(IRISH INDEPENDENT, October 23rd, 2015)
Kilkenny City is a popular tourist destination with a rich medieval history, evident in the popular attractions such as the 12th century Castle
THEY BUILT this city on limestone rock and indomitable Celtic soul. Fortified, some might say, by a certain pale ruby-red ale brewed there since the 13th century, first by the Franciscans at St Francis Abbey, and then by Smithwicks on the site of the old monastery from 1710 until 2014.
No wonder Kilkenny city is known for its many characterful pubs, restaurants and lively arts and entertainments scene, and was voted ninth friendliest city in the world in 2013 by readers of Condé Nast’s Traveler – the only city in Europe to make the top ten.
Named after Saint Canice, who founded a monastic settlement there in the 6th century, but built up, walled and castellated by the Normans, and granted its city status by Royal Charter in 1609, the Marble City certainly has a long and colourful history.
Once the medieval capital of Ireland and a major ecclesiastical centre, it has hosted an infamous witchcraft trial, been visited by the Black Death, and plague stalked its ancient narrow streets and winding slipways long before Cromwell’s New Model Army rolled up in March 1650 and forced its surrender. Surrender yes, capitulation never.
A particular characteristic of this city, which spans both banks of the River Nore, is its limestone base, and this combined with the sandstone, dolomite and black marble quarried within Kilkenny county has contributed to the many unique buildings in this compact city, most notably the landmark edifices dotting the famous Medieval Mile that stretches from St Canice’s Cathedral to Kilkenny Castle.
These also include the 16th century Hole In The Wall Tavern, Ireland’s oldest surviving townhouse, and Kyteler’s Inn, established by the infamous Dame Alice de Kyteler in the 13th century.
This dodgy dame married four times, amassing a fortune as each husband died in suspicious circumstances. She was to be tried as a witch for using poison and sorcery to hasten the demise of her unfortunate spouses, in Ireland’s only recorded witchcraft trial, in 1324, but fled to England, leaving her maid, Petronilla de Media, to be flogged and burned at the stake.
Also worth visiting are the 17th century Rothe House and garden and the Shee Alms House, one of the few remaining Tudor era alms houses left in this country.
St Canice’s contains one of the few medieval round towers in Ireland that can still be climbed. The 9th century tower offers amazing views of the city, with tours available, the many attractions including the small scale model of 1640s Kilkenny on display in the cathedral.
The city’s most instantly recognisable and visible building, however, is Kilkenny Castle. Strongbow built a fort here in the 12th century, but it was his son-in-law, William Marshall, who built a stone castle here and also fortified the city’s walls.
As well as the magnificent castle itself, its extensive lawns and parklands are a wonderful haven of tranquility for tourist and local alike.
Diageo now owns Smithwicks, of course, and the brewing operation has been moved to St Jame’s Gate in Dublin, but the “Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny“, opened by Kilkenny City Council on the site of the brewery, has become a popular tourist attraction.
The city prides itself on its lively culture and entertainment scene, with all sorts of live music and theatre events. Annual festivals include Kilkenny Roots (music) in May, the comedy Cat Laughs in June, and the Arts Festival in August.
Kilkenny – city and county – is filled with galleries, artists, craft shops, all sorts of exhibitions, workshops, and literary readings, jazz and folk sessions, and it is worth checking out the craft trail map on visitkilkenny.ie
The Bank Holiday fun began early this week in Kilkenny with the annual Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food already underway.
Also on this weekend is the Rockfall music festival, which promotes local songwriters and musicians, in aid of Enable Ireland. Highlights include tribute nights to Tom Waits, tonight, in Cleere’s Theatre on Parliament Street, and Neil Young, at the same venue tomorrow night.
Get out those tattered jeans and plaid shirts for that!
There are far too many pubs and restaurants to list, but it’s worth noting the Michelin-starred Campagne restaurant, under former Chapter One head chef Garrett Byrne and his partner Brid Hannon, and their atmospheric premises at Gashouse Lane; Ristorante Rinuccini, run for 25 years by Antonio and Martion Cavaliere in a semi-basement on the impressive terrace on The Parade, opposite Kilkenny Castle; and Zuni restaurant and boutique hotel, on Patrick Street, where Maria Rafferty’s and her kitchen give a distinctive Irish twist to international dishes.
The Butler Gallery, in the former kitchens of Kilkenny, is a vibrant contemporary art space and houses an excellent calendar of exhibitions, entry free.
The Watergate Theatre, on Parliament Street, is a centre for the performing and visual arts, catering for professional and amateur dramatics, classical and contemporary music, opera and dance, together with regular exhibitions of paintings and photographs.
The Set Theatre is a smaller theatre, on John Street.
The Dylan Whisky Bar on John Street, is an old Victorian-style bar with an ever growing whiskey library containing over 200 tipples.
Brewery Corner is Kilkenny’s Craft Beer pub and only stocks Irish beers and ciders on draught from artisan brewers such as O’Hara’s; 8 Degrees; Trouble Brewing; Metalman; Stonewell and Porterhouse.
Popular with locals would be the likes of Tynan’s Bridge House Bar, overlooking the river at John’s Bridge, an olde worlde classic pub with brass gas lanterns, a horseshoe-shaped bar and relics from when Tynan’s was a grocery and pharmacy, and Cleere’s, on Parliament Street, home to a world of live music, comedy, theatre, whiskeys and world beers. There is live traditional music on Monday and Wednesday nights.
Visitors to Kilkenny will be familiar with the Langton House Hotel, a vast but attractive bar and restaurant complex, which also houses the Set Theatre, which doubles as one of Langtons’ wedding reception venues.
Hurling is, naturally, the dominant sport in Kilkenny, and the city plays its part, contributing generations of county stars from its St Kieran’s College and Kilkenny CBS nurseries. There are three GAA clubs in the city: O’Loughlin Gaels, Dicksboro and James Stephens, known as The Village, and home club of celebrated coach Brian Cody.
Kilkenny Golf Club is an 18-hole championship parkland course within the city, while Mount Juliet Golf Course is not far away, in Thomastown.
MacDonagh train station is right in the city, while Bus Eireann proves a regular service to Dublin City and all major towns.
Other secondary schools besides St Kieran’s, on College Road, and the CBS, on James’ Street, include the girls only Loreto, on Granges Road, and the Presentation at Loughboy.
Kilkenny City VS, on New Street, is non-denominational and co-ed.
Ella Dunphy, of DNG Ella Dunphy, reports the market as steady locally, even though supply well exceeds demand, with little in the way of new development going on, and the new Central Bank cap measures biting. Prices are up 20% on last year, with a projected increase of 7% to 9% this year, but nowhere near the peak of 2007.
Broadly speaking, a three-bed semi would go for around €195,000, at the higher end, on the Waterford Road – the likes of Parcnagowan or Clongowan – or on the Freshford Road – the likes of Airfield and Talbot’s Gate. A good three-bed semi on the College Road would fetch up to €250,000.
Older stock at the lower end of the market would see a three-bed semi going for around €165,000 in Johnswell, for example, or in College Park, on the Callan Road, or in Lintown, The Fairways, Rosewood, or Pococke.
- Plethora of well-kept historic buildings
- Great pubs and restaurants
- Thriving arts and culture scene
- Stag parties frequenting pubs on John’s Road
- Controversy over Central Access Scheme road scheme and bridge and potential damage to historic city areas
- Heavy traffic at peak times