Kilfane Church

The day out with Pat the Fox Man continues.

After leaving Jerpoint Abbey, Pat asked me if I ever been to Kilfane Church. I haven’t, so off we went.

Medieval parish church of Kilfane, now in ruins, is located on the other side of Thomastown, some 15 minutes drive from Jerpoint Abbey. The adjoining structure is a presbytery – a stone house where the parish priests resided in the upper floors.

The graveyard alone deserves a separate blog post.

Good timing! Inside the church we met a very knowledgeable man who makes a living doing what he loves – an archaeologist, author and photographer Chris Corlett. Chris kindly answered my questions, and as we walked around the church he pointed out many things I would have overlooked. I left the men to chat and went to take some pictures for this blog post.

The biggest (literally) attraction of the ruins is an eight feet tall effigy of a knight in full armor made from a slab of limestone. The knight wears a mail hood and body armor, a surcoat, and a sword on a sword belt. He also wears spurs which means he had fought on the horseback.

The coat of arms on the knight’s shield reveals his identity. It is the Cantwell family coat of arms: annulets and a canton ermine.

The Cantwells were a Norman family, originally from Suffolk. They came to Ireland in the end of the 12th century and were made Lords of Kilfane for their loyal service to Theobald Walter, the first Chief Butler of Ireland. It is believed that the effigy depicts Thomas Cantwell who died in the 1320-s.

Cantwell Fada – The Long Man – is the largest effigy of its kind in Britain and Ireland.

In contrast to the smiling knights and bishops of Jerpoint Abbey, Thomas Cantwell’s carved face looks gloomy and unhappy. The story goes that the reason of his unhappiness and death was his marriage to Beatrice Donati whom he met while on crusade. Beatrice soon bored of her life with Cantwell and befriended the ‘Kilkenny witch’ Alice Kyteler. Both were arrested. Beatrice was held in Kilkenny dungeon but escaped and hid for five month in a monastery. Her husband eventually captured her and killed her accomplice, but Beatrice managed to fatally stab him in the heart with a gold bodkin.

When the church was taken over by the Protestants, the effigy was buried, but later was dug up again. There are four copies of it made in 1852.

The hole in the wall is actually a door to the ground floor room of the presbytery – a sacristy, where the vestments and articles of sacred rituals were kept.

The sacristy.

The stairs go up to the priests’ residency. At the top of the stairs there is a trap door. A hall is on the right.

The trap door.

A toilet.

The floors are gone but you can see where they used to be.

I couldn’t resist climbing the narrow stairs.

One floor up.

Another floor.

I keep climbing.

Finally on the top!

I had to stick my camera out of the narrow window to take this picture.

Back on the ground again. There is so much to see – it is simply amazing.

The bell tower has its own staircase, but it is damaged and too narrow anyway.

Both walls feature original ogee headed doorways.

Ogee arches were introduced to European cities from the Middle East. They were a popular feature of English Gothic architecture in the 13th century when Kilfane church was built.

Stone seats for the priest and his assistants in the south wall – sedilia.

Sedilia still have some ancient red paint residue on the carvings.

Another amazing find is the fragments of the consecration crosses on the church walls.

A new constructed church had to be consecrated, or made into a sacred place of worship. The Bishop would bless the building and anoint it making the sign of the cross with his thumb dipped in consecrated oil. Typically, twelve such crosses were created on the inside walls, and twelve more outside on door frames and corners. Each of these crosses would have been incised and painted afterwards.

You can see two incised circles and a cross incised and painted within the inner circle.

In the end of the 17th century, the church was taken over by the Protestants and the consecration crosses were concealed by plastering over them. When a new church was built just across the road (c. 1825), the roof was taken off the old church.

The plaster is falling off, thus revealing the old consecration crosses. Chris Corlett is sure about another few places where the crosses would have been placed, but you can read about everything in his own publications.

One last look at the church and the Long Man.

I ate in The Long Man pub once … It is ‘closed for renovations’ these days. I just drove over there to take this picture.

Thank you for joining us on this day out, dear readers! County Kilkenny is full of history, and I hope to write more about it in the future.

Have a wonderful weekend!



  1. An eight-foot knight….I’m just fascinated as to why. Why make him that tall? WAS there such a knight really that tall? What kind of horse could carry a giant like that? One’s imagination can’t help but wander…

  2. What an amazing place – the Long Man tombstone is extraordinary and you’re right… He should be out of the elements and under cover somewhere. What struck me – other than the sheer wonder of being able to simply wander around there without any of it being roped off and the wealth of history – is how much smaller people were back then. Those winding staircases, for instance… And your courage in going up them!

    1. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, it is amazing how we have grown in size over the centuries.
      My curiosity is stronger than my fear ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ It was my first time in the site, but I have been in the area before and actually drove past the church and didn’t know it was there. There is a beautiful waterfall and garden nearby, open in July-August.

  3. Fantastic visit to Kilfane Church, Inese, thank you. I find it astounding that all of this history from so long ago still exists, and you and Pat could just happen upon it and have your own tour, with the unexpected help of the archaeologist. Loved seeing the Long Man effigy (wow!), learning about it. And how adventurous of you to climb the steps and share the beauty from up top. Outstanding photos, too, Inese.

    1. Thank you so much, Jet! I so love to discover something special in old buildings – a carving or a paint residue, or a Sheela na Gig I wrote about a couple of years ago. It doesn’t make me an archaeologist, but it does make me proud ๐Ÿ™‚
      We were lucky to meet Chris on the site.

    1. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ I used to be terrified of heights. Then I crossed a rope bridge in the Northern Ireland and it was cathartic.

  4. More and more history. Rather bloody as History often is. ๐Ÿ™‚
    The knight’s spurs are… gruesome. I can’t imagine the poor horse’s flanks after the battle…
    (If it did survive)

    1. Yes, the spurs look like weapons. He wouldn’t care though. He wasn’t exactly a sweetheart. There are some reports of his cruelness towards his people.

    1. Thank you so much! I looked up “Mayan arch” and found this interesting site

      The ogee arches are more pointed and curved – the ogee stones in Kilfane church doorways create that effect. This architectural element originated somewhere in the Middle East – Persia may be. It is common for Islamic buildings, but is also used in Gothic architecture and the Russian Orthodox church buildings.

  5. Loved the craftmanship of the building. All seems to be made by human hands. And the detail of the crosses, I will search those details in the churches here. Maybe they are universal in the Catholic universe : )

    1. They must be universal, but I am not sure any crosses are painted on the walls these days ๐Ÿ™‚ We have a relatively new Catholic church in town. I might go there and ask what they do after the building is consecrated.

  6. Those narrow stairs, half-hidden passageways and trapdoors set my imagination to fire. They speak of a way of life ruled by power, intrigue, betrayals and violent surprises. As usual, you enrich and enliven the travelogues with transcending the bygone times.

    1. Thank you so much, Uma. I am not a specialist, just a curious old lady. We were lucky to meet a real archaeologist on the site. I thought the trap door was a walled up toilet, but he corrected my mistake. I wish I had more time to listen to his conversation with Pat, but I had to take all these pictures, let alone to find the crosses he mentioned. Oh well, at least Pat was delighted.

    1. Thank you Andrea! Yes, everything worked out well, Pat’s brother manned the house and we returned in a couple of hours anyway. I have another project in mind, but that place is closed for winter months.

    1. I too! It has no roof for almost 200 years. They should also take the Long Man to museum and display one of the copies instead.

        1. Yes. A good copy wouldn’t hurt anyone.
          I didn’t even touch the Long Man – if everyone does he will be smooth like the Blarney stone in a couple of centuries. Yet I have seen people with dogs without a leash in Kells abbey ruins. The dogs did their business right on the ancient limestone.

  7. I just love all this history Inese. We sometimes think people are brutal to one another today, but boy, they sure were in the medieval times. You were brave climbing those stairs with a camera in tow!

    1. Thank you! I wanted an aerial view ๐Ÿ˜‰
      People have been the same all the time I guess. Some of them brutal, some meek – a usual mix ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I’m always amazed at how much history is known of people and places hundreds of years in the past when we often know nothing of our current neighbors, a couple blocks away, in any typical city.

    1. Haha, not now. Just join the Facebook and you will know about your neighbors more than you want to know ๐Ÿ™‚
      I hope the future generations won’t lose the interest in history.

  9. Fascinating place! Your pictures just lovely capture the hidden stories of the place. I am imagining how the the rooms looked like way back when, whether there were any decorating items on the wall or just bare as seen now. They look so cold and hash (I am sure because the place were left along) but still for spiritual place I would assume more comfort place rather.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! The walls were plastered, probably white. I guess such a tower was cozy and secure. A home. As soon as the roof was removed, the elements took over. First went the wooden structures, like the floors and the doors. I imagine it took a lot of effort to remove the rotting wood from the site. Thankful for those who made this church a lovely place to visit.
      There are some other interesting features and a few mural slabs in the church. The Long Man is not a statue. It is a tomb slab. Some slabs have inscriptions. A lot of interesting information to learn, and hope you visit Ireland again some day ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Poor knight, they made him stand – he was supposed to lay horizontally all these centuries
      ๐Ÿ™‚ But he looks more attractive this way ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Very interesting Inese – sort of like a little hidden pocket of history coming to life. It has got to be really great to live near such old and historical places. Great pix and blog – not sure I would have been so brave to climb up those old stairs!

    1. Thank you Syd! ๐Ÿ™‚ I am not brave at all – it is my curiosity that pushes me to climb all the towers I come across. The size of the stairwell surprised me. There is no way for two people to pass on it.

      1. I went up some really steep narrow stairs in a castle in Belarus and have no idea how people could do this all the time. Great shots once you get up there though!

        1. Thank you for stopping by! Yes, narrow and dark. It was some tough life. People were smaller though. I remember a Peter the Great’s uniform on display in St Petersburg. I have read that people considered him very tall, always towering over the crowd. Well, that uniform was my size.

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