I lived in Kilkenny for 6 years and its a place that will always have a special place in my heart. My parents still live about 8 miles south of the town and this gives me the opportunity to go back (unfortunately only about once a year).
Last year I sent an extremely stressed Italian friend of mine to stay with my parents. I sent her a message asking her to describe Kilkenny city. She replied alive, colourful, sweet, fascinating and romantic.
Kilkenny, which was one of Irelands most important medieval cities, is full of history and whispers from the past. It gives the impression of a young, modern city as you approach it, but the nearer you draw to the centre, the quainter it gets, it breathes history and culture. When ever I go back there it's like a breath of fresh air.
The city can be seen on foot as everything is within easy walking distance. You can see many beautifully restored medieval buildings along its streets (High Street is the main street and considered the centre) which are joined by winding, cobbled slipways.
Kilkenny was named after a 6th century monk, St. Canice. The tower next to the cathedral is the only thing that remains from the original settlement of St. Canice. If you're not afraid of heights you can to the top - I thing I've never had the coutage to do.
St. Canices, the 13th century Church of Ireland cathedral, which is absolutely beautiful, sits high on a hill overlooking the city. You cant go to Kilkenny without paying homage to this magnificent building.
- the 12th century Kilkenny Castle, one of most beautiful Norman-built castles in Ireland. There are guided tours, an art gallery, a café, extensive grounds and a childrens play area. Open 10.30am - 12.45pm, 2pm - 5pm.
- The Castle Yard opposite the Castle is a haven for lovers of beautiful and original things with several workshops where they make and sell among others beautiful woollen, silver, pottery and bronze objects. Opening hours: Mon - Sat 10am to 6pm. Closed Sun.
- Shee Alms House on Rose Inn Street. It actually now houses the Tourist Office so its a handy stop. Built in the 16th century, its purpose was to look after the poor. It is one of the only buildings of its kind in Ireland still standing.
-The Tholsel on High Street which is now the City Hall. A beautiful limestone building, the front of which is an arcade, it was the marketplace.
- Rothe House on Parliament Street, a Tudor townhouse which consists of 3 house with courtyards. Inside is the archaeological museum and library and genealogical centre. Open Monday to Saturday 10.30am to 5.00pm & Sun 3pm to 5pm. Closed 24th Dec to 2nd Jan.
- the Black Abbey built in the 13th century for the Dominicans.
- St. Francis Abbey from the 13th century. Today its ruins mark the location of Smithwicks Brewery, famous for Smithwicks and Kilkenny ales. You can only view it from outside the gates but its incredible to see it standing amidst the busy factory buildings.
- the pubs - you'll never have seen such a variety and you certainly won't be bored (please note that I don't mention the pubs for the drinking!).
OTHER AREAS OF INTEREST
- St. Johns Priory built in the 13th century for the Augustinians. Now mostly its ruins remain. The Ladys Chapel was renovated in the 19th century and is now used for Church of Ireland services. The Chapel has many windows and is often referred to as the Lantern of Ireland.
- the Hole in the Wall, a Tudor building, which was one of the most well-known inns of its time. Many distinguished visitors came here to drink the local ale and carouse the night away, one such visitor was the Duke of Wellington! The Hole in the Wall isnt open to the public at the moment but its worth a look.
Kilkenny has been known as the Marble City for centuries famous for its black marble. What looks exactly like beautiful black marble with a few white streaks is in fact polished limestone with white fossils running through it, quarried from nearby. The castle has many beautiful examples.
Each year there are several important festivals which are hugely popular. Some call it the Festival Capital of Ireland.
Some of the best known festivals are:
- The Cats Laugh, a week of celebrated stand-up comedians and improvisers from all around the world a definite for a good laugh usually held in June;
- Kilkenny Arts Week, usually in August, where the city fills with artists from far and wide who put their work on exhibit. There is also a variety of other events such as literary readings, jazz & folk sessions, and so on;
- The Carlsberg Rhythmn Roots Festival a definite if you like country, jazz or traditional music which is held over the Bank Holiday May weekend.
Its an internationally claimed centre for craft and design.
Because of Kilkennys huge tourism industry and festival activity, accommodation, restaurants and of course pubs (at last count there were 74 pubs) are in good supply and of a very good quality.
Hotels, guesthouses and Bed & Breakfast are in abundance. 5 star hotel prices can start from 100 per person sharing go as high as 200 depending on the season. Guesthouses are from 40+ pp. Bed & Breakfasts 25+ pp. There are also one or two hostels with prices from 15 pp.
What you choose depends on you really. When I go back to Ireland I prefer B&Bs as they're more homely. In Kilkenny I've obviously never been in a B&B - I go to my parents house but I used to work in a tourist accomodation agency in Kilkenny and the accommodation is generally of a very high standard.
There are plenty of restaurants Chinese, Italian, French, Indian, Spanish and Irish. All are good but fairly pricey. You cant get away from it. Ireland has become an expensive place to do anything.
Lunch is the best time to eat out. Many pubs have pub grub and its a good way to eat out. Irish homemade soup and homemade brown bread is scrumptious and very traditional.
Youll find chippers (fish & chip shops) everywhere a novelty for Europeans as theyre used to the thin French fries.
Kilkenny has a number of high-quality craft and fashion shops and quite a few UK High Street chains among others.
THINGS TO DO
- If you like horse riding, Kilkenny County is full of equestrian centres.
- For golf lovers theres plenty, including Mount Juliet near Thomastown which is where the Irish Open was held a few times expensive though, not bad for lunch.
- Kilkenny has a wonderful theatre called the Watergate on Parliament Street.
- Most evenings there will be traditional music in one of the pubs especially during the summer, just walk along the main streets and your ear will do the rest
- If you want to visit towns around Kilkenny some of which are very beautiful such as Graiguenamanagh famous for its Duiske Crystal and Abbey then check out www.ringalink.ie for buses.
HOW TO GET THERE
Both Cork Airport and Dublin Airport are within a 2-hour drive.
A bus from either airport goes to both the bus and train stations.
- by train (Iarnrod Eireann is the national service please note that trains are very expensive in Ireland and the directions you can go limited, even if the service is good)
from Cork: you cant get a direct route youll have to go to Waterford first and so the journey will be long 3hrs+
from Dublin: a direct route will get you into Kilkenny city in about 2 hrs
for more info go to: http://www.irishrail.ie/home/
- by bus (Bus Eireann is the national service)
from Cork: there are buses from Cork to Kilkenny but be careful not all are direct and you may have to change
from Dublin: there are buses directly from Dublin to Kilkenny. A good idea is to check Kavanaghs buses as they sometimes go directly from the airport - http://www.rapidexpress.ie/default.asp.
(I prefer not to put times as they can change from time to time better to check yourselves directly.)
for more info go to: http://www.buseireann.ie/site/home/
Please note that life in Ireland is expensive - it has become one of the most expensive countries to live in, in Europe and so things may seem expensive.
A coffee can cost up to 2.50. Last I heard a sandwich for lunch started from 4.
If you stay in a B&B then take advantage of the big breakfast and stock up - eat your fill, you'll find that it lasts well into the day!