Carlow castles, cafes and communications
After a 90-minute drive south of Dublin through the beautiful County Carlow countryside, I arrived in Kilkenny, its medieval castle perched above the River Nore, much to the admiration of my fellow passengers. Colette’s tour group of 42 people, mostly from Ohio, ranges in age from 10 to 70, and includes retired teachers, graphic designers and budding novelists.
An important medieval monastic settlement, Kilkenny is made for the threads of historical fiction, its small center full of atmospheric cobblestone lanes and stairs and almost as many stone churches as welcoming watering holes.
It’s a bit too early for me to have a pint at Kyteler’s, a “haunted” inn dating back to 1324 AD, so I sip a nice flat white instead on the terrace at Low Lane, a modern Scandinavian-style café located on A few doors down St Kieran’s. street.
At another nearby establishment, a team of young Gaelic footballers are eating full Irish breakfasts. Most of them seem drunk but they are already challenging Guinness again. After leaving it to them, I decided to cycle through the list of notable holy places in Kilkenny, which still attract Catholic pilgrims.
The churches are located on – or near – the Medieval Mile, a route bookended by St Canice’s Cathedral, a hilltop landmark with a stunning round tower, and Kilkenny Castle, which has its own irresistible appeal. Founded shortly after the Anglo-Norman occupation of Ireland, the castle has been continually remodeled since the late 12th century.
It is possible to enter and wander through the rooms decorated with period tapestries and furniture, but we have little time, so I am happy to wander through the beautiful castle grounds. On its eastern side are terraced rose gardens, and to the west are sprawling gardens with wide lawns and woodland paths.
One path leads to the river bank. While strolling by the water, I saw two teenage boys taking a dip in the River Nore from St. John’s Bridge. Kilkenny is also revitalized by brightly colored shop fronts and contemporary street art. One fresco, carved with eucalyptus and amaranth, Aboriginal art and Irish folklore, showing a portrait of a serious-looking woman from yesteryear, is particularly interesting. Located on St Kieran Street, it was commissioned by Co. Kilkenny owner, Little Collins CBD Dispensary, to honor the life and spirit of an ancestor, Elaine Murphy. She was one of thousands of Irish orphans shipped to Australia in the mid-19th century, when British-occupied Ireland was devastated by famine due to a failed potato crop. The accompanying information plaque says this piece of art “celebrates the story of human survival and determination.” It recognizes two nations whose histories collided together during that period, and keeps the ocean close at all times…”
It’s thought-provoking as I start to head back onto the tour bus, wondering if our next stop, Waterford, will be as compelling as Kilkenny.
+ Steve McKenna was a guest on Colette. They have not seen or agreed with this story.
Truth file + A stop in Kilkenny is included on Collette’s Shades of Ireland tour, which departs from Dublin on dates between March and November. The 12-day tour ends in Belfast and is priced at $3,949. gocollette.com + For more information about visiting Kilkenny and Ireland, see visitkilkenny.ie and ireland.com
(tags for translation) Travel