Drinking with Witches and Heretics
Kyteler’s Inn is a truly medieval pub
In St. John’s we like to think we have some old stuff. Founded in 1497, we’re the oldest city in North America. We’ve got nothing on Europe, however. Our oldest pub is only 35 years old for Pete’s sake! Something’s just not right there. I love old buildings steeped with history and imagining all the things those walls have seen. They make me feel connected to the past and all the people who’ve stood on that same spot. So when I was planning my trip to Ireland and learned about a 687 year old pub I knew I had to visit.
Kyteler’s Inn was established in 1324 in Kilkenny, Ireland’s medieval city. You just know that a pub that old is going to have a colourful, dark past and this one doesn’t disappoint. Dame Alice Kyteler was born in Kilkenny to a Hiberno-Norman family. Over her life she amassed a considerable fortune and picked up four husbands along the way. Back in the 14th century a woman doing such things was bound to ruffle a few feathers so when, on his deathbed, her fourth husband accused her of poisoning him, it led to her being charged as a witch and a heretic. With the help of some powerful friends she fled, presumably to England, and disappeared from history books leaving the inn behind.
Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of Kilkenny today feels like going back in time. You almost expect to see knights and horses around each corner, perhaps a minstrel. Inside the pub, the thick stone walls and bare beams do little to diminish the feeling. Coats of arms, bits of armour and swords decorate the walls. I’m almost surprised to see the room lit by light bulbs rather than torches and candles.
The setting calls for something appropriately hearty and pubbish to eat. Soon a plate of bangers and mash with a pint of Smithwick’s is laid in front of me. It was devilishly good. Playing in to the building’s history they serve dishes such as Witch’s Brew and Dame Alice carrot cake. There are four main areas on this level and lots of nooks and crannies so it feels like you could always find a private corner. Oh if those walls could talk!
As it has been for the last almost 700 years, the pub is a gathering place for locals. There’s live music every night of the week and though it was a weeknight, the place was packed. As if I needed more examples of just how small this world really is, it turns out that I have at least one mutual acquaintance in Newfoundland with one of tonight’s musicians. Figures. The music was the lively, rollicking stuff you expect to hear in an Irish pub, a mix of tunes and sing-along songs.
I came away with some fond memories of my evening at Kyteler’s Inn. I expect the merriment and good times to last another 700 years. Do you like old buildings with character too? What’s the oldest establishment you’ve ever visited?