Kilkenny Pastimes: Religious Plays

Written and read by Paddy Neary (2018)

These religious or mystery plays originated in the wish of the clergy to substitute for the profane games with which the people were amused. The plays whilst giving entertainment they would also inculcate a moral lesson to the people. They were at first performed in churches and by members of religious communities, but gradually were performed in the open air about the 13th century, and soon the characters were performed by the young men of the various trades. Plays were no doubt performed in Kilkenny but the earliest recorded date is August 20th 1552, when two of Bishops Bales’ plays were performed. Bale himself recorded “The young men in the fore noon played a tragedy of God’s Promises” at the Market Cross. In the afternoon they played St John’s Preachings of Christ’s Baptism. Festivals such as Easter and Christmas were usually selected for the performances. The Corporation in 1610 ordered that Corpus Christi be celebrated and carpenters be employed to make rails for keeping out horses and mob. July of the same year the Corporation allowed a salary of 20s for allowing the apparel used by players on Corpus Christi and the Resurrection. A sum of £3-13s-4d be granted to William Consey in 1631 for teaching the children of the natives to read and write for the play on Corpus Christi. Why the Corporation should patronise the plays is obvious for they not only helped to draw people away from other modes of recreation regarded as evil, but drew greater attendance to the Corpus Christi Fair and thereby increased the trade of the City. The mysteries or plays continued to be performed in Kilkenny until 1650 when they were discontinued and put down as offensive to the Cromwellians who had settled in the City.

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