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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 15 November, 2019
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Did you ever climb 121 steps up through Irish history? You should

St Canice’s Cathedral – and its fantastically-preserved round tower – is a jewel in the centre of medieval Kilkenny.

IN THIS EDITION of Heritage Ireland, we take a tour around the iconic St Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny, and visit a mysterious megalithic monument at Creevykeel in Co Sligo. As ever, I’m hoping to feature sites from all over the island of Ireland, and I’d love to hear your suggestions – if you have a favourite heritage site please do leave a comment below.

St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny

Kilkenny takes its name Cill Cainnigh, from the ‘Church of Cainnech’. St Canice (Cainnech) was a 6th century monk, originally from Co Derry. The sites most associated with him were Aghaboe Abbey in Co Laois, and the monastic site here in Kilkenny, (though there is no direct evidence that he himself founded the site in Kilkenny).

The earliest visible trace of an early medieval monastic foundation at St Canice’s is the well-preserved round tower. Despite being built on precariously shallow foundations, the tower stands approximately 30 metres tall and is probably at least a thousand years old.

It is one of only two round towers in Ireland that you can still climb.

The slightly nervy trek up the 121 steps is well worth it, as you are rewarded with spectacular views over Kilkenny.

The cathedral you can see today largely dates to the 13th century, although it was extensively renovated throughout its history. Construction of the cathedral began in around 1202, under the patronage of the powerful Ango-Norman magnate William Marshall (who was also responsible for the construction of Kilkenny Castle amongst many other towns, castles, cathedrals and churches).

He brought in the finest stonemasons and craftsmen from his estates in Wales, England and Normandy.

Throughout the medieval period the cathedral was expanded, altered and redeveloped. Inside the cathedral you can experience one of Ireland’s most evocative and atmospheric medieval buildings.

St Canice’s is home to one of the finest collections of medieval tombs and effigies. These house the remains of powerful and wealthy members of high society in Kilkenny. Many of the men are depicted in their full armour, and have dogs lying at their feet. This symbolises their loyalty and fidelity. You can also gain fascinating glimpses into late medieval fashion, as many of the women are depicted with elaborate headdresses and gowns.

One the more prominent tombs in the cathedral is that of Bishop Ledrede. He is infamous for his part in the trial of Dame Alice Kyteler. She was a wealthy and well-educated woman in Kilkenny society. She married four times, with each husband dying somewhat mysteriously, leaving her even more wealthy. An accusation of witchcraft was made against her, along with her maid Petronilla, and her son William Outlaw.

Bishop Ledrede presided over a trial. However Dame Alice managed to escape to England but Petronilla was burned at the stake. Her son, William Outlaw was forced to do penance. He had to attend three masses per day for a year, feed paupers, and recover the cathedral roof with lead.

Four years after William had completed his work on the roof, it mysteriously collapsed. As well as Bishop Ledrede’s effigy you can also see the graveslab of Alice Kyteler’s father. The graveslab was found in 1894, under the pavement outside the home of Dame Alice Kyteler (now Kyteler’s Inn).

St Canice’s is a wonderful and atmospheric site to visit. If you’re lucky you may even be escorted on your tour by the original Kilkenny Cat! Please visit their website here for opening times and entry fees.

Creevykeel Court Tomb

Creevykeel is one of Ireland’s finest examples of a ‘court tomb’, a type of megalithic funerary monument that dates to the Neolithic period, the tomb is approximately 5,500 years old. Court tombs are thought to be the earliest type of megalithic tomb to have been built in Ireland.

As their name implies, they usually feature a large courtyard area that was in front of a covered gallery that contained human remains, often in two or more chambers. The galleries or chambers were originally covered with a large cairn of small stones or earth.

Creevykeel was excavated in 1935 by the Havard Archaeological Expedition. They discovered four groups of cremated human remains, two in each of the chambers at the front of the tomb, but no human remains were discovered in the chambers at the back of the tomb. They also found fragments of pottery, polished stone axeheads, stone tools like a large flint knife, scrapers and flint arrowheads and four quartz crystals.

Unfortunately due the stone walls that enclose the site, it is difficult for the visitor today to get a true sense of how the monument was positioned to sit within the landscape.

Creevykeel was reused for different purposes throughout history. Artefacts and evidence of early medieval activity were discovered, and you can still see the outline of a cereal-drying kiln that was placed in the side of the stone cairn.

Creevykeel is quite easy to find. Simply travel north around 23km from Sligo on the N15 towards Lifford. You’ll see the site signposted with a small carpark on the right-hand shoulder of the N15, just approximately 1.5km north of the village of Cliffony.

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Fancy exploring some of Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites this weekend? Please visit my blog, Time Travel Ireland, where I have more suggestions for great places to visit.

You can also download audioguides from my website abartaheritage.ie, where we have 25 guides that tell the story of Irish heritage and the majority are absolutely free to download.

Our latest free to download guide is to the lovely heritage town of Abbeyleix in Co Laois. You can download it as a free audio-visual app (iOS or Android), please see here for a preview.

If you’d like to keep up with daily images and information about Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites please consider following Abarta Audioguides on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

All photographs © Neil Jackman /abartaheritage.ie

Read more from Neil here>

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