All Photos by Pat Shortall
Christmas Eve in Kilkenny is classy at the best of times.
Add in the continuing growing festival that is Yulefest and Kilkenny comes into a league of its own.
Such was the case this year.
Thanks to the local authority and its workforce, the Parade looked radiant, as lights shone, music bellowed from the music stand, and the smell of freshly baked food wafted through the air.
The specially erected Christmas stalls sold everything from Kilkenny paintings to bog oak mirrors.
Beside the water trough at The Parade, a group of twelve or so gathered.
They were members of ‘The Saturday Local History Walkers group’.
The meeting on Christmas Eve was special, as it marked the 500th such event since the group’s first gathering in 2012.
SEED WAS SOWN BY MAYOR OF KILKENNY
The idea of a walking group, who would stroll around Kilkenny while visiting historical areas of the city was the brainchild of then Mayor of Kilkenny Seán O hArgáin.
The Kilkenny Observer caught up with Seán and asked why he had started the group.
“It was my privilege to be elected Mayor of Kilkenny in 2012 and in the run-up to that election, I thought about the priorities I would have as Mayor. At my election in the Town Hall, I outlined one of my top priorities as leading a new drive to promote health and fitness in the city”
Seán credits his local G.P as the one who motivated him.
“Tadhg Crowley, of Ayrfield Medical Centre had persuaded me to join a group for the first Operation Transformation in 2011.
I had become an active runner, cyclist and triathlete in that few years and felt that something was needed to give men my age the push necessary to take action to improve their own health.”
Indeed on the night of his election as Kilkenny’s first citizen, Sean announced the idea of a weekly Mayor’s walk, and is, in his own words one of the projects he is most proud of.
A NAME CHANGE
It initially started out as ‘The Mayor’s Walk’ and later had a name change to ‘The Saturday Local History Walk’.
And it is fair to say that they are a modest group. It would appear that there are no leaders, only members.
Be that as it may, the group has managed to travel the highways and byways of Kilkenny city and county over the past ten years visiting numerous historical sites.
And that takes some planning.
The Kilkenny Observer has joined with the walkers on a few occasions and there is no doubt that there is an abundance of history to be learned as you amble around the city and its environs.
EACH WALK IS SPECIAL AND UNIQUE
According to Paddy Neary (one of the walkers) everyone with an interest in Kilkenny history is welcome to attend the walks.
Paddy, who has been present at all the walks, was reluctant to pick any favourites.
“Each walk is unique in its own way. I suppose the input by Lady Desart and the contribution she played in the various aspects of the town is remarkable. You have to remember she was associated with such projects as Desart Hall, The County Library, The Kilkenny Theatre, The Woollen Mills, and The Handball court at Talbots Inch. She was a remarkable lady.”
Marianne Kelly is another who has attended the walks from the beginning. “It’s almost a way of life at this stage” said Marianne. “Saturday morning is sacred, and it would have to be something very important to make me miss our history walk”, she continued.
Of course, the walks are not confined to the city centre and Marianne explains that a number of walks have included trips to Kilcooley Abbey, Gowran, Bennetsbridge, Woodstock, St Mulllins, Callan, Windgap and Johnswell.
MANY SUBJECTS COVERED ON THE WALKS
Just a brief look at the notes of their records show the walkers have been informed on many topics over the years such as, the many churchmen who travelled to faraway places, the history of the GAA in Kilkenny, the opening of Nowlan park, The Churches and cemeteries of Kilkenny, the Laneways of Kilkenny, The Mills of Kilkenny along with dedicated talks on all main streets in the city. And more.
The military history of county Kilkenny and its involvement in WWI and WW2 has also featured.
Commandant Larry Scallan (retired) and Eamon Keily, have joined the group on a number of occasions to discuss topics such as The Military History of Kilkenny, The breakout from Kilkenny Gaol, Kilkenny’s war dead, The Friary street ambush and the history of James Stephens Barracks.
Having spent an hour in their company there is no doubting that there is an energy and an enthusiasm within the group that is to be admired.
Much of their walks have been broadcast on Sunday Serendipity, produced and presented by Pat Shortall on Community radio, Kilkenny City.
Reports on the walks also feature regularly in The Kilkenny Observer.
So, back to Sean ÓHargáin.
Any advice for those thinking of starting out on these walks?
“I often repeat the advice I got at the start of my fitness journey”, said Seán. “If in doubt, just get out.”
COMMITMENT AND DEDICATION TO BE ADMIRED
As a local community newspaper, we at the Kilkenny Observer can only praise the commitment and dedication shown by ‘The Saturday Walkers’ and wish them all the best as they continue to educate on the history of our beautiful city and county.
FÓGRA: Forthcoming walks for 2022 include talks on ‘The night of the big wind’; ‘Kilkenny’s ancient churches’; ‘WWI graves at Foulkstown and St Patrick’s’; ‘The story of Domhnall Mac Amhlaigh’; ‘Saint Brigid’s well, and ‘the Centenary of the takeover of James Stephens Barracks by Irish Forces’.
*‘The Saturday Local History Walkers’ meet at The horse trough on The Parade every Saturday at 11a.m