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Sun 5 Apr - Easter Day - Kilkenny

One simply can't spend Easter weekend in such a historically important city as Kilkenny, with such a historically important cathedral as St Canice's, round tower and all, and not take the opportunity to attend the Easter Day Eucharist there. So for the first time in decades (apart from funerals or concerts) I went to church.

The (Anglican) Church of Ireland must really struggle in Southern Ireland these days. Since 1536, when the Irish Parliament and all but two bishops accepted Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church on earth, until dis-establishment via the Irish Church Act of 1869, the Church of Ireland was the State church, despite the fact that the great majority of the population subscribed to other faiths, predominantly Roman Catholicism. Penal laws restricted the rights of Roman Catholics and non-conformists alike, and they even had to pay tithes to support a Church to which they didn't otherwise subscribe.

So throughout the land, the predominant building in every town and village was probably the Church of Ireland church. Now they are largely superfluous. In the 2011 census in the Republic of Ireland, 84% of the population gave their religion as Roman Catholic, compared with 2.8% Church of Ireland. We have seen in Thomastown a former church being used a private residence; elsewhere I've found them converted into community centres, information centres, performing arts venues, and art galleries. Many are simply derelict. Those still in use as churches are usually open only for services, which in rural areas (where parishes are often grouped together under one priest) may only be once or twice a month. Little wonder that it is now the Roman Catholic church which dominates the skyline as one approaches most Irish towns, and they always seem to be busy, any day of the week.

So I was curious to see how active Anglicanism was surviving in the cathedral setting in Kilkenny. And even allowing for the fact that it was Easter Sunday, the answer was surprisingly vibrant. The congregation numbered maybe 250-300. The priest (Dean ?) was female.

I was particularly interested in the music, of course. They have separate rôles (unusually, in my experience) of Choir Director and Organist, and the choir is numerically strong in the female parts (with a couple of trebles), but weak in the adult male parts. They made a valiant attempt with a Flor Peeters setting of the service, and chose the Hallelujah Chorus as an anthem.

The Roman Catholics are represented at that end of town too. One church is a large, nondescript, modern building, but a little bit further on there's a wonderful example of a historic building being restored to something like its original purpose.

It is the Church and Priory of the Most Blessed Trinity, and it was founded in 1225. More commonly known as the Black Abbey (deriving its name from the Black Friars, as the Dominicans were called) it is the longest original established foundation of all the Irish priories.

I particularly liked the modern stained glass blended with the older stone and wood. Unfortunately the window didn't come out too well in my photo (a perpetual problem for me), but there are lots of photos on Tripadvisor (of all places!), click here.  They are well worth a look.

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Even though it's Easter Sunday, you're entitled to some respite from cathedrals and abbeys, so I'll take you to a brewery. Well, a former brewery, at least.

I deliberately avoided the Guinness Storehouse, one of the busiest tourist attractions in Dublin, knowing that I would visit Smithwick's in Kilkenny instead. In fact, they are all part of the same conglomerate, Diageo, which was created in 1997 by the merger of Guinness with Grand Metropolitan. Guinness had acquired Smithwick's in 1965. (It's pronounced without the 'w', by the way.)

Smithwick's was founded in 1710 on the site of a Franciscan Abbey which had brewed ale since the 14th century. Hence the company's slogan "Taste 300 years of craftsmanship in every pint". But it was not until the later 18th century that Edmond Smithwick, great-grandson of the founder, benefactor of St Mary's Cathedral (it's becoming a familiar theme), 4-term mayor of Kilkenny, and a friend of Daniel O'Connell, put the company on the map.

In fact, nothing has been brewed in Kilkenny since Dec 2013, and towards the end they were brewing Budweiser under contract. All Smithwick's branded product now comes out of the massive Guinness site at St James Gate in Dublin (on which Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease in 1759 !). Most of the Kilkenny land has been sold, and the protected buildings which remain have been turned into a tourist attraction, with a very high-tech display of the history of the company and the brewing process, culminating of course in the inevitable pint of the company's very palatable product.

As far as I can tell, Smithwick's Ale is not available in Australia, although places like Dan Murphy's and Vintage Cellars sell another of their products, Kilkenny Draught Beer, as well as a couple of cream liqueurs under the Kilkenny brand.

Today's photos

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