Bassett’s Guide

This is Ken Kinsella talking about Bassett’s Kilkenny Guide and Directory.

Bassett’s Kilkenny Guide and Directory, published in 1884, provides an interesting commentary on life in the late 19th century. The guide gave details of the many attractions in the city and county, together with information on the archaeological, cultural, religious, economic and sporting activities. In its introduction, the editor eulogizes about the many wonderful pictures of Kilkenny and suggests that in all probability, the view of the castle from St John’s Bridge was the most charming. Today, we boast of it as being one of the most beautiful in Ireland. Butler House, a museum of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, stood at the head of Patrick Street beside one of the two remaining gateways to the ancient city.

Among the many churches and abbeys profiled, it was St Canice’s Cathedral that was given quite a praise. Other churches and abbeys to feature in the guide included the Black Abbey, a monastery of the Dominican order, said to be founded about 1225, St Mary’s protestant church, St Francis’ Abbey, St John’s Abbey and St Mary’s Cathedral. While Kilkenny may not have had much to boast about from a manufacturing point of view, its importance in 1884 was its large agricultural hinterland, upon which traders largely depended on for prosperity. Nevertheless, it did possess and impressive number of light industries and services. Worth mentioning were two large breweries and two mineral water factories. The Ormonde Woollen Mills owned by James Reid employed 100 workers, and the Kilkenny Marble Mills, established by Abraham Colles in the 18th century also had a workforce of about 100.

Sporting and leisure activities including cricket, coursing, fishing, hunting and racing. One of Kilkenny’s favourite sporting activities was coursing. Horse racing and hunting were closely associated and Kilkenny was considered to be one of the best hunting counties in the United Kingdom. There is evidence that fox-hunting existed in Kilkenny before 1650, when Lord Castlehaven in his “History of Irish Wars” mentions hunting in Kilkenny just after the Peace in 1648. John Power brought a pack of foxhounds into the county from Tipperary and settled at Derrynahinch near Ballyhale, where he established the hunt club in conjunction with his brother Richard and planned to revive the glories of the past over Whitefields of Coppanagh.

Horseracing was well-catered for in Co. Kilkenny in 1884 with fine steeple chase courses at Danesfort, Jenkinstown Park – known as the the Goodwit of Ireland – Dunmore and Whitefields. Those who had a taste for archaeology and a fondness for fishing, could find in Kilkenny an opportunity to cultivate one and gratify the other. Although Kilkenny had no angling club, anglers could obtain information on fishing privileges from selected hotels.

Aquatic sports suffered from the many dams on the river Nore and the clearest stretch of water from Ormonde Mills to Greens Bridge was better suited for paddling than vigorous rowing.

In 1884, Kilkenny Castle was the home of James Edward Butler, 3rd Marquess of Ormonde, who with his wife Elizabeth Harriet Grosvenor entertained British royalty at the castle in a final aristocratic episode. He died in 1919 and was the last Marquess of Ormonde to live in Kilkenny Castle.

[transcribed by A.-K. Distel]