101 Reviews

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August, 2016

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Where a mermaid once died, where otters and seals chase salmon and trout and where children used to be washed in summer with carbolic soap.

Before visiting Kilkenny I did some research on a nearby village called Inistioge and found it to have a lot of history as well as being a charming place to visit. I printed off a numbered village map with references to take with me, which really helped.

Although a quiet village, Inistioge has a history linking it with major events and figures in Irish history, influenced by armies, saints, abbots and monks, poets, lords and ladies, highway men and religious reformers as well as others.
It’s name is taken from the Irish ‘Inis Tiog – Tiog’s island (inis can also mean water meadow). Tiog was probably a local chief.

Upon arrival, we parked near the centre of the village next to St Columcille’s Church which was built in 1836 following the Catholic Emancipation in 1829. There are fragments from the cloister of the original Augustine Abbey incorporated into the north east walls. A carving of a mermaid can be found as well as clerical figures and devotional images.

St Mary’s Church, built in 1824 of early English Gothic style, stands next to St Columcille’s. The porch of the Church of Ireland was part of the original abbey. It has an 8 bay double-height nave with single-bay, four stage medieval tower house. William Tighe donated the belfry and clock in 1876.

The ‘Black Castle’ in the churchyard was also part of the Augustinian Priory and is now the Tighe (Woodstock estate) family mausoleum. Lady Louisa and William Tighe are buried there.

In the graveyard, in an unmarked grave is James Freney ‘Freney the robber,’ an 18th century highwayman. (The Irish equivalent of Robin Hood). He went about the countryside of Kilkenny and nearby counties in the 1740s. With gangs of midnight ruffians they broke into houses of the wealthy, taking their silver plate and anything else they could lay their hands on.

Freney was from nobility (his seat being Ballyreddy Castle), but history swept away the landed holdings and his family then found themselves with servants status to the new landed gentry. Novelist, William Thackeray has Freney, accost Barry Lydon on the highway in the novel ‘Bold Captain Freney.’

A memorial plaque to George Browne, born in Ballyneale can also be found in the graveyard. He spent much of his life in Manchester and became a very active trade union organiser. In January 1937 he was one of more than 500 volunteers from Britain who went to Spain in support of the democratic government following the fascist coup and outbreak of Civil War. Posted on the front line in the Fifteenth International Brigade he died in the Battle of Brunette on 7th July 1937, aged 30.

We broke up our tour by dropping into a little cafe in the centre of the village for refreshments. Inside, next to the cake counter was a display of Maeve Binchy’s book ‘Circle of Friends. The village of Inistioge played a starring role in the 1995 movie.
A line of trees were removed from the hillside between the village and Woodstock Gardens to create a picture-perfect scene of the arched bridge leading into the village. The film ‘Widow’s Peak’ was also filmed here.

The best view of the bridge and the village is from Mount Sandford Castle which is half way up the Point Road by the river, accessed by taking the lane at O’Donnell’s public house in the village.

The folly dates from about the 18th century and consists of a rubble Gothic castle. 30 yards downstream is the site of the salmon trap built in 1935 (now dismantled), where spawning fish returning from the Atlantic were trapped. The spawn was removed to help restock the salmon river.

Under the tenth, dry, arch of the bridge is a beautiful garden with riverside seats where you can observe the Romanesque features of the bridge. The bridge was built 2 years after the great flood of 1763 by George Smith and designed on the a similar basis to Blackfriars Bridge in London.

In 962 AD the ‘Ossarians’ had a great victory over Amlaeibh where many Danish invaders were slain. It is the only bridge in Europe of its kind, boasting 10 arches of equal size. It does appear though, that the tenth arch was added later after the original bridge was built. It was to accommodate the Kilkenny City-Inistioge canal that was started below the bridge at the quay and used to bring coal from the quay to the bridge where it was brought by cart to Carlow and Kilkenny.

Weekly markets were held in the square at Inistioge on Fridays and an annual fair on December 13th. The square still remains a focus for village life where both young and old meet and relax and small children learn to play hurling.

A monument dates from 1628 and a fountain in Gothic style, with Irish images, stands in memory of Lady Tighe’s husband, William.

One of the most impressive houses in the village was once an Almshouse and is now part of O’Donnell’s pub and a private house next door. The Almshouse was built in 1788 to care for the widows of the district. Lace makers from Brussels were brought in to train the women in the craft which continued thereafter. An inscription over the door reads ‘make to yourself friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, that when we fail, they may receive you in the everlasting habitations.’

The old Methodist Hall had a community from 1795. It was last used for worship in 1947 and is now a private home.

The old School House, now a cafe, was built at the same time as the Almshouse.

Whilst in the square, we visited a shop which was being restored by an American lady called Virginia whose son had come over to give her hand. We had promised our hosts at a B&B we stayed at (Woodview – Wexford) that we would call in and see her. She had stayed at the same accommodation and had asked if a local supplier of honey could provide her with some stock for her shop. Our message was that ‘she hadn’t been forgotten!’ We stayed a while, bought some ice creams and had a long chat.

Before leaving the village we visited St Comcille’s Holy Well, tucked away in the north-east of the village. The stone work on the well includes a number of 16th century carved stone panels, probably salvaged from the Priory. We had to climb a number of steps next to a cottage and garden to access the well, but it was worth it.

After a short drive to nearby Woodstock, Gardens and Arboretum we were able to have a late picnic lunch in the grounds. Here you have a great view of the river Nore Valley to Brandon Hill. Woodstock House now lays in ruins, destroyed by fire in 1922.

We were offered a buggy ride around the estate which was fantastic – bopping along the woodland trails and seeing amazing specimen trees as well as the walled garden and view of the Tea Rooms in the restored Turner Conservatory.

An amazing visit – a magical place to reflect the past and take in the beauty of this wonderful area.

Caroline Hutchings

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