Edward J Law (2013)
At the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th Kilkenny Corporation encouraged the establishment of inns or taverns, for the benefit of visitors to the town. In 1613 licences were granted for four taverns. Richard Inwood, an innkeeper, issued a token in 1661 which has been said to depict a windmill. However, he was the tenant of the market cross, and his token probably shows the cross, which may have been the sign of his inn.
Initially the main purpose of inns was to provide accomodation and food for visitors, and through the 1700s much emphasis was laid on the amount of stabling an inn could offer. The Brazen Head could house 50 horses, The Jolly Farmer and the Rose Inn 30 each and the George, in Irishtown, 20.
In 1775 the Garter in Rose Inn Street was the starting point for the Dublin stage coach, which would have made both Inn and street bustling places. Coaches were replaced by the railway in the 1850s and some inns provided carriage from the station to the city as well as hiring horses and vehicles for local journeys. In 1829 The Bush Tavern as well as offering chaises and jaunting cars also hired out a newly built hearse.
The principal inn through the 1700s was the Sheaf of Wheat which for almost 100 years was associated with just two families, the Blunts and the Reynolds. Their cook for many years was David Tobin who died in 1783 reputedly aged over 100, when it was said that he had not been 40 yards from the kitchen for many years. At the end of the century Ned Hawkins who had been a waiter at the Sheaf started the Bush Tavern which only closed when it was replaced by the Imperial Hotel on the corner of the Parade and Rose Inn Street.
The proprietor of The Hole in the Wall for many years to his death in 1807, was Tom Clayton who had been valet to the Earl of Ormonde. The Earl’s butler, Patrick Magennis, went on to run the King’s Arms in John Street for 40 years from about 1800.
Inns changed names and came and went down the centuries, often leaving few traces. What now of the Sheaf of Wheat, The King’s Arms, The Brazen Head, The Garter, the Red Lion or The Munster Arms. Often their survival depended on the quality of the hospitality or a particular custom. It is said that the Munster Arms which was founded in Walkin Street in the 1680s struggled as the frieze or cloth fairs declined and by 1771 it had been converted to housing.
The Sheaf probably prospered on the hospitality of the Reynolds family. It had four or five landlords in the twenty years after Francis Reynolds ceased to hold it in 1795 to its closure in 1817. But it could have had a declining reputation even in the Reynolds’ time. About 1790 when the Assize courts travelled from town to town it was the custom of the legal men of the Leinster Circuit to take dinner at the Sheaf. The first member to arrive in the city advised the host how many to expect and the tables would be prepared for them. On one occasion only four turned up when twenty had been expected, and the full cost was demanded. The lawyers felt obliged to pay, but also justified in locking the door, throwing open the windows onto Rose Inn Street and treating the citizens to a sumptuous take-away of beef, turkey and the best of desserts. A lovely anecdote, but was it the start of the decline of Kilkenny’s leading inn?