Ballyragget (Co. Kilkenny / North)
Ballyragget (Beal Atha Raghad – ‘Mouth of Ragget’s Ford’) (pop. 1,900), a planned town on the River Nore, is situated in a wide alluvial valley between the Castlecomer Plateau and several hills to the west. There is a pleasant fair green, and a large Roman Catholic church overlooks the central square, where there is a good café.
The Square, Ballyragget (Photo by Sarah 777)
The town is named after Richard le Ragget, an early C13th Norman landowner. The district was anciently called Donoughmore – “Big Sunday”, said by some to indicate a church founded by Saint Patrick and by others to refer to the crowds who once gathered locally for Mass on the Sabbath.
Donoughmore cemetery contains the ruins of a church, presumably the one supposedly founded by Saint Patrick.
Ballyragget / Butler / Ormond Castle, built in 1495 by Piers Butler, later 8th Earl of Ormond, was at various times the home of his remarkable wife Margaret “Magheen” Fitzgerald, aka the Great Countess of Ormond, their son Richard Butler (1500 – 1571), 1st Viscount Mountgarret, and several generations of descendants. In1600 it was garrisoned by the Lord President of Munster, Sir George Carew against the family, who were in rebellion. It is an imposing C16th Tower House and bawn with rounded turrets and a wishing chair, fallen into disrepair.
Butler House, constructed c.1730, was once used as a hotel, but is now derelict.
The Siege of Ballygarrett
The Siege / Battle of Ballygarrett took place in February 1775, after landlord Robert Butler had angered tenants by attempting to enclose common land, and was forced by death threats to flee abroad.
His brother Dr. James Butler II, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, organised the local gentry into an Anti-Whiteboy League, trained by Captain Hewitson of Swift’s Heath, and soon routed the peasants.
The militants regrouped a fortnight later and marched on Butler House, dressed in white and carrying flaming sods of turf on sticks, but the defenders’ shots killed ten (including one Patrick Butler) and forced the rest to flee ignominiously.
No further Whiteboy outrages took place locally.
St Patrick’s church (RC) dates from 1842.
The Grange is a handsome C18th country house with a curious octagonal pavilion in its grounds.
Rathbeagh, on the west bank of a ford at a bend in the River Nore, is the site of a significant prehistoric fort, founded according to legend by the ancient Taoiseach Milesius‘ son Heremon, who is reputedly buried within. Just to the north of the mound stand the ruins of St Catherine’s church (CoI), built in the C18th on the site of a former castle.
Jenkinstown (Co. Kilkenny / North)
Jenkinstown is a small village with a crafts centre and a pleasant café.
Foulksrath Castle, a reputedly haunted medieval edifice with winding staircases, enormous fireplaces and a magnificent dining hall, was a Purcell family stronghold until “slighted” by Cromwellian troops in 1650. Renovated in 1948, it was operated by An Oige as the oldest Youth Hostel in Ireland until quite recently, and was famed for its mysterious noises and spectral manifestations, but is now closed.
Jenkinstown House & Park
Jenkinstown House has been partly restored and remains a private residence. The former chatelaine, Lady Bellew, famously carried a pet monkey on her shoulder; while a more recent owner, Seán Hennessy, made his living as a model and photographer in Japan.
Thomas Moore wrote The Last Rose of Summer while staying here, and a small garden to commemorate his association with the property has been laid down near the old mansion.
Jenkinstown Park, previously part of the old Bryan-Bellew Estate, consists of a walled deer park, lawns, picnic sites and forest walks through mixed broadleaf and conifer plantations. Some original park trees from the 1870s survive and include a number of rare species such as Chinese necklace poplar. A feature of this park is the beech wood carpeted with bluebells from mid to late April.
Many species of birds inhabit the wood including pheasants, ravens and long-eared owls. In addition to enclosed deer, mammals include fox, badger, stoat, red and grey squirrel, and there are bats in the old church.
Swift’s Heath was the Duke of Ormonde‘s reward to his Attorney General for the Palatinate of Tipperary, an English lawyer called Godwin Swift, whose cousin Jonathan Swift stayed there while studying in Kilkenny, before becoming Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
Darver House Garden & Nursery is a pretty half-acre farmhouse garden with herbaceous borders, a pond and interesting gravel plantings.
Jenkinstown is within easy reach of Threecastles on ByRoute 6.
Freshford (Co. Kilkenny / North)
Freshford (Achad Úr – “Fresh Field”) is an exceptionally attractive village on the River Nuenna, a tributary of the River Nore.
A late C6th / early C7th monastery said to have been founded by Saint Lachtain was virtually destroyed by Vikings in 836AD. The church was rebuilt several times.
In 1169 a 3-day battle at the Pass of Achedur ended with the defeat of Domhnall McGiolla Padraig of Ossory by Dermot Mc Murrough and his Norman allies. The exact site of the battle is much debated. The Norman invasion also brought the Shortalls to Freshford, the Purcells to Lismaine and the Graces to Tullaroan.
In 1245, King Henry III granted “the Manor of Athedur” to Geoffrey de Tourville, Bishop of Ossory, and in 1251 Bishop Hugh de Mapleton built an Episcopal Palace at Uppercourt as a country residence for himself and his successors. In the C15th the Anti-Pope John XXIII appointed a Chaplain to Uppercourt.
The first Anglican Bishop of Ossory John Bale, fled the area in 1551 after five servants were killed for working in a hayfield on a Roman Catholic Holy Day of Obligation.
St Lachtain’s church (CoI), built in 1731, incorporates a beautiful but worn Hiberno-Romanesque sandstone portal dating from 1100, one of only two such doorways left standing in Ireland (the other is in Clonfert, Co. Galway). The atmospheric churchyard contains both Protestant and Roman Catholic graves.
The Square / Green is the focal point of the village. It is lined with 52 splendid horse chestnut trees, and since 1999 has been the venue for the annual Irish Conker Championships, held on the last weekend of October.
A Country Market is held in the Community Hall every Saturday morning.
The present Uppercourt Manor was built by Sir William Morres in the late C18th. A Roman Catholic family from England, the Eyres, landlords from 1850 to 1918, were largely responsible for constructing Freshford in its present form. The mansion was subsequently a boarding school and is currently used to run a stud farm.
Brown’s Wood is a Coillte recreational facility with an attractive looped walk.
Clomantagh Hill, a Special Area of Conservation, forms part of the escarpment linking the Castlecomer Plateau and the Slieveardagh Hills.
Clomantagh Castle is an interesting complex of buildings spanning several centuries, including a C12th church, a medieval Tower House (c.1430), bawn and dovecote, and a Victorian farmhouse. The tower bears a curious Sheela-na-Gig. The premises, said to be haunted by a resentful victim of the Great Famine, are avaiable for self-catering holiday rental. (Photo – www.tripadvisor.com)
Ballylarkin Abbey, a small religious establishment founded in 1350 by the Shortall family, is noted for its splendid sedilia with moulded Gothic arches, cut stone window and other carvings.
Ballylarkin Castle was the seat of the Shortall family for several centuries.
Kilrush House is on a farm owned by the St George family for over three hundred years; their old Tower House still stands near the graceful Georgian residence they moved into in 1820, where several large rooms retain their original furnishings and (rather faded) wall paper. Surrounded by gardens, lawns, and paddocks for breeding horses and sheep, Kilrush is now run as a Guesthouse, with hearty home cooked meals served in the huge dining room and a hard tenis court for relaxation. Winter hunting holidays are the house speciality.
Freshford is not far from Tullaroan on ByRoute 6.
Clontubbrid is associated with Saint Fiachra of Mieux, the patron of gardening, taxi cabs, hemmoroids and venereal diseases.
Balleen Castle was probably founded in the C14th and extended c.1455 by James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormond, who was also made Earl of Wiltshire by King Henry VI. It was remodelled by Richard Butler, 3rd Viscount Mountgarret, the Kilkenny Confederation general who fled Ireland in 1647. Local tradition has it that the new edifice was never finished or inhabited. The keep collapsed in 1875, and the remains are now in very precarious condition.
Fartagh / Fertagh is the site of a tall (96ft) but cracked and roofless Round Tower, and the ruins of a C13th Augustinian Priory founded by the Blanchfield family. The ruined chapel contains an altar tomb with the recumbrent figure of a male warrior, and another tomb with a female figure wearing striking headgear.
Johnstown (Co. Kilkenny / Northwest)
Johnstown (Baile Sheáin) (pop. 450), a pleasant crossroads community, was historically called Coorthafooka (Cuirt an Phúca)
Johnstown’s village green. (Photo by Sarah777)
Barry Morrissey’s Bar & Restaurant serves good traditional food and drink.
Ballyspellan / Ballyspellin used to be a fashionable spa resort, parodied in 1726 by Sheridan (“If lady’s cheek be green as leek. when she comes from her dwelling, the kindling rose within it glows, when she’s at Ballinspellin” etc.), who resented Dean Swift‘s Answer (“Those pocky drabs, to cure their scabs, you thither are compelling, will back be sent worse than they went, to nasty Ballinspellin“etc.).
Johnstown is linked by main roads to Rathdowney and Cullahill (Co. La0is), both on ByRoute 8.
Balief / Balleef Castle, an unusual circular Tower House built by the Shortals and later occupied by the St George family, is now a scenic ruin. The spiral staircase is mostly intact, and can be ascended with care.
Special Areas of Conservation in this area include Cullahill Mountain, Spahill, the Loughans and Galmoy Fen.
Urlingford (Co. Kilkenny / Northeast)
Urlingford (Áth na nUrlainn – “ford of the slaughter”) (pop. 900), a relatively modern settlement built on the site of a cut away bog from 1755 onwards, is best known to travellers on the N8 as a resting-point half way between Dublin and Cork. (Photo by Noel Bourke)
The old Irish name, referring to a bloody C11th battle at a crossing point on the River Goul (Gabhal- “Rough River”) between the O’Briens of Munster and the MacGiolla Phadraig chieftains of Ossory, was variously Anglicised over the years as Aghnenoorlin, Aghnenoorlin, Awnanoa orlin etc.
Mill Road features a ruined church and cemetery with a plaque commemorating victims of the Great Famine. The C15th castle ruin on the opposite bank of the River Goul was a MacGiolla Phadraig stronghold ; its defensive wall and turrets were demolished to construct the adjacent mill.
Urlingford Courthouse, an elegant neo-Classical edifice attributed to William Francis Caldbeck (c.1824-72), was converted in 1996 into a public library.
The Islands is a Coillte plantation of Sitka Spruce and other conifers interspersed with occasional broadleaf species. In summer there is a profusion of wild flowers throughout the forest.
Dessie “Border Fox” O’Hare, a Monty Python-esquely inept INLA kidnapper, was captured in the town in 1987.
Urlingford is close to Kilcooley Abbey on ByRoute 6.
Springview House, a charming C18th residence on a working dairy farm, commanding splendid views of the surrounding countryside, is run by Mrs Eileen Joyce as a B&B, with rave reviews from travellers.