Jerpoint Park ~ Visiting the Lost Town of Newtown Jerpoint

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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.

Newtown Jerpoint, Jerpoint Park, Kilkenny, Ireland
The lost town of Newtown Jerpoint lies just past the Church of St. Nicholas.

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.

Belmore House, Jerpoint Park, Kilkenny, Ireland
Belmore House was conceived by the 1st Earl of Belmore as a hunting lodge. Construction didn't continue past the building of the servants quarters.

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.

Scones with jam and cream, Jerpoint Park, Kilkenny, Ireland
While my girls were initially unimpressed with the scones and unsure of the fresh cream, Joe showed them the proper way to enjoy this treat and they set about devouring the buttery goodness.

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.

Sheepdog Demonstration

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.

Church of St. Nicholas at Jerpoint Park, Kilkenny, Ireland
Church of St. Nicholas at Jerpoint Park

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.

St. Nicholas Grave Stone, Newtown Jerpoint, Kilkenny, Ireland
St Nicolas grave stone. At the top, hovering on either side of the saint are the likenesses of the two Crusader knights who brought his remains to Ireland.

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.

The Lost Town of Newtown Jerpoint, Kilkenny, Ireland
Looking back at the tower house from beyond Market Square

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.

River Nore at Newtown Jerpoint, Kilkenny, Ireland
Stones from the toll bridge that once provided entry to Newtown Jerpoint created rapids across the River Nore

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.

Visiting Jerpoint Park
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.

 

 

 

 

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. I just love the post of the geese and sheepdog. It looks like he is being so sneaky!

      InfiniteIreland 🙂  It was quite windy that day and the sound just wasn’t pleasant in the microphone.  Cap was being given direction from Joe.  Watching a sheepdog work is so cool!

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