Travel In Ireland

Monday 16 September 2019

Easy walks through our ancient worlds... Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle is a destination for those who love history, a sense of grandeur, and outdoor fun
Kilkenny Castle is a destination for those who love history, a sense of grandeur, and outdoor fun
The very elegant Tupper’s Bar at the exquisite Lyrath Estate Hotel
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

For a time, we lingered to take it all in. Walking through Kilkenny Castle it is difficult not to be struck by the history of the place. It was here in the castle’s state apartments in the 17th Century, the 1st Duke of Ormonde, received the Papal Nuncio, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini during the Irish Confederate Wars. (The latter made it known that his mission from Rome was to “sustain the King, but above all to help the Catholic people of Ireland in securing the free and public exercise of the Catholic religion”.) It is possibly one of the earliest Norman stone castles to be built in Ireland; Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, aka Strongbow — aka your man behind the Norman invasion of Ireland — built a wooden castle here in 1172 on a high plateau overlooking the River Nore. My four-year-old daughter was more interested in going for a walk in the estate’s wonderful parklands (52 acres) and gardens than being bored by daddy with all this old guff of wars. She loves being outdoors, and enjoyed the beautiful trees and the wild nature; and on the other side of castle , the more ‘formal’ garden with paths leading from a water fountain that dates back to the 17th Century water feature.

My one-year-old son, following behind in his buggy (being pushed by his mummy, Aoife), was particularly taken by the statues of Hermes and of Diana the Huntress.

Exhausted from all the walking, Aoife the Huntress brought a picnic and we ate a lovely lunch amid the parklands with the splendid castle behind us. This was exactly the sort of magical moment we had come to Kilkenny for. After our repast amid such historical surroundings, we felt more than at home in our own ‘castle’ for the next three days, the five-star Lyrath Estate & Spa, on 170 acres in the beating heart of the Kilkenny countryside; suffice to say we enjoyed wonderful post-breakfast strolls here, taking in all the beauty that Mother Nature provides. The hotel is a sight for the eye too. The 17th Century Estate House and its modern extension work well together architecturally. Our modern suite was big — and opulent — enough for a visiting Papal nuncio.

Our bedroom was so large and grand in fact that we felt it would be tantamount to a sin not to have breakfast-in-bed on our first morning at Lyrath Estate. And so it proved — with the kids either side of us, we feasted on poached eggs and smoked salmon and pancakes and orange juice and croissants. It was the most wonderful brekkie our little family had ever enjoyed, doubtless made that bit more enjoyable by the fact that it was handed up to us and as a result eaten, nay devoured, in a giant bed. (It was after this very morning meal that we drove to Kilkenny Castle for that long walk.)

The very elegant Tupper’s Bar at the exquisite Lyrath Estate Hotel
The very elegant Tupper’s Bar at the exquisite Lyrath Estate Hotel

We also burnt off calories after lunch at the Left Bank, a former bank converted into a far more sensible bar, our second day by visiting St Canice’s Cathedral, the second largest medieval cathedral in Ireland.

The cathedral, which was built 800 years ago, has a tower. From that vantage point, I could see some of the most inspired views of The Marble City and, depending on your eyesight, further afield. We then walked the medieval mile (or some of it)... in and out of historic and cinematic alleys and lanes and narrow streetscapes. (That mixture of the ancient with the modern is one of the reasons why The Marble City is such a must-visit destination, and only an hour-and-a-half from Dublin.) It’s easy to imagine that Kilkenny was once the medieval capital of Ireland. Spookily, as I discovered, Ireland’s only witch trials took place in Kilkenny in 1324.

We had stopped for an afternoon coffee at the 14th Century Kyteler’s Inn, where a local related the tale of the original owner.

It was here that I was told the tale of Dame Alice Kyteler who was accused of using sorcery, but before she could be tried, vanished to England, leaving her poor maid Petronilla de Meath to be burned at the stake for witchcraft in her stead, on November 3, 1324. And, no, I didn’t tell my young daughter that story. After a fabulous lunch (Kilkenny has such a vibrant food community that I suspect we could have stayed a month and not had a bad meal; we had dinner in Foodworks on Parliament Street and it was to die for), Aoife The Huntress wanted to go exploring (shopping — to Lady Lorna Designer Emporium on Kieran Street) on her own.

So, I took the kids on a stroll past Grace’s Courthouse, a former fortress built in 1210 before being turned into a prison in the 1500s, and then to The Smithwick’s Experience. (That’s actually a joke! Though an interactive guided tour at an 18th Century brewery, including tastings, did sound intriguing if unrealistic!) Then, more realistically, to Rothe House where, in its gorgeous restored 17th Century Gardens, the kids were captivated by the resident ducks enjoying their dinner. After which, I met up with my wife again (laden down with shopping booty) and we had another nose around this magnificent old city. We were so exhausted that there was nothing else for it but to drive back to our Lyrath Estate and enjoy a swim with the kids before dinner.

We had a delicious meal (pan-roasted Kilmore Quay cod with lemon gnocchi, leek, seaweed, spiced red wine sauce for me; and Hereford striploin steak with lobster mash, parsley, port jus for herself) in the hotel’s award-winning Yew restaurant. Our wonderful food tasted even better because the kids stayed in their chairs for the entirety of the meal because they were wiped out by the day’s medieval walk and more.

Feeling bold, we had a little night-cap at the swish The Grill & Bar before turning in for the night. The kids slept like medieval logs.

It was only when we had left Kilkenny (and the fabulous Lyrath Estate) the following afternoon that my wife found on Google, as I drove us home, that there is a certain restaurant in the city... named Ristorante Rinuccini after the archbishop of Fermo himself. Next time, Kilkenny.

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