6:40 am on a Sunday and there I was with Karli and the two dogs, outside Ulster Bank (Georges Quay) staring at the sun coming up over Dublin city and waiting for the JJ Kavanagh & Sons bus to take us off to Kilkenny, one of the first places I’ve been to outside Dublin city. The bus arrives, and Bogdan the bus driver greets us with a smile and plops our case in the luggage compartment. “ALL ABOARD”!
It’s a two hour trip to Kilkenny town along an unfamiliar, yet familiar route as we drive through my old town Naas with the sun still rising behind and around us. The rolling countryside hills complete with farm life, telephone and electric poles roll past us in our cosy seats; the dogs curled up in their bags and I’m tweeting away on my iPad (way too early for any sane individual to tweet me back).
Somewhere down the line, I realise I’m waking up and it’s incredibly bright out! I look around me and I see Castlecomer Discovery Park flash by. It looks magical; like something out of a fairy tale with its ‘elf villages’ and tree trails; I promise myself we’ll be coming back here on the journey back to check it out.
The bus drops us off at the end of the town and we make our way through the city at 9 am on a Sunday morning. It is quiet. It is eerily quiet and we got a chance to appreciate just how beautifully different from Dublin city Kilkenny actually is. The buildings are all old; they’re very old and they’re also absolutely gorgeous. The streets are cobbled and the colours seem somehow brighter.
A walk along the Castlecomer road opens up onto John’s bridge and the town proper. The view from the bridge is absolutely magnificent; the stunning walls of the castle on one side, Rivercourt Hotel on the other and the wide expanse of the river Nore flowing through the middle… looking north it’s a perfectly picturesque scene with the old colourful houses on the right hand side.
Now came our first dilemma. It’s just after 9 am on a Sunday morning. Where could we get breakfast?! Being a Sunday there were quite a few places that wouldn’t be open for a while, if they would be open at all! We crossed over the bridge in search of a cup of tea (and warmth!) and came across the cutest little sweet shop I think I may have ever seen.
Kitty’s Cabin is at the very end of the bridge is a treasure trove for the young and the young at heart! Sweets and sweet treats from around the world completely line the shelves and there’s even a hatch on the side door where you can grab a cuppa tea for a chilly March morning! They’re open every morning at 8:30 and there was a group of older gentleman with their hands cupped around steaming paper cups of tea.
It was just about 9:30 when the wheels came off our little excursion… The heavens opened making us cold and quite wet indeed! I tweeted an SOS and was told to try to get some shelter at the Rivercourt Hotel. I had to ring ahead because of the dogs and was told by a lovely lady to come on down! On arrival, the team there were so happy and helpful and even opened up a bar for us to sit down with the dogs and get dry. Over teas and hot chocolates (topped perfectly with the freshest cream) we were so impressed we had to rate them online… 5 stars of course! Definitely a place to check into!
As the skies cleared up, the view from the hotel of the river Nore could really be appreciated! It’s absolutely stunning! We took a walk onto St Kiernan’s street and into easily the most accessible restaurant I’ve been in in Ireland so far. Marble City is something else; the St Kiernan’s entrance has AstroTurf laid down and every single table was occupied by a dog and its owner. It seems the norm in Kilkenny town to get up on a Sunday morning and pop down for brunch on the terrace! While getting something to eat, we had the pleasure of meeting Kilkenny legend George Leahy.
In my entire life up until Sunday I prided myself by knowing the ‘ball’ in hurling is called a sliotar (and I had to google the spelling!). Well now my knowledge of the sport has been thoroughly expanded. I’m still no expert but I do definitely understand the game a little better (I think)… Georgie as he’s known down here told us a lot about his life in the game, which is a long and accomplished and you know what, he even gave us a sliotar as a keepsake! We soon found out just how hurling mad Kilkenny is and the amount of jealous looks we got while talking to Georgie was unreal!!!
One of the most remarkable things about Kilkenny town is the laneways. Now I know every city has laneways obviously, but the laneways here are absolutely beautiful. They’re cobbled and stepped and have this eerie and enchanting beauty. The Butterslip is probably the grandest of them all and I found myself walking up and down it more than a couple of times; fingers gliding over the cobbled walls.
Up High Street and along The Parade and we came up to probably the biggest single attraction in the city; the impressive Kilkenny Castle… A walk along the grounds on what had become a beautifully sunny day was probably the highlight of the day. We met a couple with their baby on a day trip from Clare and spotted a few people taking pictures beside signs that explicitly said “KEEP OFF THE GRASS”… it’s a thing apparently. If you are in Kilkenny on a good day and have an hour to spare, definitely pop down to the castle!
Across the street from the castle is the brilliant Kilkenny Design Centre.We took a walk around the courtyards and peered into all the workshops! Home to all kinds of disciplines from pottery to knitwear to metalsmiths, there was so much to see (except we couldn’t first hand because it was a Sunday!) Karli being a design graduate was in her element here! If given the chance I know she could spend a week here. A day in each workshop!
The city is filled with a tonne of family owned businesses, and big chains were notable from their absence and it was very refreshing compared to what we have in Dublin city! Many of the stores offer a mish-mash of all sorts of items and are just so cute; the cutest of which would have to be Butterslip just opposite Katty’s Cabin!
Walking out of the city to catch the bus back to Dublin city, I couldn’t help thinking a few things, foremost of which was, “I’m going to miss this colourful little town”. I know I’ll be back very soon as we left too late to visit Castlecomer Discovery Park but also because if I was to sum up the city from my experience in just a sentence, it would be “picturesque town split through buy a river”… On paper, not too different from Dublin, but in person almost incomparable with its own unique charm.
See you on the next #TrailsOfIreland ~ Timi
Did you know you can visit Kilkenny from just €10 one way?