When my family visited Jerpoint Abbey in 2008, the legends and tales of the abbey and surrounding area stayed with us. As we explored the unique cloister carvings, one stood out and caught our attention. The carving seemed to be a bishop of some import. Local legend said that a nearby church, the Church of St Nicholas, was the final resting place of St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. Though we still don't know who the carving actually features, the opening of Jerpoint Park, just west of Jerpoint Abbey, has made visiting St. Nicholas Church and the recently ‘discovered' lost town of Newtown Jerpoint an intriguing journey into the past.
Visiting Jerpoint Park
Founded in the 12th century, Newtown Jerpoint was a thriving village. A destination for pilgrims visiting Jerpoint Abbey, the town boasted a woolen mill, a court house, a tannery, a brewery and, according to legend, had 14 taverns and 27 dwelling houses. And then, nearly 500 years ago, the town simply vanished. Likely due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, when the King became the supreme head of the church and centers of worship were disbanded, their relics pilfered and their assets and income claimed for the throne.
Today Newtown Jerpoint sits on private land (as do many of Ireland's treasures) and is again ‘open for business' after 500 years as Joe and Maeve O'Connell welcome visitors to their home.
Tea at Belmore House
Before embarking on a guided tour of Newtown Jerpoint, enjoy a light tea in Belmore House. As Maeve seats you in the beautiful sitting room, she apologizes for showing you into the servants quarters.
Belmore House was to be a grand hunting lodge. Envisioned by the 1st Earl of Belmore, only the servants quarters were completed and, after two generations, the land went back to its previous owners, the Hunt family.
Once seated in the lovely room, Maeve serves her delicious scones- with plenty of fresh cream and jam to cover them. Tea and coffee are offered, with an option of hot cocoa for the kids.
As you enjoy your tea, Joe and Maeve share the history of Belmore House and their own tale of how they came to own what was then only a local legend. Joe spins an enticing tale, complete with props that include an artist's rendering of what the village likely looked like, the original blueprints Belmore House, and the Heritage Conservation Plan for Newtown Jerpoint. Riveted by his story and passion for the project, you barely register that the scones have been eaten and the tea is gone.
It's time to venture outside.
Before you begin your tour, it's likely Joe will introduce you to Cap, his Border Collie. An expert at herding both sheep and geese, Cap puts on quite a show for visitors.
Heritage Tours of Newtown Jerpoint
If you have time restraints, be sure to let Joe know before your tour begins. Our tour lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours- and could have gone on longer. It's obvious Joe has spent time learning of St. Nicholas and Newtown Jerpoint and he is passionate to share his information.
Beginning your tour from atop the hill, you can see how the village was laid out below. The intersecting roadways arrive from multiple directions, meeting in what was once the center of village trade just beyond the remaining wall of a tower keep. Just beyond the ivy covered walls* of St Nicholas Church, the tower of Jerpoint Abbey rises above the tree tops.
Your tour will take you through the Hunt Cemetery, St. Nicholas Church and the churchyard where the earthly remains of St. Nicholas are said to lie.
The amount of information Joe shares, from interesting tidbits about tombstones in the yard to the unique features of the church, is astounding. Thankfully Joe enjoys answering questions as my girls and I were filled with them. The more he shares, the more you want to know.
Exiting the church grounds via the ‘kissing gate', Joe begins laying out the town for you. As you walk along East-West Street to Market Square, houses and shops begin to take shape. The tower keep, likely belonging to Newtown Jerpoint's wealthiest merchant, rises before you. The busy-ness of market day, the posting of notices on the massive tree in the center of town, and the whirring of the water wheels are all easy to hear as Joe brings the town to life.
Newtown Jerpoint was bordered on two side by rivers; the River Arrigle powered the water wheels while the River Nore was deep enough to allow ships in from the the Celtic Sea, making Newtown Jerpoint a shipping center. Rapids are all that mark where the stone toll bridge crossed the River Nore. As Joe leads you back toward the house he tells of terrific wild Salmon and wild Brown Trout fishing that he hosts from St. Patrick's Day through the end of September.
As you are led to a high point behind Belmore House, the present begins to return. Gazing across the land he has chosen to care for, Joe says, “This is a place where time stands still,” and, silently nodding, you agree.
|Jerpoint Park is a terrific stop for anyone interested in Irish history and heritage.Entrance to the heritage site is €8 per adult. Tours last a minimum of 30 minutes.All tours are guided; self touring is not an option at this time.The Belmore House Tea Room is open daily in July & August. Available for group booking all year round by appointment. 00 353 86 6061449 contact Maeve. Additional cost applies.
A treehouse and swing perched in the large front yard tree invites the kids out to play.
Wear good walking shoes and suitable clothing.
Though not required, I suggest contacting Jerpoint Park prior to your visit.
Jerpoint Park has a children's activity workbook to help kids better understand the history surrounding Jerpoint Park. It's fun and really helps get the kids involved.
*Note: Just before our arrival, Joe had received word that Jerpoint Park had been awarded a grant to aid in the removal of ivy from the church. A slow and tedious process, ivy removal must be done in stages to maintain the stability of the church's walls.