cool. There’s also a sign saying that there’s a bull loose in the field. We didn’t see it, but the ground around the rails surrounding the cross was all churned up in a very cattle-like way.

Then, it was on to Kells Priory, a 12th century site. This one hasn’t been as maintained or restored as Jerpoint Abbey, and is an open site – no visitor centre or admission or tours. But it looks like they’ve recently1 started doing some restoration work.

The priory is down a pretty significant hill. You have to walk through a sheep pasture to get to the outer wall. The sheep were kind of grumpy, bleating loudly as we walked through.
Down the hill, and through the gate, into the outer ward of the priory.
The buildings of the priory aren’t anywhere near as preserved as at Jerpoint, but are nicely picturesque.
Here’s a shot of the cloister and the inner wall. You can faintly see the white-shrouded tower in the background – that one is currently undergoing restoration

The walk up the hill was significantly more punishing than the walk down it. By the time we made it back to Kilkenny2, I was pretty wiped out. I started working on this post, but was going to fall asleep if I stayed in the hotel room, so I walked down to a nearby theatre and went to a movie. After that, I grabbed some dinner, and came to finish up the blog.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a day trip by train to Waterford and going on a walking tour there. Should be a fun day.

  1. Like, in the last five years or so. []
  2. After a quick detour to drive around Kieran’s College, which is a cool looking school. []

Kilkenny Revisited

Okay. So, Kilkenny was run by ten merchant families. Of those, there were three who were pretty much at the top, and each had a private chapel off the main area of St. Mary’s. This was the private chapel of the Rothe family. Interestingly, instead of religious iconography, this memorial was decorated with all the coats of arms for the Rothes. The only concession to less worldly ideas is a tiny memento mori skeleton right up at the very top.

Last night, after publishing the last blog post, I went out and got some dinner. I walked down the street, back towards the train station, to Matt the Millers1, which I had seen on my walk to the hotel. I had heard they had good food, and there was traditional Irish music that night.

The pub is sort of scattered around several floors of the building, with lots of open ceilings. I wound up in the Loft bar, overlooking the stage where Wallop the Cat were going to be performing.

This is the view from my seat at the rail of the Loft bar. The Tobacco Shop is not a tobacco shop, but a room for private parties. It’s been decorated in old tobacco ads and memorabilia. The folks you can see downstairs are in the Stage bar, sitting behind the performers’ area. The performers face out into the main bar, half a floor down.

There was some sort of important football2 game going on this evening, so the music started a little late so folks could watch the end of the game.  I used the time to eat some very nice stew and drink some cider.

This is Wallop the Cat. Mainly, they sang and played guitar and mandolin, but I was keeping my eye on the concertina sitting on the shelf behind the guitar player.
In fact, I was watching that concertina so hard, I didn’t notice that the mandolin player had picked up a low whistle until he started playing it.

It was a good set. They were on until 9:00, but I only lasted until around 8:00, being dead tired. I did find this video of them also performing at Matt the Millers back in 2012, so you can get a taste of what I got last night.

And then I went back to the hotel and went to bed.

Walking back across the bridge, I took a quick picture of Kilkenny Castle. It looked pretty good in the bright sunset.

This morning, after a nice breakfast, I went for a little walk before my walking tour. It was a good reminder that Kilkenny has something that we don’t in Winnipeg – hills3. But I found a pharmacy that was open, and got the things I wanted to get – deodorant, toothpaste, and razors, all stuff I don’t want the hassle of carrying in my carry-on luggage.

Now, I’ve been on this tour before, so there wasn’t much new. If you’re curious about Kilkenny, check out my post from last time. A couple of things had changed – notably, I didn’t see the big head of St. Canice in High Street, and there were some changes to St. Mary’s church and the Butter Slip.

The Butter Slip is a little, steep lane connecting High Street and Kieran’s Street. It used to run all the way down to the river, where bargemen would haul up the butter, milk, and cheese for market, and sell it out of the slip, sheltered from the sun. The restaurant on the right is new, and it’s called Petronella, which is the name of the maidservant of Alice Kyteler, the famous witch of Kilkenny. Petronella didn’t escape, like Alice, and wasn’t rich enough to buy her way to freedom, like Alice’s son, so she was burned alive in the High Street for witchcraft.
This is St. Mary’s Church. Last time I was in Kilkenny, it was abandoned and run down and overgrown. The guide on that tour mourned the fact that it was such a historically important building, but the city didn’t have the funds or the will to do anything to preserve it. Today, I saw that it has been greatly restored and turned into the Medieval Mile Museum.

You can see the numbers marked on the stones making up the gatepost, showing how they’ve been reassembled. I was tremendously happy to see the new museum4, and went back after the walking tour to have a look.

This is the inside of the Medieval Mile Museum.

I took the guided tour, which took about an hour. I was surprised at that length of time, because it’s not a huge place, but Pat, the guide, was amazing. He provided a real in-depth history of the city, and how it was different from pretty much any other Irish city, and why that was important, and how that gave context to all the stuff he was showing off.

Okay. So, Kilkenny was run by ten merchant families. Of those, there were three who were pretty much at the top, and each had a private chapel off the main area of St. Mary’s. This was the private chapel of the Rothe family. Interestingly, instead of religious iconography, this memorial was decorated with all the coats of arms for the Rothes. The only concession to less worldly ideas is a tiny memento mori skeleton right up at the very top.

Notice the two floor levels. Due to… uh, religious differences between the Catholic merchant families of Kilkenny and the Protestant king5, when the king took notice of the clandestine Catholicism, he sent a man to straighten things out. This man, among other things, took all the Catholic markers and plaques in the church, put them on the floor, buried them, and put a new floor over top. It’s only in the last couple of years, when the archaeologists got set loose in the church, that all these markers and tombs were found.

Obviously, the story of the hidden tombs was not completely lost. During the archaeological processing of the site, they found in one of the Rothe tombs some guns that had been hidden there circa the 1916 uprising.
These are resin and plaster replicas of high crosses made my an Italian artist for the National Museum in Dublin. He made 12, and 10 are in storage at the National Museum. These two used to mark the border between the kingdom of Munster and the kingdom of Ossory, of which Kilkenny was the capital. They were imposing and ostentatious shows of wealth for the time, and say a lot about the nature of Kilkenny’s merchant families.
The graveyard is being restored, as well. It’s still somewhat overgrown, but now it’s artistically disheveled, instead of just neglected.

After the Medieval Mile Museum, I went to see Rothe House, a 16th and 17th century townhouse6 that has been restored by the local archaeology society.

Here in the reception room of Rothe House is the skull of a giant Irish deer. These went extinct about 10,000 years ago, and this skull was found in a bog. The antler spread is about seven feet.
Quern stones gathered up by the Rothes, because rich person archaeology.
This is a cist grave from County Carlow. It’s in the courtyard of Rothe House because they dug it up, disposed of the cremated remains in it, and moved it here. Because, again, rich person archaeology.
One more piece of weirdness from Rothe House. These are pieces from a flying machine. Long story short, rich dude in the 1850s built an aerial chariot in his dining room. It looked kind of like a Da Vinci drawing. He had to expand the dining room door to get it out, took it to a high place, and made a not-rich guy try to fly it.
It didn’t work, and not-rich guy broke his leg.
This did not stop the rich guy from patenting the aerial chariot.

This evening, I went on the Kilkenny Ghost Tour, which was a lot of fun. It lost a little something because it wasn’t dark, yet, but we did get to wear black polyester capes. Nothing really new to take pictures of, though.

But it was nice to go walking past all the pubs and hear so much traditional Irish music spilling out the doors.

And then I came back to the hotel to do this post.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Jerpoint Abbey and Kells Priory. It’ll be a taxi tour that takes up about half the day. Should be fun.

  1. For all the writers reading this: that’s the way they spell it. Don’t come at me about apostrophes. []
  2. Maybe it was rugby. []
  3. To anyone in Winnipeg who wants to argue that point, just don’t. If you’re arguing with me about this, you haven’t faced Kilkenny’s hills. Stop embarrassing yourself. []
  4. I also tweeted about it, but made a typo, so I called it the Medieval Mike Museum. A friend asked if that was related to Magic Mike, and I said that was what you called Magic Mike when he reached his Middle Ages. I’m a funny guy. []
  5. And Oliver Cromwell. []
  6. Two centuries, because it’s really a series of three townhouses built back from the street. First one was built in 1594 and the third in 1610. []