What with a soft blue sky filled with sportive fluffy white clouds which were backlit by sunshine and some real warmth in the air, last Saturday felt like the end of the current glacial age had finally arrived. The meteorological deities had, for once, come up trumps as last Saturday was also the day I planned to make a return trip to Kilkenny. It’s less than two months since I was last there so I wouldn’t normally have returned so soon except that I needed to collect a ceramic tree I bought, on my recent trip, at the Future Beauty exhibition in the National Craft Gallery.
Kilkenny and back is roughly a four-hour round trip from my home but instead of zinging there and back, like a mad boomerang, by the faster direct and relentlessly monotonous motorway route I decided that I would meander there by an indirect route: half motorway and half cross-country roads. This would enable me to stop for lunch in Thomastown, a small market town on the banks of the Nore river, and after lunch to see and explore the remains of the 12th century Jerpoint Abbey which is just a few kilometres outside the town.
Jerpoint Abbey didn’t disappoint. It was my first visit and I was expecting a Heathcliff-esque wild romantic ruin. Yes, it’s the romantic remains of a standing for centuries Cistercian Abbey but it’s far from wild as it’s extremely well-tended by the OPW (Office of Public Works: a government department).
I had the place almost to myself and it was as peaceful as a deserted wood as I wandered around the cloistered garth, drinking in the splendour of the place and admiring the legerdemain of the stone masons of yesterday year. All seemed well with the world, in my imagination I heard the voices of the monks chanting their office and this mingled with the real sound of birdsong. I imagined the austere monks living in harmony with nature and each other. However my tranquil vision of monastic life, back in the day, was somewhat shattered when I read the following in an OPW leaflet outlining Jerpoint Abbey’s history:
‘In 1217 the abbot of Jerpoint was deposed for instigating the “Riot of Jerpoint” in which four other Irish abbots were involved, during an official visitation. This was part of a of a power struggle within the Cistercian Order between the Anglo-Norman abbots and the Irish Abbots which culminated int the “Conspiracy of Mellifont” when all the Irish abbots were deposed.’
Not quite the meditative monastic idyll then!
I travelled on in to Kilkenny city, I only stayed for a short time, just long enough to pick up my ceramic tree and to admire the new exhibitions on at the National Craft Gallery. Then it was back in the car for the journey home stopping en route in the charming village of Inistioge for tea and slice of coffee cake.