And the Marble County is?
The nickname comes from the black marble quarried close to Kilkenny city, with which much of the old city was built. A bit of a misnomer alas – the marble is actually carboniferous limestone – but the Carboniferous Limestone County just doesn’t have quite the same appeal does it!!
Located in Ireland’s southeast – some 90 minutes’ drive from Dublin – this county cannot boast a coastline or even much of a mountain range. But it can claim the three sister rivers – the Barrow, Nore and Suir – as well as a great medieval heritage and a vibrant county town that’s one of the best places in Ireland for a mini break.
Here, in no particular order, is a taste of what’s to be seen in the county…..
Just a ten minute drive from Kilkenny City, the picturesque village of Bennettsbridge, on the River Nore, is a lovely spot for a walk. The 4km O’Gorman Lane Loop Trail includes country roads and woodland as well as the river bank.
Nobody passes through the village without checking out the Nicholas Mosse Pottery workshop, located in a mill by the river…
The man himself, at work!
The rather splendidly named Geoffrey Fitzrobert de Monte Marisco (d. 1211), was an Anglo- Norman knight who was granted lands in these here parts. He established this Augustinian Priory close to his castle c. 1193 and donated considerable lands to the community. Despite its wealth, it declined during the 15th century.
The site map shows extensive fortifications, including six towers, which, along with the remains of the priory church, cloister and domestic buildings, reveals an unusual example of combined religious and military architecture.
3.Mount Juliet Estate
Even if your purse doesn’t stretch to a game of golf or a sleepover here, it’s worth coming in anyway for a bit of a snoop….
The estate dates back to 1757 but nowadays is home to a 5* hotel, a Michelin star restaurant and a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course
In medieval Ireland, penmanship was restricted to the learned few so they alone had the pleasure of contending with any recording of their masters’ names! Here’s another fine moniker from the era – Donchadh Ó Donnchadha Mac Giolla Phátraic. (as a teacher of 4 and 5 year old boys for many, many, years, I grimace at the thought of having to teach this fella to write his name!!).
Anyway! I digress! The above mentioned gentleman ( I’m not typing it again!!), King of Osraige, constructed this Cistercian abbey in 1180. It flourished until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.
The village, on the Nore, is hugely popular with visitors who love the 10-span bridge and picturesque square. Its a good place to stop for lunch or a pint.
6.The Cantwell Fada
Tucked away in the ruins of 13th century Kilfane Church is the Cantwell Fada – a Norman knight in full armour, carved from a single slab of limestone. It is believed that the effigy represents one Thomas de Cantwell (d. 1320) – the shield bears the arms of the Cantwell family who were Lords of nearby Kilfan. And FADA? – well, fada means long – and as the piece is over 2 metres in height (the tallest such effigy in Ireland or England), we can assume his stature! Apparently, the fact that his legs are crossed indicates he may have participated in the Crusades ( Your trivia for today!!)
It is thought that the piece was originally a sarcophagus slab which was set up against the wall at some stage. The story goes that misbehaving pupils in the nearby school were punished by having to kiss the statue!
This mix of formal and informal gardens date to the 1740’s and was restored in the 1800’s with every effort being made to use plants and materials typical of the era. Features include an arboretum (home to the tallest tree in Ireland!), walled and terraced gardens, summer house, rose garden, Monkey Puzzle Avenue and Noble Fir Avenue.
Woodstock House itself was destroyed by fire in 1922 during the Irish Civil War and remains derelict ever since.
The grounds are being restored by Kilkenny County Council and on-site facilities include parking, toilets, playground, picnic area and seasonal tea rooms.
8.Castlecomer Discovery Park
The town of Castlecomer was associated with coal mining from the 17th century. The large opencast mines produced anthracite and the industry, controlled by the Wandesforde family, was a huge employer in the area. For over 300 years, mining was central to the local economy. Originally transported by horse and cart, the town’s connection to the national railway system in 1919 led to increased production which peaked in the 1950’s. A rapid decline in the 1960’s saw the Government stepping in to prop up the company in 1965 but by 1969 it was losing £2000 per week and 183 miners were given one week’s notice with no prospects of future employment in the industry.
Keen to preserve the local mining heritage, the 80 acre Discovery Park was set up in in 2007 in the former Wandesforde Estate. Around the farmyard, stables, gardens, woodland and lakes, you’ll find the Coal Mining Exhibition, Visitor Centre and Design Craft studios as well as a range of walking trails, cultural and recreational activities.
I wrote about Kilkenny City HERE earlier this year but I’m singling out two honourable mentions from the city to finish off my tour….
9. Kilkenny Round Tower
It’s thought that there were maybe about 120 such towers in existence in the country at one time but, today, there are 18-20 left in reasonable shape.
Two things, however, make the Kilkenny tower rather special – it is the oldest standing structure in the city and is one of only two round towers in the country that can be accessed and climbed.
It was closing up on the day I visited but I’m putting this climb on my wish list for 2023!
10 Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle of today is a Victorian remodelling of a 12th century defensive structure that was to be the seat of the Earl of Ormonde for some 600 years. It’s worth having a peek inside but many visitors are happy to admire from its extensive parkland.