Thursday 19 October 2017

Three's company in Kilkenny

Mount Juliet

Mount Juliet, Kilkenny.
Mount Juliet, Kilkenny.
STUNNING: An aerial view of the magnificently restored Kilkenny Castle in the centre of Kilkenny city
Jerpoint Abbey, a ruined Cistercian abbey near Thomastown
CHILD-FRIENDLY: Liadan and Sarah at Mount Juliet, Kilkenny
Map of Ireland
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

It isn't every child who can claim that they enjoyed their first Michelin star meal at the tender age of seven months.

But that's what happened, on our first trip together. Just the three of us; a romantic getaway, with baby in tow.

I've been to Kilkenny for weekends in various guises ­- a mini city break with the mother, hen parties, weekends with college friends, but never with the husband and herself.

We had holidayed in Spain with the grandparents at the three month mark.

On the flight home, the screaming began twenty minutes in, and as I paced the aisle, subject to input from complete strangers - "relax, she's stressed because you're stressed", and "that baby is freezing, have you not got a blanket?", I silently vowed that we would never holiday abroad again.

I know this is an annoyingly Pale-centric thing to say, but the fact that Kilkenny is a mere hour and a half drive from home, is one of its many appealing qualities, particularly when you're trying to coincide travel with a baby's nap.

We were staying in the beautiful Mount Juliet Hotel, about twenty minutes from Kilkenny City. Set on the River Nore, the house is 267 years old and was a private residence until 1987.

I was apprehensive about taking a seven-month-old into such surroundings - not wanting to ruin anyone else's luxury break with a potentially crying baby. But I was surprised by how child friendly it proved - Sarah wasn't the only child dining Michelin style.

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Jerpoint Abbey, a ruined Cistercian abbey near Thomastown

Jerpoint Abbey, Kilkenny

We stayed in one of the Rose Garden lodges; a two minute walk from the main house. Two bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen provided just the sort of luxurious home from home you need when travelling with a child. Babysitters were available but it also meant that, unlike a hotel room, if we stayed in, we weren't sitting in darkness and silence as the child slept.

Pre baby, I considered walking for the sake of walking boring. Nowadays, whatever the weather, I say things like, "let's get a bit of fresh air", and actually look forward to it. The walk at Jenkinstown Woods through the forest is beautiful, particularly when the bluebells are out - if you are bringing a baby you'll need a sling as the path is gravelled.

On the estate, we headed out immediately upon arrival. There's a lovely walk of about an hour that takes in the river, the stud, and the walled garden. We finished up defrosting with afternoon tea by the fire.

A trip to Kilkenny has to incorporate antiquities - the monastic ruins of Jerpoint Abbey, in Thomastown, dating from the 12th century, enjoy a reputation as one of the finest examples of monastic ruins in the country. They were only a few minutes drive from our hotel. Afterwards, continue on into Thomastown village for coffee and cake at the Blackberry Café.

A visit to Kilkenny Castle is an obvious but definite must. It was taken over by the State in 1969 and was restored to look like a mid-19th century home. It is quite stunning.

The picture gallery is particularly dramatic, and the castle is full of little details - original wallpaper created and shipped from China, that really bring to life the original home. On leaving the castle, pop across the road to the Kilkenny Design Centre.

For shoppers, its almost worth a visit to Kilkenny alone to check out the original Shutterbug/Folkster clothes store on Patrick Street. It's a mixture of vintage and new, and has a huge selection of evening dresses - I bought my wedding dress there, Amy Huberman, Michelle Doherty and Aoife Cogan have all worn their evening wear, but there's also tons of day wear, leather skirts and jackets, sequinned capes, accessories, shoes and some gorgeous home wares.

Lola Rose boutique on Rose Inn Street also has nice labels and is worth a look, and I love a quick potter in the antique shops on that same street.

We stopped for lunch in Café Sol on William Street.

This made a fantastic alternative to the congealing quiches and limp salads you often find for lunch in cafes (it opens for dinner also). Serving local produce, we had a delicious lunch of parsnip and thyme soup, and grilled chicken breast served with lemon and harissa bulgar wheat, yoghurt and sautéed French beans and kale (from the manager's uncle's farm).

The service couldn't have been more helpful - a bowl of plain mash was produced immediately for herself.

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CHILD-FRIENDLY: Liadan and Sarah at Mount Juliet, Kilkenny

Liadan Hynes and baby at Mount Juliet

Back at the hotel, I decided to give one of the more countrified pursuits a go. Clay pigeon shooting, archery, river and lake fishing are all available. I'm not quite sure why, as I'm terrified of horses, but on holidays where it's available, I have a compulsion to take a horse riding lesson.

Apart from one mortifying moment when my guide called to a colleague, in front of a lesson full of what I think were young teenagers, to "come hold Lia's horse, she's very nervous", I loved the walk around the grounds with my lovely guide, Jenny, who was incredibly patient of my obvious terror. By the end I was of course raring to go, even breaking into an undignified trot for about ten seconds.

Romance takes on a different meaning when you become a parent. We'd had a couples massage in the early days of our relationship, and found the whole thing mortifying - I worried I'd fall asleep and drool, and when they left us, with a knowing wink, to enjoy the petal decorated bath, we sat there uncomfortably aware of the therapist lurking somewhere nearby outside.

This time, in a massively romantic move, the husband announced that he would take the baby and look after food and sleep requirements for the morning whilst I went to the spa to enjoy a back massage. My lovely therapist Valerie told me I had the shoulder tension of someone who had spent the past few months in a hunched over position- I felt like a different person afterwards.

Early nights, lots of walks and no alcohol - romance parent style.

Getting there

Mount Juliet's (mountjuliet.ie) Easter Mid-term Family Stay Offer includes 7 nights on a self-catering basis in one of the luxury family properties at Mount Juliet. Complete with flat-screen TVs, phone, fully equipped kitchen, dining area and lounge, these properties offer the comfort of home in a spectacular and luxurious countryside setting. The Little Rascals Kid's Club is included for children from junior infants to 12 years of age each day. Enjoy complimentary use of the estates' extensive facilities including walking trails, bikes, tennis courts, swimming pool and leisure centre.

Check-in: 28th March - €1,550 Self-catering     

Check-in: 4th April - €1,700 Self catering      

For year-round inspiration and loads of special offers, find Discover Ireland on Facebook, @discoverirl on Twitter or check out www.discoverireland.ie or #thisisLIVING.

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