Thursday 29 September 2016

Lets move to Kilkenny: Vibrant life in Marble City

Once the medieval capital of Ireland, the city has a vibrant arts and culture scene, as we explore

Enda Sheppard

Published 23/10/2015 | 02:30

St Mary's Cathedral in Kilkenny
St Mary's Cathedral in Kilkenny
MacDonagh railway station
Shopping area of Kilkenny
Kilkenny Castle with its extensive lawns and parklands.
Kilkenny Design Centre.
Kilkenny centre.
For sale: 5 Oakwood, Kilfera, Bennetsbridge Road - €350,000.
Hollybank Mews, Clongowan, for sale - €260,000
188 The Robertshill, Circular Road, for sale - €130,000

Two years ago Kilkenny became the only European city to make it into the 'World's Top Ten Friendliest Cities' as voted by readers of Conde Nast Traveller, it came in ninth.

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Built on limestone rock, energised by hurling and fortified by a certain ruby-red ale brewed there since the 13th century, Kilkenny is known for its many characterful pubs, restaurants and lively arts and entertainments scene. Named after Saint Canice (Cill Chainnigh means church of Cainnech/Canice), who founded a monastic settlement there in the 6th century, it was built up, walled and castellated by the Normans, and later granted city status by Royal Charter in 1609.

Once the medieval capital of Ireland, a particular characteristic of this city, which spans both banks of the River Nore, is its limestone base. The abundance of this rock combined with the sandstone, dolomite and black marble quarried within Kilkenny county (Kilkenny is often called the "Marble City") has enhanced many of its unique buildings, 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 Dame Alice de Kyteler in the 13th century.

This dodgy dame married four times, amassing a fortune as each successive husband died in suspicious circumstances. She was eventually tried as a witch. She fled to England in 1324, leaving her maid, Petronilla de Media, to be burned at the stake in her stead.

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 and the attractions include 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 the stone castle and also fortified the city's walls.

Shopping: The MacDonagh Junction shopping centre near the train station is the south-east's largest, while in the heart of the city Market Cross has more than 40 shops under one roof, while the Kieran Street Centre has 30 more. Kilkenny is renowned for its crafty boutiques on beautifully kept streets and of course Kilkenny Design is one of Ireland's biggest centres for quality craft.

Social/Amenities: Diageo now owns Smithwick's and the brewing operation has been moved to St James'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 also 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, exhibitions, workshops, literary readings, jazz and folk sessions, and it is worth checking out the craft trail map on visitkilkenny.ie.

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 Marion Cavaliere in a semi-basement on the impressive terrace on The Parade; and Zuni restaurant and boutique hotel, on Patrick Street, where Maria Rafferty 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.

The Watergate Theatre, on Parliament Street, is a centre for the performing and visual arts.

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.

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 and Cleere's, on Parliament Street, home to live music, comedy, theatre, whiskeys and world beers.

Hurling is the big sport in Kilkenny, and the city itself plays its part in the county's long time dominance of the game, 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 RFC, based at Foulkstown on the Waterford Road, has provided Irish internationals including Willie Duggan, Ned Byrne, Gary Halpin and Ian Dowling.

Kilkenny Golf Club is an 18-hole championship parkland course within the city, while Mount Juliet Golf Course is not far away, in Thomastown.

Transport: MacDonagh train station is right in the city, while Bus Eireann provides a regular service to Dublin City and all major towns.

Schools: Other secondary schools besides St Kieran's, on College Road, and the CBS, on James's 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.

Property: 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.

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, or in College Park, on the Callan Road, or in Lintown, The Fairways, Rosewood, or Pococke.

DNG Ella Dunphy is looking for €130,000 for the three-bed mid-terraced 188 The Robertshill, Circular Road; Sherry FitzGerald McCreery has placed 1 Hollybank Mews, Clongowan, a four-bed semi, for €260,000; Fran Grincell has 5 Oakwood, Kilfera, Bennetsbridge Road, a five-bedroom detached home, on the market for €350,000.

Kilkenny city area cv

Commendable

Plethora of well-kept historic buildings

Great pubs and restaurants

Thriving arts and culture scene

Regrettable

Stag parties frequenting pubs on John Street

Controversy over Central Access road scheme and bridge with potential damage to some historic city areas

Heavy traffic at peak times

Next week: Let's Move To... Clonskeagh

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