What an amazing story last week, where it was confirmed that the skelton remains found underneath a car park in Leicester was of
King Richard 111 .
What amazing Heritage ….. With the remarkable history at Jerpoint Park where records documented from 1279 … wouldn’t it be amazing if an archaeological dig was granted and unearthed a find like Richard 111. Now that would be Amazing Heritage !!!
The Farmers Journal …. Country Living Magaine featured Jerpoint Park By Maria Moynihan
How many families can claim to have the tomb of
St Nicholas on their farm? Step forward the O’Connells of Newtown Jerpoint.
Maria Moynihan reports. It seems Newtown Jerpoint was party central back in the 14th century.
“There were 27 houses; and 14 of those were taverns,” laughs Maeve O’Connell.
“And the court was held every Monday,” adds her husband Joe, wryly. “Maybe because they had so many pubs.”
Not that there’s such debauchery if you visit the site of Newtown Jerpoint today – a stone’s throw from the famous abbey in Co Kilkenny – which was one of the most significant medieval towns in Ireland; mostly due to the tomb of St Nicholas.
Yet it was later deserted and almost lost to local lore, until the O’Connells opened the site to the public as Jerpoint Park.
Not that they realised it when they bought Belmore House in 2005 as a family home with their children Annabel (now seven) and Nicholas (four).
Originally from Waterford, Joe was involved in pig farming for most of his career, while Maeve worked for a vet. The couple were living in Ballyhale when Joe saw the sale sign for the house at Jerpoint, which was built as a hunting lodge for the first Earl of Belmore in the late 1700s.
Oozing with character
“It’s not a ‘farmer’s farm’, but it’s oozing with character,” says Joe. “We had a lady here last year and she said this is where time stands still. It has that feel to it.”
While the couple were vaguely aware of the site’s historical significance, they only realised its real importance after a number of meetings with the OPW and Heritage Council, which describes it as “one of Ireland’s best surviving examples of a deserted 12th century medieval town”.
“There’s a conservation plan of about 150 pages, solely for here,” says Maeve, who explains that the town also boasted a brewery and woollen mill as well as two water wheels.
The main reason Jerpoint became such a hub was because the Crusaders supposedly brought a relic of St Nicholas – the Turkish bishop renowned for his generosity – back to kick start pilgrimages to the abbey.
However, the dissolution of Jerpoint during Henry VIII’s reign – coupled with the Black Death – meant that the town was eventually deserted.
While the tomb and ruins of the Church of St Nicholas still stand today, very little else remains of the once thriving-town; at least to the naked eye.
Yet Maeve and Joe realised the site’s potential, and in April 2011, opened Jerpoint Park, offering guided tours at a very reasonable €5 per adult (kids go free) to bring the history to life.
Homemade scones and tea and coffee are served in the elegant surrounds of Belmore House, while other attractions include a sheepdog demonstration and private angling on the estate, which still functions as a tillage, sheep and horse farm.
The O’Connells are aiming primarily at the tour bus market, and hope to become a fixture on itineraries for 2013. Feedback so far has been promising.
“One lady told us, ‘This is exactly what we’re being asked for, a real Irish family experience’,” says Maeve.
They are also happy to welcome other tours, such as retirement, ICA and history groups, as well as families.
“It’s such an honour having people come in,” says Joe. “Most farmers who are at home don’t see anybody from one end of the week to the other.
“Every 10 minutes, we have a new person come in here that wants to visit us.”
And while they didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for back in 2005, it seems it was meant to be.
“My father was Nicholas, we have a son called Nicholas because of granddad and we got married on the feast of St Nicholas, not knowing any of this” laughs Maeve. “We have Nicholas-itis!” CL
Spring has arrived, so enjoy the flurry of blooms.