The major tourist sight in the south of the county of Kilkenny is Jerpoint Abbey, which lies on the N9, 20km south of Kilkenny city. Originally founded as a Benedictine house in 1158, the abbey was colonized by Cistercians some twenty years later. The oldest remain is the twelfth-century Romanesque church, but the rest, set around a beautifully colonnaded fifteenth-century cloister, follows the characteristic Cistercian design. The abbey features a number of thirteenth- to sixteenth-century tomb sculptures in the transept chapels and some intriguing carvings on the cloister arcade, including the “little man of Jerpoint” whose stomach-crossed hands and open-mouthed expression suggest either mirth or dyspepsia.
The jumping-off point for the abbey, THOMASTOWN, 2km to the northeast, is a pleasant riverside crossroads town on the Dublin–Waterford train line, which has a decent choice of places to eat and drink, and hosts a traditional music festival over the bank holiday weekend in early August. A walled town of some note in medieval times, Thomastown now maintains scant sense of its own antiquity, other than its old bridge across the Nore and the ruined thirteenth-century church of St Mary’s at the top of the main street, Market Street.