Walkin’s Lough

Walkins Lough

Edward J. Law (2012)

Walkin Street in Kilkenny is said to have been named during the 16th and 17th centuries when, with the city enclosed by stout walls, it was the only area where the citizens of the High town could promenade or walk. If evidence were needed that this is completely unfounded we need only refer to a deed of 1305, over 200 years earlier, which mentions Walkins Bar, that is: the Walkin gate.
Walkin Street passes St Rock’s Church, and associated with the church was a holy well, the source, it is said, of Walkins Lough. We are told that the water flowed gently from the well through orchards and the open common to James’s Green and down to the river Breagagh at Black Mill. But, as the open lands were enclosed & developed the flow was stemmed, and a lake grew around the well.
As in most traditions all dates are lacking, so we don’t know when this transformation is supposed to have happened. Rocque’s map of 1758 shows that the lough was then a considerable body of water. A few years later, in 1772, the local newspaper carried a notice that upwards of 2,000 small carp had been put into the lough, in the hope that they would be an entertainment to the public. The stocking with fish may have been undertaken by the Corporation, for the notice goes on to warn of severe punishment for anyone annoying them, with the Mayor encouraging the submission of information by the offer of a reward. There was pollution then as now, for among the particular offences which were anticipated were the steeping of hides dressed with lime and the washing of tobacco cloths. If these hadn’t killed the fish they certainly would have annoyed them.
The Patron’s or Pattern Day of St Rocks is the 1st of August and the day would have been given over to merrymaking, drinking and entertainment on Walkins Green. The Pattern continued into the 1830s before being ended by the church. A couple of years before it ended a particularly warm summer saw most of the water evaporate leaving only a central pool. Around that, and beside the old cemetery, a variety of stalls and booths were erected to provide food, drink, dancing and other amusements. On that occasion two monsters were seen in the pond and were brought to the side by the use of poles, when they were found to be eels, five feet in length. Perhaps they had survived on the carp, of which there was no mention.
Another legend is that a prophecy foretold that the city would one day be drowned by the Lough and that the Corporation were alarmed into action. Whilst the Corporation did construct a drain down Walkin Street, and so into the river, it was no doubt for practical purposes rather than in fear of the supposed prophecy. It was clearly of benefit to the city to have the land drained and brought back into productive use, with the income that would generate for the city.
Hogan, the Kilkenny historian, states that Gaol Road, (where Fair Green and the Fire station are now located,) was created about 1828 and that the drainage pipe was laid then. This may relate to the reduction in extent of the lake, for it was still in existence in 1840, reduced to about a third of the area it had covered in 1758. It must still have been quite deep for it was the scene of a drowning in 1840.
Hogan records that the proposed draining of the lough aroused considerable interest and the opening of the drain drew large crowds. Before the loosing of the waters James Sheeney, the last person executed on the Gallows at John’s Green, crawled through the whole length of the conduit, down to the river. With his escapade completed the waters were unleashed to the cheers of the crowd and the lough was drained.
There was of course no danger to Sheeney. As the old proverb records, he who was born to be hanged will not be drowned.