Something Witty About Cats. I Dunno.

Wow. It was hot today. Looking at a local weather site, it seems this was the hottest day of the year so far. I’ve been regretting I didn’t pack any shorts1. I spent the day walking all over the city until I was about ready to drop, then finding a place to sit for a cool drink. Then doing it again.

The hills don’t help, either.

But I have to say that Kilkenny is an amazing city. There’s a lot of very interesting history here, and most of it is crammed into a fairly small space, making it easily2 walkable. My plan was to see how the walking tour this morning went, and then if there wasn’t much more in the city I wanted to see, I would take a trip to Dunmore Cave or Kells Priory, but there was just too much stuff in the city I wanted a closer, longer look at.

So, what did I do today? I started things with breakfast. Breakfast at Butler house is a bit of a productions.

You come out the back of Butler house...
You come out the back of Butler house…
...through the gardens and past the pool...
…through the gardens and past the pool…

 

... past the sculpture and through a little gate in the wall...
… past the sculpture and through a little gate in the wall…
...through the courtyard...
…through the courtyard…
...and into the rear door of the Kilkenny Design Centre. Upstairs is a very nice restaurant that makes an absolutely stellar breakfast.
…and into the rear door of the Kilkenny Design Centre. Upstairs is a very nice restaurant that makes an absolutely stellar breakfast.

See, Butler House is named after the Butler family, hereditary Earls of Ormond. They held Kilkenny Castle, and built the buildings that are now the Design Centre and Butler House. So there’s an arrangement between Butler House and the Design Centre for providing breakfast.

After breakfast, I wandered down to the Shee Alms House, which is the tourist information office, to join up with my walking tour.

This was the house of Robert Shee, who decided he needed to rack up some good karma as he got older. He donated his house and a fund to keep 12 penniless people of the city fed, sheltered, and given medical care. Sexes were segregated, mass was obligatory, and everyone had to be on their best behaviour. In his will, he four times mentioned a curse that would fall on the family if this house was not kept as a charitable institution. It was sold once, but returned to the family within four years, and then sold again. No one knows what became of the last of the family.
This was the house of Robert Shee, who decided he needed to rack up some good karma as he got older. He donated his house and a fund to keep 12 penniless people of the city fed, sheltered, and given medical care. Sexes were segregated, mass was obligatory, and everyone had to be on their best behaviour. In his will, he four times mentioned a curse that would fall on the family if this house was not kept as a charitable institution. It was sold once, but returned to the family within four years, and then sold again. No one knows what became of the last of the family.
This is the back of the Shee Alms House. You'll notice that it's only one story tall, here, while it's two stories at the front. That should give you some idea of the hills in Kilkenny.
This is the back of the Shee Alms House. You’ll notice that it’s only one story tall, here, while it’s two stories at the front. That should give you some idea of the hills in Kilkenny.
St. Mary's Church is down a twisty, narrow alley from the Alms House.
St. Mary’s Church is down a twisty, narrow alley from the Alms House.
The churchyard is very overgrown - the church is essentially abandoned. It's too expensive for the office of public works to take on right now.
The churchyard is very overgrown – the church is essentially abandoned. It’s too expensive for the office of public works to take on right now.
A lot of the tour was down twisting, narrow medieval streets like this one.
A lot of the tour was down twisting, narrow medieval streets like this one.
Or down little alleys like this one. This is the Butter Slip. Because of the shade here, farmers would store their milk and butter and cheese here during market days.
Or down little alleys like this one. This is the Butter Slip. Because of the shade here, farmers would store their milk and butter and cheese here during market days.
Down one of these little alleys is The Hole in the Wall. It was originally an Elizabethan tavern accessed by going through an actual hole in the city wall. It may have been the first place to use that name, but no one can really say.
Down one of these little alleys is The Hole in the Wall. It was originally an Elizabethan tavern accessed by going through an actual hole in the city wall. It may have been the first place to use that name, but no one can really say.
When it was purchased and restored, great care was taken to change as little as possible from the Elizabethan original construction.
When it was purchased and restored, great care was taken to change as little as possible from the Elizabethan original construction.
The upstairs is now a wine hall. In earlier times, it was frequented by many luminaries, including Arthur Wellsley, the Duke of Wellington. Though he may have come for the prostitutes rather than the drink, given his reputation.
The upstairs is now a wine hall. In earlier times, it was frequented by many luminaries, including Arthur Wellsley, the Duke of Wellington. Though he may have come for the prostitutes rather than the drink, given his reputation.

I came back here after wandering around all afternoon and asked for something cool and refreshing. They served me this amazingly delicious and cooling lemongrass ginger fizzy lemonade. It was great, and the folks there were very friendly and welcoming. Also, very cool to be having a drink in an Elizabethan tavern.

The Rothe family, along with the Butlers and the Shees, was one of the wealthy, powerful noble families in Kilkenny. The Rothe House is actually three houses, leading back from the street, and is used now by the local archaeological society.
The Rothe family, along with the Butlers and the Shees, was one of the wealthy, powerful noble families in Kilkenny. The Rothe House is actually three houses, leading back from the street, and is used now by the local archaeological society.
Down one of the side alleys is the original Smithwick's Brewery. The modern brewery working in Kilkenny no longer brews Smithwick's - that's done up in Drogheda. Here, they brew Budweiser. And didn't our guide look chagrined to admit that.
Down one of the side alleys is the original Smithwick’s Brewery. The modern brewery working in Kilkenny no longer brews Smithwick’s – that’s done up in Drogheda. Here, they brew Budweiser. And didn’t our guide look chagrined to admit that.
In the middle of the High Street is a statue of Cainneach - St. Canice. The name of the city in Gaelic is Cill Cainneach, which means Canice's Church. I didn't make it out to St. Canice's Cathedral today. I have to try that tomorrow.
In the middle of the High Street is a statue of Cainneach – St. Canice. The name of the city in Gaelic is Cill Cainneach, which means Canice’s Church. I didn’t make it out to St. Canice’s Cathedral today. I have to try that tomorrow.
This is Kyteler's Inn, where I had dinner both last night and tonight. It's the home of the last witch burned in Ireland.
This is Kyteler’s Inn, where I had dinner both last night and tonight. It’s the home of the last witch burned in Ireland.

So, here’s the story. It’s not very nice. Alice Kyteler was the sheltered daughter of a wealthy moneylender. She inherited this building, and lived in it her whole life. She married four times, poisoning at least her first three husbands with arsenic, and maneuvering the rest of her family to make sure that all her money and possessions would go to her eldest son, William Outlaw. When her fourth husband became ill, he sent for a bishop and accused her of witchcraft.

Alice had money and connections, which allowed her to arrest the bishop when he arrived. She was able to hold him for seventeen days, before the bishop’s own friends managed to win his freedom. Alice, her son William, and her maid Petronella were all accused of witchcraft and other crimes and brought to trial.

Alice managed to escape to England, completely evading her sentence. William paid to have the cathedral re-roofed, a costly endeavour, and was deemed to have repented. Petronella, with no money and no powerful friends, was whipped up the High Street and burned alive.

As I said, it’s not a very nice story. But interesting.

Grace Castle was home of the wealthy and powerful Grace family. "They fell on hard times," said the guide, "and decided to turn their home into a prison, as you do. Great place to raise kids." It's the city courthouse now, and the cells in the basement are filled with non-functional electronic voting machines that the city bought but never managed to get working.
Grace Castle was home of the wealthy and powerful Grace family. “They fell on hard times,” said the guide, “and decided to turn their home into a prison, as you do. Great place to raise kids.” It’s the city courthouse now, and the cells in the basement are filled with non-functional electronic voting machines that the city bought but never managed to get working.
This is the last little bit of the original city wall and the last gate. It's called Blackfriar's Gate, because of the Dominican monks that used to use it passing in and out from the Black Abbey.
This is the last little bit of the original city wall and the last gate. It’s called Blackfriar’s Gate, because of the Dominican monks that used to use it passing in and out from the Black Abbey.
This is the Black Abbey. It was seized from the Church by Henry VIII, sacked and used to stable horses by Oliver Cromwell, and generally abused and neglected for years. When it was rebuilt, only about half the stone could be recovered, so it is built in an L shape rather than the usual cross.
This is the Black Abbey. It was seized from the Church by Henry VIII, sacked and used to stable horses by Oliver Cromwell, and generally abused and neglected for years. When it was rebuilt, only about half the stone could be recovered, so it is built in an L shape rather than the usual cross.
The Rosary Window of the Black Abbey is famous for its beauty. When Henry VIII was claiming the land, the bishop wanted to take the window back to Rome, but the town refused his (very, very large) offer of money. So, he had an Italian artist draw up plans that would let the window be recreated in Rome, but the artist somehow left the plans behind when he and the bishop fled. This allowed the city of Kilkenny to recreate the window when they restored the Black Abbey.
The Rosary Window of the Black Abbey is famous for its beauty. When Henry VIII was claiming the land, the bishop wanted to take the window back to Rome, but the town refused his (very, very large) offer of money. So, he had an Italian artist draw up plans that would let the window be recreated in Rome, but the artist somehow left the plans behind when he and the bishop fled. This allowed the city of Kilkenny to recreate the window when they restored the Black Abbey.

This was about the end of the tour. Our guide3 did tell us a story about the Cats of Kilkenny. See, folks in Kilkenny are called Cats. This may or may not date back to the time when the city was besieged by Oliver Cromwell. One of the things the locals did to keep themselves amused during the long, boring stretches between the terrifying assaults, was bet on cat fights4 : they’d tie two cats together by their tales and let them go at it.

Now, this was against regulations, so one night an officer wandered by where one of these matches was taking place. To hide things, one of the soldiers drew his sword and slashed the cats’ tails off. When the officer saw the tails, he allegedly thought the cats had eaten each other down to their tails. Hence the little nursery rhyme.

There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit
And they scratched and they bit
‘Til (excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails)
Instead of two cats there weren’t any!

After the tour, I sat and had a cold drink, then went to check out Kilkenny Castle.

The main gates of Kilkenny Castle. Entry onto the grounds is free, and there were scores of people wandering around looking at stuff or just sitting on the grass when I went in.
The main gates of Kilkenny Castle. Entry onto the grounds is free, and there were scores of people wandering around looking at stuff or just sitting on the grass when I went in.
The courtyard lies between the three remaining wings of the castle.
The courtyard lies between the three remaining wings of the castle.

 

The Rose Garden adjoining the castle.
The Rose Garden adjoining the castle.
The central wing overlooking the rose garden.
The central wing overlooking the rose garden. I have a big photograph of that statue hanging over my bed in Butler House.

Photography is not allowed inside the castle. This is understandable, but regrettable, because the restored and reconstructed interior is absolutely amazing. I wish I could have taken a few pictures.

St. Mary's Cathedral was built in the 1840s. Also going on in Ireland in the 1840s? The famine. Perhaps a little hypocrisy in the Church at the time, spending money on this instead of feeding people.
St. Mary’s Cathedral was built in the 1840s. Also going on in Ireland in the 1840s? The famine. Perhaps a little hypocrisy in the Church at the time, spending money on this instead of feeding people.
Can't deny that it's a beautiful place, even though there's apparently a lot more restoration work to be done on it.
Can’t deny that it’s a beautiful place, even though there’s apparently a lot more restoration work to be done on it.

That was about the end of my endurance today. I went back to my rooms to have a shower and cool off before going back to Kyteler’s Inn for dinner and more music. It was excellent again.

Now, that’s enough blather. I’ve got a busy day tomorrow if I want to see the rest of the things I want to see in Kilkenny.

But seriously, folks. Come visit this city. It’s amazing.

  1. I could buy some here, of course, but I have the unshakeable conviction that would bring on torrential rain. []
  2. Well, mostly easily. []
  3. I think his name was Colm? Maybe? He was awesome, though. Knew the history cold, and was able to present it well, along with context and opinion. Great tour. []
  4. “There’s two things Kilkenny has been known for through history,” he told us. “Gambling and prostitutes. Thankfully, at least one of those is no longer true.” I love the Irish sense of humour. []

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