In our new staycation series, Pól Ó Conghaile celebrates lost towns, stellar food... and something called ‘hurling’.
I’ve explored a lost town in Kilkenny. I shot one of my favourite Irish photos there. I’ve eaten Michelin-star meals in two different restaurants, and walked into the earth to find one of Ireland’s darkest places. Each time, I could have been home in time for tea.
That’s the beauty of this place. You could fit the population into Croke Park, with a few thousand left over, but they still serve one of the richest taster plates of heritage, food and outdoors activities Ireland has to offer.
The lost town? You’ll find it on Joe O’Connell’s farm at Jerpoint Park. The photo? It’s of the arched bridge at Inistioge. The darkness? That was deep inside Dunmore Cave, when a guide switched off the lights. All this, less than two hours from Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Waterford.
“It’s a really walkable city that is choc-full of culture and heritage,” says Kathy Purcell of Castlecomer Discovery Park. “There’s a cosmopolitanism; the look and feel of it is beautiful as you walk around.” Just like the Marble City, where a slip or alley might lead you to a hidden history or an unplanned night out, the towns, farms and curving flow of the River Nore also make this a county that keeps giving.
Of course, you shouldn’t go home for tea. You should stay over. A new #MoretoExplore marketing campaign has kicked off. Like everywhere, Kilkenny will a little different. But it will be reassuringly familiar, too.
1. Open spaces
Castlecomer Discovery Park is home to Ireland’s longest zip line, high-ropes courses, orienteering, a new Toy Story Trail (book ahead) and more. Walking trails are free — a good option for a reunion break in the fresh air. If you’re staying locally, The Avalon House Hotel has an ‘Avalon at Home’ takeaway menu from Thursday to Sunday. There’s also coffee, tea and treats to go. discoverypark.ie; avalonhousehotel.ie
2. Lockdown link
I loved the dip in traffic over lockdown, when it felt like walkers and cyclists had as much a right to the roads as drivers. A temporary one-way system is in place in Kilkenny city centre to facilitate distancing, and James’s Street will be pedestrianised from the entrance of Market Cross car park to High Street from 9am to 9pm. Similar to Kinsale’s pedestrianisation measures, it’s a super summer idea... Pat Tynan and Brian Hogan are two local guides who can help you time travel along the Medieval Mile. visitkilkenny.ie
3. A to Zwartbles
There are endless surprises tucked away along the River Nore. Take Suzanna Crampton’s Zwartbles Ireland, for instance — a sheep farm named for the tall black breed distinguished by their white blazes, ‘socks’ and white-tipped tails. Tours are by appointment only, and you can also buy rugs and blankets woven from their wool at Cushendale Woollen Mills. zwartblesireland.com
Near Inistioge (above), Woodstock Gardens is a gorgeous spot for some socially-distanced fun, with its Monkey Puzzle Avenue and coffee truck near the car park from Thursday to Monday (11.30am-4pm). Bring €5 in coins for parking. woodstock.ie; trailkilkenny.ie
4. Future’s bright
This August, Evan’s Home — a 19th-century servants’ home and walled garden — starts a new chapter as a rebooted arts and cultural space for Ireland’s Ancient East. It will house the Butler Gallery; its collection includes work by Paul Henry, Tony O’Malley and Evie Hone, with a winter show focusing on Wolfwalkers, local animation studio Cartoon Saloon’s new film, which is set in medieval Kilkenny. butlergallery.ie
5. Stuff your Cakeface
Sweet tooth? Do not pass Go. Proceed directly to CakeFace, Laura and Rory Gannon’s exquisite little patisserie in Kilkenny city. Arty treats include ‘The Zinger’ or ‘Miss Lemony Rose’, a creamy whip of white chocolate mousse with a lemon curd centre — they’re now doing gourmet picnic baskets, too. Across town, Garrett Byrne’s Michelin-starred Campagne restaurant elevates the best of Kilkenny and Irish produce to scrumptious heights. It’s just reopened. cakeface.ie; campagne.ie
6. From Pip to sip...
Something’s brewing in Kilkenny. You’ve heard of Smithwick’s, which has a state-of-the-art visitor centre in the city, but what about Sullivan’s? Its Maltings Irish Red Ale is a lovely, caramel-tinged biscuity brew, and a new beer garden opened this week. In Cuffesgrange, Julie and Rod Calder-Potts’ Highbank Orchards does awesome things with apples — from organic vinegars to apple gin, brandy and cider (non-alcoholic, too), making the best of Kilkenny’s limestone soils. Find them in shops (or on menus), or ring and collect from the farm shop. sullivansbrewingcompany.com; highbankorchards.com
Three amazing stays
7. €€€ At the five-star Mount Juliet Estate, a parkland setting includes golf, a horse-riding centre, Michelin-star restaurant, new pool and stays in the old house or new Hunter’s Yard. It’s offering free cancellations, too. mountjuliet.ie
8. €€ Run by the Griffin Group (who also operate Monart and the Ferrycarrig in Wexford), Hotel Kilkenny is a spacious city four-star, with its 20m pool back open to residents this week. hotelkilkenny.ie
9. € Nore Valley Camping Park near Bennetsbridge isn’t just a camping park, it’s also got a pet farm, crazy golf, tractor rides and summer camps on site. norevalleypark.com
10. Did you know?
You can try hurling in the Cats’ spiritual home at Nowlan Park. The Kilkenny Way’s ‘ultimate hurling experience’ is back from July 20, and you can unleash your best pucks, blocks and hooks before swapping the sliotars for a bowl of stew in PJ Lanigan’s pub after. Even visitors from Tipperary are welcome... thekilkennyway.com
“Get some 99s from the hatch at Kitty’s Cabin at Canal Square and enjoy the views between the castle and river. A magic moment when the sun is shining!”
— Aidan Clancy (@clancyaidan)
Next Saturday, we’re off to Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. Share your tips at #IrelandUnlocks, tweet @Indo_Travel_ or @indoweekend, or email email@example.com!
NB: See visitkilkenny.ie and discoverireland.ie for more. Opening dates, prices and offerings are all subject to public health guidelines and change.
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It’s strawberries and southeastern sun. It’s opera and hurling with heart; a storied lighthouse and sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s rolling farmland, ghost stories on the Hook Peninsula, and wolfing down chips at Kilmore Quay.