Walking the walk…

Walking the walk… Nevin Cody and Brendan Byrne on the tour.
Tours can open up our Irish history in new ways, writes Colm Fitzpatrick


Historical and religious tours can often be reduced to drab, monotonous circuits where bland facts are reeled off one after the other, with the enthusiasm of a teetotaller at an open bar. Putting a twist on this all too common experience, an innovative Kilkenny walk is instead offering visitors the chance to explore Ireland’s Medieval Mile cityscape through the lens of magic and mirth.

The Shenanigans Kilkenny Walking Tour is a factual based outing of the city’s past, delving into the history of religious monuments and other ancient sites, weaved in between humorous bits of magic and unique anecdotes. Unlike other tours, where guides are “very serious about the history”, the walk prides itself in regaling information about this part of Ireland’s ancient East while dumbfounding visitors, all with a side dollop of laughter.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic about the tour, organiser Nevin Cody said that Ireland has an “awful lot” to offer and Kilkenny is a key example of this, adding that the city is well-renowned for its ancient history. Indeed, there’s no doubt that Nevin is the best man to be recounting tales of its past given he is a native of the area, having absorbed its sights and smells for decades.

“It’s designed in a way that anyone can come and enjoy it, even if you know a little bit about the city – it’s lovely and entertaining,” he says.


The tour, which begins at Kilkenny Castle, is run by Nevin and professional-comedy magician Brendan Byrne, who try to convey the stories their telling through the medium of conjuring.

“Far too often magic is done very much in the context of ‘I fooled you’ or ‘I tricked you’. I’ve never been that type of magician because nobody likes to be fooled and nobody likes to be tricked. However, if something magical happens, there’s many magical things that happen on our tour and the tricks we perform help us to tell a story.

“But some of the other magic helps people just start talking to one another as we go along, and making new friends,” Nevin explains.

During the walk, tourists are mystified by mind-reading, vanishing bottles, and rope tricks, as well as a section where the guides scramble through the busy streets blindfolded. The magic, however, plays a secondary role in the tour as Nevin is keen to emphasise how important the city’s religious and secular history has impacted Ireland today.

“I think it’s important, because we can’t live anywhere without knowing where we’ve come from, and while there’s many different views nowadays about the Church, the reality is that it’s part of our past and part of our history.

“It’s part of time where there was a strong community, towns bonded together much stronger than they do nowadays,” Nevin says, noting that today’s society which is more “individually-based” can learn from this practice.

Any avid Irish historian will be acutely aware of the religious significance of Kilkenny, given that the city is inundated with ecclesiastical landmarks ranging from St Mary’s Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1857 to the Black Abbey, established in 1225 as one of the first houses of the Dominican Order in Ireland. Kilkenny itself gets its title from an early 6th-Century foundation named after St Canice – now St Canice’s Cathedral – which was a massive monastic centre from at least the 8th Century.

There are plenty of tombstones that are unique to the Cathedral, and tourists with a keen interest in the structure can look inside to view the See Chair of the Bishop of Ossory dating back to 1120.

Listing out the religious areas of Kilkenny, Nevin says, “The monks settled here in St Francis’ Abbey, they brought knowledge, education, and they brought beer.” While this line is usually greeted with a chuckle, he points out that beer was actually the bulwark of the city because water was generally dirty and undrinkable. It’s often quirky and unknown facts like this that help us understand the past in a new and thought-provoking way, allowing tourists to appreciate the living, breathing stories behind these landmarks.

“I think it’s part of our requirement that we look after the legacy that was left to us and some of those things have other uses – but even just from a purely architectural point of view, they’re incredible structures,” Nevin says.

The tour has been a glowing success so far, Nevin explains, noting that the walk has ranged from two right up to 40 or 50 tourists, all of whom have had a “really positive reaction”. It takes place every Thursday and Friday from March to October, and includes corporate, schools and private group bookings. Nevin adds that the tour is malleable, so a specific request to focus on a religious structure or city building can be arranged.

Although the prestidigitation is incredible  and amusing, the true value of the tour is found in different people coming together to learn about their shared past in an enjoyable and social format.

“The real magic is a bunch of humans having a bit of fun together, learning about some new places, that’s the magic.”

To find out more about the Shenanigans Kilkenny Walking Tour, or to book, see: https://shenaniganswalks.com/