Jerpoint Abbey tour

Pat The Fox Man and I set off on our historical tour. Pat has never been in Jerpoint Abbey before, and it was fantastic that he had got a tour guide to himself. I and my camera were trailing behind them.

In the pictures: Pat Gibbons and his tour guide Margaret Brophy. I was delighted that Pat had such a knowledgeable guide. Their conversation went beyond the history of the abbey to the history of the whole parish.

Originally a Benedictine monastery built in 1160, Jerpoint Abbey was affiliated to the Cistercian Order in 1180. Scholars believe that Domnall I, the king of Ossory who died in 1176, was possibly the founder of the monastery. This is supported by a charter of King John to Jerpoint Abbey confirming the lands granted by Domnall. The grant happened before Strongbow arrived in Leinster in 1170.

The restoration works are on in the abbey. Some areas are fenced and the north aisle is closed.

You can see the scaffolding in the north isle, behind the arcade of pointed arches supported by large piers. There are six arches, with different design on each pier. Margaret and Pat are walking to the Romanesque west nave – the lay brothers’ choir. It is the place where the lay brothers gathered to attend Mass. The nave originally had an arcaded aisle on both sides. There is a special room in the museum where all the broken pieces of masonry – particularly the parts of arches and piers –Β  are stored and can be viewed by the visitors.

The west nave window comprises of three round-headed lights.

The Monk’s choir is the east part of the nave.

This is what the windows look like in the morning light from the main road.

The crossing tower above the intersection of the chancel, nave and transept was added in the 15th century. Towers were not allowed by the Order’s authority at the time the monastery was built. The rib vaulting of the tower’s ceiling is well preserved. The pointed arches open to the nave, chancel and both transepts. Each transept has two chapels on the east side.

There are a tomb and funeral slabs in the crossing.

I went to the north transept to check out the chapels. And this is what I found.

Of course I stuck there for a long time watching the mama swallow and her “yellow-lipped” babies.

There is something else quite amazing in the chapels – beautifully carved tomb weepers decorating the mensa-tomb chests. In the picture below you see six weepers – the apostles who can be recognized by the attributes related to the manner of their martyrdom. From the left: St John with a chalice; St Thomas with a lance; St Simon with a saw; St Bartholomew with skin – it is believed he was flayed alive; St Paul holding a sword, and St Matthew an axe. The carvings were made by the sculptor Rory O’Tunney of Callan.

These weepers are St Catherine of Alexandria with a wheel, St Michael the Archangel in the centre, and St Margaret of Antioch wearing a ring broach and stomping on a dragon’s head.

I left the chapels and went to the presbytery to admire the ancient wall paintings.

In the image below, you see three tomb niches in the wall under the painted fragment. It is where two tomb effigies from the next picture were originally placed.

The tomb effigy in background represents Felix O’Dulany, the first Abbot of Jerpoint praised for his ‘zeal, charity and prudence’.Β  The other effigy (foreground) possibly represents Donal O’Fogarty, another bishop of the Diocese of Ossory.

Bishop O’Dulany died in 1202. They say ‘many miracles were wrought by him’. The face of the effigy is badly worn: it was believed that pilgrims touching the face would be cured of their illnesses.

This is a 15-16th century wall painting after the restoration works. You can see the fragments of two shields with the scallop shells and wild boars – four shells and possibly four boars. Scallop shells represent St James and are the symbol of pilgrimage. I am not sure about the boars. Usually they represent ferocity and power. I should have listened to Margaret’s explanation instead of looking for birds πŸ™‚

The abbey is famous for its large number of stone carvings untypical for a Cistercian monastery. You will find amusing figures of animals and fantastic creatures, knights, damsels, monks and smiling bishops carved on the piers. There are so many carvings that when you come again you will find something new you haven’t seen before.

The west part of the cloister arcade is reconstructed. You will find many lay and religious carvings there, and learn about the armor and clothing worn at the times.

The famous ‘man with the stomach ache’.

View of the tower from the west side of the cloister arcade.

The south part of the cloister arcade also survive.

This part of the arcade would support the roof over the buildings like refectory (dining room) and calefactory (warming house) which are long gone.

As you see in the picture, there is an upper floor that can be reached from the south transept. It is where the monks’ dormitory was located. I want to return to the abbey next year, so I leave the upper floor for my future blog post.

Beautiful Gothic east window dates from the 14 century. You can see the outer halves of two old Romanesque windows – originally a triple window.

Clicking on this link you will find a detailed map of the abbey.

The graves around the abbey date from centuries ago to the present time.

We visited Jerpoint Abbey on a fine sunny day. I want to share a different mood – a poem written by Waterford-born journalist Samuel Carter Hall in 1823, and a series of photographs taken on a gray and foggy morning – all of this in the article written by an author and lecturer Robert O’Byrne.

You have visited one of the finest historical places in Co Kilkenny. Our day out isn’t over yet. It continues to the next blog post πŸ™‚

Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. I’m not quite sure how this post initially slipped past me – although I’m guessing it was while I was away on my writing retreat and couldn’t get the internet… As ever, a complete joy. Thank you for it all:)).

  2. Gorgeous place!
    To think that they built it a thousand years ago is amazing…
    But I have an “out of the box” funny question: How do you do to find birds everywhere you go? πŸ˜€

    1. Thank you so much! πŸ™‚ Glad you are back.
      I am fascinated with birds and often forget about my main responsibilities when I see a bird πŸ™‚

  3. There is so much history in Europe. πŸ™‚ I wonder sometimes whether Europeans realize that fully.
    The swallows (hirondelles) reminded me of the nests we had in a barn at our house in Normandy. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you so much! It is so important to preserve the documents. The buildings start to perish the moment people stop using them. Sad, but inevitable.
      I know that local people around the world don’t really like the tourists, but it is how the money is coming in to keep the historical objects in a good shape.
      I always find birds wherever I go πŸ™‚

      1. How true. Local people dislike tourists. Ungrateful lot. They bring money and jobs. And maintenance of historical places. And tourists are generally polite. (Not all but most.) Tsss.
        Maybe because Ireland is so green? Or uses less pesticides than Continental Europe. Enjoy the birds.

  4. Amazing stone carvings and fascinating history! I could spend hours in these historical places, though I can’t blame you one bit for getting distracted by the baby swallows. πŸ˜‰ xxxxxxxxxxx

    1. Thank you for all your comments, Sarah! I am trying to get a track on all of them, but I am afraid they have been in Spam for months…

  5. What a wonderful tour of some quite fascinating ruins, Inese. I love anything to do with abbeys and monasteries πŸ™‚ At the end of this month, I’m going to attend the debut of a new musical drama set in 1538 inspired by some local priory ruins.

      1. The info I have so far is that it’s called “Carmina ex Ruinas”, with the script and music by someone called Roland Bryce. The work is inspired by The Lewes Priory Ruins. It’s meant to be set in the year 1538 in the Cluniac Priory, the story told by an itinerant Monk and some beautiful music to accompany it. I will tell you more after attending the concert. I’m assuming as this is the premiere performance that there will be others around the country. Am not sure if they’ll visit Ireland for a performance, but I’ll keep my ears open and let you know straight away if I hear anything!

          1. It was quite amazing. The incredibly talented but humble composer, who participated in the performance (voice/flute), has written a work that preserves the original design of Gregorian chant but blended into a contemporary ensemble. It’s hard to describe exactly, as I think it was unique and spiritually moving. The accompanying narrative is about an itinerant monk visiting Lewes Priory during the dissolution and in witnessing the violence, retreats inside his mind and finds solace in the plainchant. bringing him solace. There was this music student, a mezzo-soprano, who had the most heavenly voice. Her singing seemed effortless. I’m sure she’ll be really famous one day. Unfortunately, Inese, they aren’t intending to visit Ireland to perform this work in the near future, but will be doing performances following the route of the pilgrimage from Lewes to Chichester that forms part of the story upon which the work is based.

            1. Well, then I will wait until they do become very famous πŸ™‚ We too have fantastic venues for such shows, and great acoustics. Dissolution was carried out to acquire the great riches accumulated by the Church. A greedy monarch took the money from the greedy bishops, basically. As always, there was a collateral damage – those spiritual and selfless souls “walking in charity’, helping the poor and afflicted, educating, healing etc. I guess the story is about them.

  6. I am just in awe, my friend. You were in the perfect place at the perfect time to capture the sun coming through those windows. And the wee birds! Oh, it’s a place that breathes history. Clearly a fantastic trip for you both! I’m looking forward to your return trip net year πŸ™‚ xxxxxx

    1. Jean, you are one of the bloggers whose comments have ended up in Spam – 25 altogether. I don’t know if I will be able to track back all of them, so I really apologize for not replying. Very annoying, WordPress.
      This is one of the finest historical sites in Kilkenny, and I am only glad to share it. I hope this post inspires those who write historical or fantasy fiction. I also hope you visit Ireland some day to see it all with your own eyes πŸ™‚ xxxxxxxxxxxx

      1. Oh no! I didn’t even realize that’s a thing. No, DON’T backtrack Let’s just keep living forward! And you bet your boots I’m getting back to Ireland someday. Not sure how or when, but I’m doing it….ideally with the family, but we’ll see. πŸ˜‰

  7. I hope Pat enjoyed his tour! You found some wonderful surprises – those beautiful swallows, the intricate carvings and the remains of the wall paintings. Lovely touches in a fabulous building.

    1. Thank you, Andrea! I don’t remember seeing paintings on my last visit. I either missed them or they were not yet restored. You are right – every visit means a new surprise πŸ™‚

  8. Around here, even a building from the early 19th century is considered old. Amazing you have structures still reasonably intact from the 12th!

  9. You make a fine tour guide yourself! It was like a virtual tour. Glad to stopped to photograph the birds! Loved especially the morning light coming in the windows, the man with a stomach ache and the weeping tombs. The Fox Man seemed to be enjoying the tour also.

    1. Thank you! πŸ™‚ Pat doesn’t have a car, so I was only happy to help him out after I learned that he had never visited the abbey. He knows many other grand historical places in the area, and we visited one of them on the same day. More about this trip in my next blog post πŸ™‚

  10. I can’t wait to see this place, Inese. It’s easy to envision the beauty of the building when it was at its prime. I’m glad it’s being preserved for future generations. Lovely photos.

    1. Thank you Diana! Ireland has a good few very impressive ruins. The dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII that happened between 1536 and 1541 was a progressive reform at that time, but I wish it didn’t bring the enormous cultural loss, let alone the huge dent in education, health care and charity. Jerpoint Abbey was lucky to become a national monument in the 19th century. It is why we are enjoying all these curious carvings today πŸ™‚

  11. Wonderful post and photos Inese! This abbey reminds me of the Great Hall in Wells, Somerset, UK. Love the man with the sore stomach – simple but expressive even in stone.

    Just a side note, a weird thing happens when I visit your site. The “Follow” button displays when I’ve clicked this to change to “Following” countless times over the years. Thought I’d mention is as don’t know if it’s my end or your end that’s playing up…

    1. These carvings are very expressive – the smiles, the grimaces. Also the clothing is a great source of knowledge about the era.
      I think you are talking about the ‘Follow’ button that relates to the e-mail following. This is for those who don’t have a WordPress account – mostly for the local people interested in history and preservation.

  12. Hello Inese,
    It almost feels as if you are walking “along” history when wandering this area. I am happy it was a great trip in many ways, and, you could view a tender moments with birds too πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you! πŸ™‚ I wish it wasn’t that dark.
      There are a good few similar sites in Ireland, but the carvings here are absolutely unique. I will share one more amazing place in a week.
      Had problems with my laptop, will catch up visiting soon ❀

    1. Thank you! I am grateful for those who preserve historic artifacts – well, and also for those who don’t participate in destroying them.

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