Walkin Street was a very important thoroughfare before the Ormonde/ Callan road was built in 1817. Although narrow, it was the main entrance to the city from the Cork/ Callan direction.
The earliest mention of the street is 1302, when a grant of a stone house to William Outlaw, (son of the famous witch Alice Kyteler) near the way of Wakelyn’s Bar, later known as Walkins Gate, is mentioned. This gate, taken down in the 1780s, was one of seven gateways to Kilkenny city and stood at the junction of the Friary Church and Garden row.
The street extended from the junction of High Street and Friary Street to the Circular Road, at Poulgour Bridge.
Much discussion exists over the centuries as to its modern name “Walkin street”. In 1383 it was named “Waukennes Street” and in a 1419 deed, mention is made of Walkyne Street.
Hogan stated in 1884, the name Walkin Street was derived from the olden names when it was known as the Walkings Street and Walkings Green.
The area was noted for its walks by the lough, meadow lands, orchards, and the ancient church and well of St Rioch.
The stone house granted to William Outlaw stood at the entrance to Walkin Street from High Street, on the site of the present day Paul’s fashion shop.
On the opposite side of the street stands The Woollen Hall, an ancient building. The gable facing Walkin Street contains 17th century design.
Two windows with hooded mouldings can be viewed high up in the gable.
Tradition has it the hall door came from the Black Abbey.
This building and the adjoining Pennefeather bookshop were known as the White Hart Inn according to a 1816 map.
Three doors up from the junction with High Street were two inns standing opposite to each other.
The Munster Arms, according to Prim in 1864, was a second rate establishment, frequented by the frieze manufacturers from Counties Tipperary and Cork, when they came to the Kilkenny Fairs. It went out of business with the decline of the frieze trade. The Brazen Head was a first class Inn and was a competitor of The Sheaf (situated on the Parade) regarded as the chief inn of Kilkenny.
Further up the street stands the Capuchin Friary church, first mention of the order in Kilkenny is 1643. Their association with Walkin street goes back to 1750 when Fr Tobin’s poor house existed close to the Chapel, hence the name the Poor House Chapel.
In 1826, a Fr. Mulligan was the guardian at the Friary and was responsible for the ringing of the bells announcing Catholic Emancipation in 1829. The bells were named O Connell in honour of the Liberator and Sheil in honour of a local Catholic. He also had a cross erected on the highest gable of the church.
It was Fr Mulligan who in 1848 had a chapel built over the Poor House chapel.
A note of interest is the present Pillars, cornices and pediments surrounding the high altar came from St Mary’s church, which was known as the Old Cathedral adjacent to Wellington place. Fr Mulligan died in 1853 after which there was no representative of the Order in Kilkenny, the chapel was closed until 1855 when Fr Tommins was appointed Guardian. He was the first Friar to wear the order’s habit in public since the Reformation. Many additions and alterations have taken place over the years.
The portion of the church parallel with Friary Street was completed in 1874.
Across the lane from the Friary stands the dwelling built by Sir John Blunden in the 1830’s. This was later used as a relief office and in the last century a Dispensary.
The area of land from the city walls, towards Parnell Street and New Street was known as St Leger’s Croft. In the latter half of the 16th century, Thomas St Leger built a great dwelling on the junction of Parnell Street facing New Street. Part of this house was still standing in the late 1880s and was reputed to be the oldest house in Kilkenny prior to its demolition.
Known as Lower Walkin street for six centuries, it acquired today’s name Friary Street in the 1920s.