The site is of immense archaeological and historical significance. Jerpoint Park encompasses Newtown Jerpoint, a deserted medieval town of major importance. The town was founded in around 1200 AD at a crossing point of the River Nore and is located very close to the more famous Jerpoint Abbey (visible in the background of the image above). The town was probably founded by a tenant of William Marshall named Griffin fitz William brother of the famous Norman warlord Raymond le Gros (for more on some of Raymond's exploits take a look at our Baginbun post). It was a thriving and vibrant town constructed around two intersecting roads (one running north–south, the other east–west). The town was divided into around 22 burgage plots (land and buildings in a town held in tenure by a noble or lord and rented out), these plots would have had houses at least partly constructed by stone and the remains of a number of these survive today as piles of stone inside the earthen banks of the burgage plot.
|Look carefully at this image and you can see the undulations in the ground showing the outlines of burgage plots and houses|
Perhaps most significantly the town also has the remains of St. Nicholas' Church. Constructed around the time that the town was founded in around 1200 AD, the church still survives well today and is the most visible and tangible remains on the site. The church has evidence of a number of alterations over the centuries, of which the construction of a very unusual rood screen and a domestic tower where the priest would have lived in the 15th Century is the most notable.
|The Medieval Church of St. Nicholas|
The church is surrounded by a graveyard with a number of graves dating from the medieval times to the nineteenth century. The most significant by far is the grave of St. Nicholas of Myra himself, yes, Father Christmas is buried at Newtown Jerpoint in County Kilkenny (don't tell the kids).
It is thought that his remains were brought back from Bari in Italy by two knights returning from a crusade. They reburied him in this fine tomb at St. Nicholas' Church in the medieval town as they thought it would be a safer location for the remains of such an important figure.
|The tomb of St.Nicholas|
If you look closely at the photo of the tomb of St.Nicholas you can see depicted the heads of the two knights that brought his remains to Newtown Jerpoint. Having the tomb of such an important saint would have brought great wealth and prestige to the town, as pilgrims would have travelled huge distances to pray at the site of the mortal remains of St. Nicholas.
The graveyard alone is worth exploring, a large number of the gravestones, both medieval and post-medieval, are interesting for the craftsmanship and symbolism. For example if you look at the picture of a medieval graveslab below you can see how wonderfully carved it is, with the unusual depictions of a boat (upper left corner of this picture) and a sun (difficult to make out but upper right opposite the boat), you can also see a cross surrounded by intricate decoration that appears to end in fleur de lis typically associated with France. Latin script surrounds the stone. It is tempting to spend time looking at some of carvings like this one, trying to decipher the message in its symbolism.
Near the churchyard you can find the burial plot of the Hunt Family in a small enclosure, tombs there date from 1771–1975 and some are beautifully carved showing the high level of skill and craftsmanship of the stonemason.
Very little remains to be seen of the bridge today, but you can make out its original position where a large number of stones in the river force the waters to churn and break.
In the picture below follow the river along and you will see a rougher area of water between two trees - this is the possible location of the bridge
|The River Nore that forms the Northern boundary of the town|
Today Jerpoint Park is open to the public for guided tours, please see their website at http://jerpointpark.com/ for more details. Entry fee is a very reasonable €8 per person with free entry children under 12.
I honestly cannot do this place justice in writing, it has a unique and tranquil atmosphere where you can feel more connected to the past than at any other site in Ireland. Although the remains of the houses, taverns, mills and market now only survive as bumps in the field, when you are there it is easy to become immersed in the atmosphere and picture what life was like when it was a thriving town nearly 800 years ago.