Many visitors enjoy a walk around the village taking in the tree-lined square and then down to the river. The green area by the river is delightful and if you continue under the bridge you will be able to see Mount Sandford Castle, a folly, hidden in the trees. A wildlife guide will help you identify the birds and animals you will encounter. Look out for the heron which often stands by the river’s edge waiting to catch a fish.
Behind the churches is the graveyard where you can examine the ruins of the 13th Augustinian Priory and the Mausoleum where Mary Tighe, of Woodstock House, is buried. Moving on to Hatchery Lane, behind the Catholic Church, you can visit St. Colmcille’s Well.
Architectural Walking Tour
This overview of Inistioge will give you a brief insight into the village, its old buildings, monuments and history. Inistioge is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters. Here it is related that in the year of our Lord, 962, a victory was gained over Amlaeibh, son of Sitric, by the Ossorians, at Inistioge, where many of the Danes were slain, together with Batbarr, son of Nira. St Columba has long been associated with Inistioge. Perhaps the Saint or a follower prevailed upon a local chieftain named Teoc to grant the site located by the stream at the mouth of the deep glen, as a place upon which to establish a monastic community. Inistioge was an important place through history with its commerce and pageantry, but through it all, it has retained its quiet charm and peacefulness which the beauty of the surrounding countryside, accounts for its continued appeal both to the native and the visitor.
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We begin our historical journey through the village on the green beside the river bank. This affords a fine view of Inistioge bridge with its ten arches, built in c.1765 to a design by George Smith under the direction of the navigation board. The southern side is ornamented by ionic pilasters and cost the public £900. The bridge is flat with equal arches, which has enabled it to withstand the pressure of even the greatest floods. The tenth arch on the New Ross side is believed to have an addition to accommodate a proposed canal which was never completed. The previous wooden structure was washed away in the great flood of 1763. This was possibly located opposite the hundred court where the river is at its lowest.Looking Southwards from the bridge, the wooded area is Woodstock demesne with its great ruined mansion, its arboretum which contains many rare tree specimens and picturesque garden follies such as Mount Sandford, visible from the bridge, its dovecote and ice-house etc. The demesne was largely laid out by William Tighe (1766-1816), who represented the borough of Inistioge in the Irish parliament from 1797 until the Act of the Union. The great house of the Tighes (built c.1747) was burned in the summer of 1922. Today one can ramble around Woodstock Park and its gardens and view the remains of the great estate.
Across the road from the green is the Old School house Cafe which was once the Protestant school. An unusual stone patterned pavement worked in cobbles outside the door gives the date of the building as 1837. However, the building may have become a school at an earlier date. The Tighe family were a Protestant family who employed Protestant and Catholic workers and servants. During the Civil War a majority of workers left the area and the numbers in the school dropped. The school closed in 1965 with only a couple of children remaining and the last person to teach there was a Miss Moon from Thomastown who cycled in and out of the village each day to teach the remaining pupils
The Hundred Court is the ruined castellated structure which stands near the river and served at one time as a manorial court or petty session house. The civil record contains interesting memories of the town. Fortunately, a transcript of the original charter granted c.1200 by the first prior to the burgesses of Inistioge survives. One section declares: “That no foreign merchant shall be permitted to cut cloth and hold a wine tavern in the town of Inistioge except for thirty days, and if he wished for a longer space he can only obtain it when it appears to be for the profit of the town. The said Burgess be permitted to have a Merchant’s Guild and other Guilds, and to take customs and tolls with all the liberties to them belonging as is the privilege of the other towns”. “ That no Burgess be compelled to supply cattle to the Priory unless they first have security for payment at a certain date”. One item from the Corporation Record Book of Inistioge under the date 6th October 1718 is worth repeating. “Upon a full assembly of ye corporation it was ordered that no person be for the future made a freeman of ye said corporation unless he then drank ye glorious memory of King William, in a bumper”.
In the square a handsome fountain was erected in 1879 by Lady Louisa Tighe (1803-1878) of Woodstock, to the memory of her husband William Tighe (1794-1878). Near it is an obelisk to David Fitzgerald alias Baron of Brownsford, who died in 1621. This monument once supported a wayside cross. The cross itself is now missing and tradition states that it was smashed by the Yeoman in the troubles of 1798. In 1608 James I granted the village a weekly market on Fridays and an annual fair on 13th December.
Part of O’Donnells pub and the private residence adjoining formed at one time an alms house. The house was built c.1780 by Sarah Fownes Tighe ( 1743-1820) to care for the widows of the district. Lacemakers from Brussels were brought in to train the ladies in the art. An inscription over the door of the private residence reads, “Make to yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness. That when we fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations”.
Located in the west side of the village square, is a much modified, three storey fortified structure, originally used as a merchant’s dwelling house. Only the walls have survived. The opes in the North and South have been blocked up while those in the east have been altered. There is evidence of a fireplace in the west wall. The date of this building is unclear. Beside the townhouse is a small enclosure where once stood the R.I.C. Barracks. Today on this site one can observe what is a model of an Armillary Sphere, which was removed to this site in 1965 from a position it formerly occupied in the gardens of Woodstock house. The Armillary Sphere was possibly invented about 255BC and was used up until the seventeenth century as an instrument to explain the seasons in terms of the motion of the sun along the elliptic, an imaginary line that traces out the yearly path of the sun.
Inistioge Priory was founded by Thomas FitzAnthony in the year 1210, for Canons Regular of St. Augustine. Many such foundations were established at that time after a popular custom, very much connected to securing one’s place in heaven after a lifetime of little slips from the path of righteousness. The original occupants of the Priory came from Bodmin Priory in Cornwall. At the time of installation, the Priory was endowed with substantial tracts of land and fisheries, both in and outside the area. It functioned as a community until its dissolution in 1540. Like most conventual complexes in Ireland, several phases of building are thought to have occurred.
The building at the time of the dissolution consisted of an elongated chancel or choir, a crossing tower, a short nave, conventual accommodation built onto the west of the nave, a north transept, a large keep attached to the north transept, and a cloister arcade. There was possibly a south transept and a small side chapel on the south side of the chancel. It is very likely that a range of other buildings of less obvious nature were attached. In documents relating to the dissolution, mention is made of a “Kill howse” and a “Bak Howse”. At the present day, several of the structures of the ancient priory survive. These are:
The Nave of the Conventual Church
The Lady Chapel
The Black Castle (the keep)
The Crossing Tower (Clock Tower)
Fragments of the Cloister Arcade
The Nave of the conventual church is the roofless building to the left of the main door of the present church as you enter. Whilst the nave appears exceptionally short at only 5.1 metres, we must also add the length of the tower, as it is inside the nave.
The Lady Chapel
Lady Chapels are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. They occurred frequently in medieval conventual churches and cathedrals. They were extremely important from a liturgical viewpoint, in that a daily mass devoted to the Blessed Virgin was said in them. The community at Inistioge, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Columba, would no doubt have attached great importance on this. After the dissolution the priory was granted by the Crown to various lay tenants but subsequently it passed to the Ormand earls and their descendants who sold it in or around 1703. Over time the buildings fell into disrepair. In the eighteenth century the Lady Chapel was repaired for use as a Protestant church known as St Marys. In later years as the Protestant population in the area grew, this small chapel became inadequate and the present church was built in 1824.
The Black Castle
This is a large thick-walled keep likely to have been erected as priors’ residence at the time of the original foundation. It is probably the oldest building on the site, dating to about 1210. It was built to a curious shape, being nearly square up to about 12 metres and then changing to octagonal. The upper floors probably housed the prior while the lower floors would have been used for storage. The Crossing Tower (Clock Tower)The crossing tower is the most recent structure to have been built in the priory and survives to the present. It was built in or about 1520 by the last prior, Milo Fitzgerald. It is a splendid building architecturally, and in perfect preservation. It is raised on four massive granite piers arched on the four sides with a vaulted ceiling over the ground floor.
The Cloister Fragments
The Cloister Arcade was built contemporaneously with the clock tower by Milo Fitzgerald. No part of this arcade is now standing and part of the nearby Catholic Church now stands on its site. Many fragments of the arcade, carved in limestone, survive. Some of these can be seen in the perimeter walls of the Catholic church. In the graveyard is the Tighe mausoleum which contains a memorial executed by John Flaxman, to the poetess Mary Tighe (c.1771-1810), who is chiefly remembered for her epic poem ‘Psyche’. The monument represents Mary reclining on a sofa with one arm gracefully supporting her head. The graveyard is also said to contain the mortal remains of James Freney the notorious eighteenth-century highwayman. He was born in or about the village c.1719 and at the end of his years on the road he gave an account of his adventures in a book which was published in Dublin in 1754. By all accounts the book was a best seller at the time. Freney died in 1788, and is said to be buried in the “Strangers Corner” in the Inistioge graveyard.
Built in 1169, this motte was possibly the first structure built by the Normans in the area. Around the time of its construction Inistioge would have consisted mostly of woodland, and the motte was used as a lookout post to guard the river a Inistioge ford. Unfortunately, access to this motte is unavailable at present.
Finally, we turn to the Holy Well of Columcille, whose Pattern Day was 9th June. To this day the local people of Inistioge celebrate mass here on that particular date (weather permitting). A glen called “the Combe” divides the motte from the Holy Well of St Columba. On Sundays after 9th June pilgrims made their way, first up the main stream through the Combe on their knees and then up the hillside through the bed of the smaller stream, until they reached its source, the blessed well. Tradition states that there was a wooden image of great age, of St Columba enshrined beside it, but during the 1798 troubles it was broken and thrown into the river.
The stone work in the well which incorporates a number of sixteenth-century carved stone panels and some fragments from the priory which supported the cloister arcade. One fragment depicts Petrus or Peter Rothe which carving is unique in being the only contemporary representation of a member of any of the great merchant families of Kilkenny from the sixteenth century or earlier. Peter Rothe whose family had a fortified dwelling in the village probably endowed the priory and may even have had a role in the building of the cloister arcade. The smaller basin built into the wall was for bathing the eyes and the larger one on the ground for the feet. There is a trout in this well, and the story goes that if it is removed, the well will dry up and this is reputed to have happened many years ago. When the trout dies, it is replaced by a local fisherman which is then placed in the well, and so the tradition continues. The well is still used by the people of Inistioge and has a very good supply of water.
Here ends the guide to Inistioge. We hope you enjoyed your visit and will carry home happy memories.