The Butts is without doubt Kilkenny City’s best known housing estate and I visited the immediate and general area in August 2018.
While exploring the area I came across this small cross but when I asked locals no one was able to tell me anything about the history or the purpose of the cross but they suggested that I should visit the nearby home of the greatest Elvis fan in Ireland … Myles ‘Elvis’ Kavanagh is a well-known personality around the city. He’s a big fan of Rock’n’roll legend Elvis Presley (I did get to meet him).
The Butts Cross is located at Butts Green on the south-east side of the junction with Lord Edward Street, on the north side of Kilkenny City. My understanding is that the Butts derived its name because it is an area where male citizens were compelled to practice archery by shooting at targets know as “butts”.
In the seventeenth century there were several private crosses, like that a portion of which still exists at the Butts, erected in different parts of Kilkenny by the wealthy inhabitants, as tributes to the memory of departed friends and relatives.
In 1758, when it was included on Rocque’s map, it was in the centre of the road and around 1900 it was positioned to the north-east of its current location. The cross itself is a nineteenth century pseudo-Celtic cross on a stone plinth that hold a plaque that reads: ‘Improved by Kilkenny Corporation, Michael Kennedy Mayor 1891’. The base is however much older. John Prim recorded traces of an armorial plaque to the Fagan family on the cross base, indicating it is part of a late 16th-early 17th century roadside memorial cross. Similar examples are known from Freshford and Dunamaggin, the idea being that they encouraged prayers for the soul of the deceased. Some local historians regarded the cross as a memorial for the construction of what is now known as Lord Edward Street, though this is probably incorrect
Below I have produced some accounts of events related to the cross:
The most vivid explanation for the cross however comes from young Michael Walsh of the Butts National School. Writing for the Irish Folklore Collection in 1937 he describes how an English soldier attacked a group of catholics who had congregated around the cross. The soldier’s horse reared up, felling the soldier who was killed in the accident. The soldier’s wife is said to have then erected the cross in his memory and the horse was buried beneath it! Strange as it may seem there may be a grain of truth in this story for there have been accounts of human remains found at the adjacent cross-roads. These are probably part of the graveyard that surrounded the suburban church of St Nicholas which was located somewhere in the vicinity. The memorial cross would therefore have been deliberately sited next to the church.
There is a delightful story Nancy Meade, 88 Patrick Street, Kilkenny: Many years ago when no cars were used only horses a large procession was to be seen coming out of the Church. This procession was part of the Forty Hours Adoration and the Blessed Sacrament was being carried around. From the opposite direction a horse man came into view, The gentleman was a protestant with no respect for the Blessed Sacrament and he intended to ride by without getting down from his horse. When the children saw him do this they raised their hands and ordered him to dismount. The story is that he said he would get from his horse if the horse would kneel down. As though he understood the words he immediately went down on his fore-knees and the man got down. After this amazing happening the protestant was converted and believed in the truth of the True Faith. The cross was erected in honour of this.