Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kilkenny, 24.6.90: Holy Wells and Pap for Tourists

Now outside Kilkenny, at Mrs. Neary’s, Tarn Farm, off the Freshford Road. Yesterday we drove to Inistioge and stopped to take photographs. In the town are a Church of Ireland church, the old church that is evidently part of the ancient abbey, surrounded by ruins, and a Catholic church just over the way. There’s a large cemetery, and not clear to me to which church it belongs. In the wall of the Catholic church, cemented in, are some ancient carvings and a holy water font. We spoke with a lady in the porch of the church, and she said these came from the old abbey—she said, pointing to the C of I church, “That was our church till Cromwell did his dirty work.”

Inistioge itself is a beautiful village, set on the banks of the Nore. Beneath the churches on the riverbank are picturesque ruins, which we photographed. Wooded hillsides in the distance, one with a ruined tower of some sort. Interesting tombstone on the wall of C of I church, which I photographed.

After Inistioge, drove to Jerpoint Abbey. A beautiful day to see this. I was struck particularly by the carvings, one of an abbot with upraised hands. This is covered in wavy lines, which I believe art historians connect with a primitive desire to depict numinous power. That is what comes across—a kind of religious power that provokes awe. Affinities with Ethiopian iconography—again, noted by historians, I think.

Then Thomastown, a less interesting village than any I’ve seen, and the people the most surly we’ve encountered in Ireland. Since it showered here and was noon, we stepped into a pub and had tea or ale, egg-salad and ham sandwiches. Then we went into a bakery shop and got some tarts, and A. made a fool of himself by asking the salesgirl if he looked Irish as he wore an “Irish” cap—she said bluntly no, and good for her.

On towards Ullard via Graiguenamanagh. Oh, yes, stopped at St. Molin’s well en route: was it before Thomastown? Rainy and eerie. The well is on a hilltop, with a hideous pink and white, almost plastic-looking statue of St. Molin. A sign warns anyone not to molest statues. The well itself is interesting, a stream in a hillside. Down from it a type of alter covered with broken statues of St. Anthony, Thérèse, etc., rosaries—like something out of peasant Latin Catholicism.

What struck me was the feeling that this is an ancient place, a place of now subterranean folk piety. People must have been coming to this spot as a holy spot since pre-Christian times—among them my ancestors, certainly in Christian times. I had a drink of the water, offered Steve one, and he emptied the glass back into the well and filled as fresh one—upsetting me no little bit.

Ullard was the highlight of the day. The ruined abbey and ruined C of I church sit atop a hill. The abbey is gorgeous, 12th-century, much less fussed than any I’ve seen, therefore able more than others to convey a quiet and strong sense of mystery and presence. Over the doorway are much-worn heads supposed to be of St. Fiacre (who founded the spot? but 6th century?) and Molins/Moling.

In the churchyard I found a number of very old Ryan graves, and copied them into my journal. People are still burying inside the abbey—a Mr. Tim Ryan up the road tells me his aunt was just buried there a few years ago, and that when they dug the grave, they found six skulls there. As we toured the cemetery, a cold but pleasant wind swept over everything.

After looking at the abbey, I went to see Tim Ryan—having been told Ryans lived past the church, and where Tim Ryan himself lived. And old farmhouse. He was tending cattle, but stopped and came in to talk with me. We could not connect, but he told me three Ryan families left the area in the Famine days, and their houses are now fallen down—one of these, if understood correctly, lived in the gatehouse for the English big house (Pattersons) across from the abbey. He also said that his grandfather’s brother John Ryan off to America and was never heard from again.

Tim Ryan told me the tale is that the Ryans of Ullard area came originally from Tipperary. He had very blue eyes, gray hair, not too talkative.

From Ullard, we tried to drive our guidebook’s “woodland tour” backwards through Muine Bheag, Leighlinbridge, Old Leighlin, and Castlecome, but this proved well-nigh impossible. We did go through Muine Bheag/Bagenalstown and Leignlinsbridge, but they’re a blur.

So went straight on to Kilkenny. Tired and disspired. Town seemed ugly and crawling with tourists like us. After a little walk down the hill to the river (not sure if it’s the Nore), we went back into town and had a nice dinner at Browne’s restaurant on Kieran St. I had fried plaice, cauliflower, peas, carrots, and potatoes; K. chicken and ham and same vegetables; Steve and A. lamb stew (Irish stew). All of us had vegetable puree soup, and apple tart and coffee—all for £6.75 each.

+ + + + +

Sitting outside St. Canice’s cathedral. After breakfast, drove into Kilkenny and took a waking tour. As with so many touristy things, it was superficial, too cutesy, and maddeningly imprecise. E.g., the son et lumière presentation that preceded it made no mention at all of the Statutes of Kilkenny, took care of all the post-Cromwellian period as a “time of great difficulty,” and made it appear as if the whole Cromwell campaign was due to merely political, not religious, issues. I suppose the idea is not to offend tourists, but I feel I’ve had a meal of sweet pap, not real food.


gaiamethod said...

Ah you missed the most important Ryan stronghold on the river, but it doesn't surprise me that no-one in the area actually knows their history!!! I lived in Ullard in a renovated protestant church just down the road from St. Fiachra's!! (I love that you have been visiting places that I used to live in!!!) You would have passed it on your right if you travelled out the wood road from Graig!
Ryan's castle is off this road and down through a sandpit. Its in ruins but it was once guarding a river ford crossing. The Ryans were a big old Irish family a few hundred years ago!!! Its called Clohastia now and its where our family used to go to swim when we were very young. We used to pick blackberries in the ruins, swim in the shallows just below the weir and try to avoid walking in the cow-pats! It was a private place for our family as we were a wealthy family and were not good with frequenting public swimming places!!!
I have a few pictures of the area so if you would like me to send them I would be more than happy!
My father's nanny found an axe head on the opposite side of the river which is in perfect condition!!! The crossing was very important in pre-Norman times and possibly later. I'm not sure if it was there when they built the bridge in Graig!
St. Mullins is one of my very favourite places!!!! Lovely energy!

William D. Lindsey said...

Gaiamethod, I have only now discovered this wonderful comment. I'm sorry I hadn't seen any notice of its arrival until now, almost a year after you left it. Thank you for telling me about Clohastia. Your memories of the area are beautiful, and you're very kind to offer to send pictures. Just as you say, I found that Graig was full of lovely energy, and have happy memories of the little bit of time I spent there.