The history and stories of The Butts set for big screen in Kilkenny

Meeting at the Community Centre were from left : Martina Ralph, Joe Hennessy ( Hurling) Jimmy Neary (Handball) , John Brennan ( soccer) and Anthony Greene ( handball).

By Ger Cody

A new film documentary ‘The History and stories of The Butts’ is about to be screened at the ICM cinema in Kilkenny.

In olden times this place was the “Middle of Kilkenny” because all the old roadways led straight to it. It was in this square that the military practised archery. It was from the word “targets” or “butts” that it got its name.

The Kilkenny Observer caught up with project leader Gillian Grattan, Kay and John Brennan, Paddy Neary, Anthony Green, Siobhán O’Brien, Mike Kelly and Tom Casey. All involved with the making of the documentary.

A strong community

When it comes to finding a phrase or saying to describe something, it is worthwhile taking a look through one of the hundreds of books of Folklore written in the Irish language.

Our ancestors had a way of describing situations that leave other nations in the halfpenny place.

Take for example the word Meitheal.

Meitheal is the Irish word for a work team, gang, or party and denotes the co-operative labour system in Ireland where groups of neighbours help each other in turn with farming work, such as harvesting crops.

Meitheal is the Irish expression of the ancient and universal appliance of cooperation.

As we sat together in The Community Hall in The Butts, I thought the word was apt considering our surroundings and its people.

Irish proverb

Another old Irish proverb: ‘Is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na dáoine’. ‘It is in each other’s shadow that we flourish.’

That proverb, it is fair to say, covers exactly the sentiment that describes The Butts area of Kilkenny to a tee.

On Thursday December 14, a screening will take place in the IMC, titled ‘The History and stories of The Butts’

According to John Brennan, the documentary is a history and shines a light on many aspects of The Butts.

“We look at a lot of areas including The Arts, Crafts, Culture, Sports and the characters who make the community what it is” said John.

History of the Butts

When it comes to history, there are few more knowledgeable than former resident and local historian Paddy Neary who delves into the past with great knowledge and expertise. Paddy explained that he is part of a Kilkenny Saturday walkers group who visit parts of Kilkenny to discuss its history. “The Butts features regularly” added Paddy.


According to Tom Casey, who helped with the technical side of the documentary, the characters past and present are all legends in their own right and listening to their stories gave a great insight into the lives of Butts people.


The Waterbarracks was like a mini sports complex. Whether it was swimming in the Breagagh, scoring aces in the handball alley, or playing basketball on the court, the ‘Barracks was the place to be.

Mind you, there was a time when it was that busy you had to book your space. There are those of a certain age who will recall some of the best matches in the sport being played at the Waterbarracks and Kilkenny teams were well respected in the sport all over Ireland.

There are many folk strolling the streets of Kilkenny today who can recall those great days.

One such man is Seamus Ryan from Francis Terrace who wore the Robert Emmets jersey. A few years ago, Seamus recalled one match in particular when Emmets were playing in the final.

Seamus takes up the story. “I remember one day we were playing a final against Tralee ESB. It was a tense match and it was score for score. There was literally two or three minute to go with a couple of points separating the teams. The bells at close by St Canice’s church rang at six o’clock. With that, the referee blew the whistle for time out. Both teams took the cue and stopped playing to say The Angelus. On completion of reciting The Angelus, the ref blew the whistle and the match resumed.”

As Ripley would say. “Believe it or not!

A question of sport

A master of the handball alley, Anthony Green then posed a question. “What community in Kilkenny boasts the most All Ireland titles? One obvious answer would be Bennettsbridge with their haul of forty-seven All Ireland medals.

However, the former great handball player corrects. “You would have to travel a long way to top the medal haul accumulated by the Butts Community in Kilkenny city. Admittedly, we are comparing chalk and cheese. The Bennettsbridge tally is in hurling while The Butts trophy case includes a variety of sports such as, Handball, Basketball, Soccer, Snooker, Billiards and darts” added Mr Greene.

Even more incredibly, one man is responsible for what can only be described as a mountain of trophies. That man is Michael ‘Ducksie’ Walsh

Mark Hackett who arrived in the Butts in 1980 and got involved in basketball said that making this documentary has given him great enjoyment.

Tutor impressed

“A great pleasure” is how Gillian Grattan, the film making tutor and script supervisor on the project described her time working with The Butts team.

“The amount of footage they have gathered during this period is impressive to say the least”, said Gillian. “A huge archive of local history has been captured by the participants who picked up film making skills as part of the workshops.” continued the Thomastown based arts facilitator.

Gillian was particularly complimentary to Kevin Shore for provided the stunning drone footage.

A strong Arts scene

One man who has worked in the Arts all his life and was responsible for setting up such groups as Dreamstuff and Young Irish Film Makers, as well as performing in shows with an array of groups is Mike Kelly. Mike was happy to speak about the many people who contributed to the Arts scene.

KCETB Funding

Siobhán O’Brien from Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board (KCETB) said it was most enjoyable working with the Butts Community on the project, which she said she found invigorating and exciting.

If you want to know about the Butts, you could of course head for the library or Rothe House and peruse many files and articles.

Or you could save a lot of energy and read the poem printed on this page. And though the author is unknown, I think he/she hit the nail on the proverbial head.

Music used in the documentary is from the late Michael ‘Mog’ O’Grady, with kind permission of his wife Prionnsiosa.

Funding for the project was by Kilkenny ETB

The documentary ‘The History and stories of The Butts’ will be screened at the IMC Cinema Kilkenny on December 14 at 6.30p.m


The Butts

We’re from part of the town knows as the Butts
They say to live here you got to be nuts
That’s always said from people afar
Sure they don’t know us or know who we are

We’re caring we’re passionate yes some of us loud
We know we’re great people and all of us proud
We’re sports men and women and we’re from the Butts
Put us out on the playing fields and we’ll show you guts

Like all great places there are one or two flaws
But they won’t deter us or prevent our cause
Most of the time we try to achieve
To set good examples for our youth to believe

A lot of the stories about us are wrong
Articles in papers that didn’t belong
Negative stories with a negative view
It’s really annoying when most are untrue

Some amazing families came from this place
We still hear the surnames or see that face
The Ramsbottoms, the Falseys, the Cliffords, the Doyles
The Dunphys, the Clowrys, the Rowes and the Boyles
The Murphys, the Phelans I could go on, the Dewberrys, the Hayes
Quigleys and Long
Singers and dancers some with degrees
Boys in bellbottoms and girls flashing knees
We’re creative we’re talented and we’re not ones to boast
To the people of the Butts it’s to you that we toast

As kids we were described as cheeky or pups
But now with all Ireland medals or McCalmont cups
There is nothing we can’t do when we stand side by side
Because we’re from the Butts and it fills us with pride

So if you’re from the Butts then let it be known
And remember our motto

Author unknown

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