Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kilkenny "City"

After traveling to mainland Europe for several trips in a row, it was nice to stay within the Emerald Isle for the weekend of November 7th and head down to Kilkenny. This was a trip facilitated by Boston College, so it was even more enjoyable for the fact I did not have to plan anything at all. We took the Heuston Station train from Dublin, a smooth hour and a half ride.

I had been to Kilkenny at the start of my abroad experience in August when staying with my Aunt's friends nearby, but only for a brief drive through. This time around I had two days to see the city - which was plenty of time considering it is the smallest "city" I have ever experienced. Having arrived on Friday afternoon with a free schedule until dinner, we walked up and down the main street, stopping in a neat old bar for a small bite to hold us over. There were numerous cool pieces of autographed sports memorabilia scattered about the walls, including an apparently authentic jersey signed by Pelé.  I hadn't had much to eat all day, so dinner could not come soon enough. We ate at a place called Café Sol, and it was absolutely fantastic. I ordered pan seared scallops, the fish special for the night (haddock with garlic, vegetables, and potatoes), and finished it off with a tasty slice of cheesecake. (For a bit of background: all BC students in Dublin area schools convene weekly for a course on Modern Irish History - this is the group I traveled with, along with the Professor of the course who organized all our excursions/meals.)

Saturday was a full day of visiting some of the historical sites across the city. St. Canice's Cathedral, a 13th century limestone work of art, was among my favorite stops. It is the second longest cathedral in Ireland, and the site on which the Early Gothic building stands has been used for Christian worship since the 6th century. There were many stained glass windows, 16th century monuments, ornate choir stalls, and tombs of several different bishops and owners of Kilkenny Castle, including one of Margaret and Piers Butler. Additionally, there was a 9th century round tower next to the cathedral - still in good enough shape to climb for the best view of the area (pro tip: dress warm, it is very windy and cold at the top)!

After stopping by a Dominican church called the Black Abbey (1225), and seeing more impressive stained glass, we arrived at Kyteler's Inn.  The Inn's name was actually connected to a woman convicted of witchcraft in the 14th century.  Our tour guide described the very interesting story to us: "Dame Alice Kyteler (such apparently being her maiden name), was a member of a good Anglo-Norman family that had been settled in the city of Kilkenny for many ears. The coffin-shaped tombstone of one of her ancestors, Jose de Keteller, who died in 1280’s, is preserved at St. Mary's church; the inscription is in Norman-French and the lettering is Lombardic. The lady in question must have been far removed from the popular conception of a witch as an old woman of striking ugliness, or else her powers of attraction were very remarkable, for she had succeeded in leading four husbands to the altar. She had been married, first, to William Outlawe of Kilkenny, banker; secondly, to Adam le Blund of Callan; thirdly, to Richard de Valle--all of whom she was supposed to have got rid of by poison; and fourthly, to Sir John le Poer, whom it was said she deprived of his natural senses by philtres and incantations.  The Bishop of Ossory at this period was Richard de Ledrede, a Franciscan friar, and an Englishman by birth. He soon learnt that things were not as they should be, for when making a visitation of his diocese early in 1324 he found by an Inquisition, in which were five knights and numerous obles, that there was in the city a band of heretical sorcerers, at the head of whom was Dame Alice." In the end, Alice Kyteler was accused of witchcraft, but escaped to Dublin just before she was arrested (and never seen again).  Her maid Petronilla diMidia was instead arrested and tortured - she soon admitted to being a witch and was burned to death (1324). Dame Alice’s closest son was also punished and sentenced to hear mass daily (three times) for a year, to re-roof St. Canice's Cathedral, and finally to feed the poor. 

We stopped at Café Sol again for lunch - something my stomach certainly did not mind (trout salad and delicious chicken sandwich this time).  After lunch we made our last major visit of the trip to Kilkenny Castle, one of the must visit castles in Ireland.  Although built in 1195, it has been amazingly well restored and also consists of a nice garden area to walk around.  It was actually privately owned until 1957 when it was essentially donated to the people of Kilkenny, as the owners were not able to keep up with its maintenance.

Overall, Kilkenny is a great one or two day stop if you are in Ireland and anywhere near the area.  As I mentioned, the Castle is one of the most famous in Ireland and a must see if visiting.  There are also plenty of other interesting sites to fill the day in this quaint but historic city.