I’ve been to Kilkenny on one previous occasion last century. I spent a weekend there during the annual Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival back in 1998. Memories of that excursion are coated with the mists of time. I vaguely remember seeing Alan Davies live, and that’s pretty much it. My views on Kilkenny are probably influenced by my mother – a proud Cork-woman who sees the county through the prism of the All-Ireland hurling championship. Since that time I have learned about Kilkenny’s medieval history and how popular it is among tourists due to its beauty. I also know that, despite having a population of only 26,000 people, it is not a town. It is city. A city by charter at least – due in part to its castle; two cathedrals and that fact that in ancient times it was the capital of Ireland.
Online I went – to book a bed and breakfast. My choice was the Celtic House which apparently was where Daniel and Majella O’Donnell stayed on their B and B tour of Ireland. If it’s good enough for wee Daniel then it’s good enough for me I thought to myself.
The train to Kilkenny departs from Heuston Station. I felt a thrill of excitement and I entered the old building. It’s a far more impressive edifice than the nearby Connolly Station from where I go on my Dublin seaside village trips. The train to Kilkenny was fairly empty which pleased me. Less chance of pestilence on an empty train – logic would dictate this anyway.
My Kilkenny friend met me at the station. I checked into my room, and we headed for the grounds of Kilkenny Castle. Owned by the Butlers of Ormonde dynasty this medieval castle and grounds have been restored to their original splendour, having been sold to the people of Kilkenny for £50 in 1967, and are now maintained by the Office of Public Works. We took a wander around the vast grounds. They are beautiful – I particularly enjoyed the area around the pond. The Monument to Missing Persons – brass hands in a column reaching to the sky – was quite chilling.
Our 7pm dinner reservation was for the Asian fusion restaurant Aroi in the centre of town. The food was delicious. I chose the Indonesian noodle dish Mee Goreng Mamak, which I know from my days in Amsterdam. My friend chose the lamb curry. They were washed down with Tiger beer. After dinner we took a wander around town. The centre of the city has maintained its medieval layout with a series of laneways (or slips) leading to the High Street. I noticed the original Smithwick’s Brewery and marked it on my Sunday agenda. The castle was lit up at night, standing majestic, overlooking the town. We wandered to the walkway along the Nore river to the World War One memorial where we relived our teenaged years by drinking a bottle of prosecco out of plastic glasses. Well the night was still young and the two hours in the restaurant has passed by in a flash.
After my breakfast on Sunday I made my way to town early. Nothing was open before 10am however – a consequence of the lack of tourists compared to normal circumstance perhapds. At 10am we strolled to the Castle where we did the self-guided tour. A bargain at only eight euros entrance it is an impressive building. It is preposterously grand – with the portrait gallery quite breath-taking. My friend used to be a tour guide in the castle during her feckless youth and she pointed out that there was a deliberate flaw on every tapestry hanging from the wall – as only God can create perfection. I counted the six toes on the food of the subject of one of the tapestries.
After the castle tour we hit the churches. The Dominican Black Abbey has a stunning display of stained glass. When Oliver Cromwell engaged in his seventeenth century campaign of murder and carnage across Ireland, he drive his horses through these windows and used the church as a stable. St. Mary’s catholic cathedral is a magnificent structure on which no expense was spared. It was built as millions were dying of starvation and disease during the Famine. There was a shrine to Saint Victoria within. She was brutally slaughtered while making her first holy communion. At least she lives on in that gaudy shrine. St. Canice’s protestant cathedral is the oldest medieval church in Ireland. The Round Tower beside it, is probably its most famous feature. Sadly thanks to Covid the tower was shut, so we couldn’t climb to the summit. We passed through a passageway behind the Supervalu (formerly a convent) which is a noticeable for the nuns entombed in the wall.
The Smithwick’s tour was also off the agenda thanks to the Plague. This didn’t upset me too much. I realised that as that tour was owned by Diageo, I’d be paying good money for a two hour advertisement.
Lunch was consumed at Dore’s coffee shop. The club sandwich was a delicious meal for two. We each had one.
Having spent a whirlwind twenty four hours in Kilkenny we had a cup of coffee in the old workhouse – which is now a shopping centre – before I boarded the train back to Dublin. Kilkenny is a wonderful city – ideal for a weekend break. I won’t wait another twenty years before I visit again.