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Kilkenny, Ireland

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The city’s St. Francis Abbey Brewery produces 700 kegs of cider, beer and ale per hour.
  • Princess Diana descended from the Butlers who owned Kilkenny Castle for centuries.
  • The city’s streets were once paved with the distinctive black Kilkenny marble.
  • “Gulliver’s Travels” author Jonathan Swift was educated at Kilkenny Grammar School.
  • James Hoban, designer of the White House, was born in Callan, near the city of Kilkenny.

Marble City

Kilkenny is a quite small city in southeastern Ireland noted for a striking Norman castle, which presides over a medieval town center. The area’s black marble, once quarried right in town, is ubiquitous in local construction, and that includes samples found in the city’s 13th century St. Canice’s Cathedral. Because the stone was so widely used, even on the streets, Kilkenny came to be called the Marble City.

In its modern incarnation, Kilkenny is popular as a lively, with-it kind of place where visitors can sample locally made beer at any of its several pubs, enjoy good food or, if they time their visit well, take in the annual arts festival, the comedy festival or any of several other such events.

Also, it is the county town for the eponymously named County Kilkenny. Both city and county are known for their arts and crafts products; tourism officials have mapped out a Kilkenny Craft Trail to bring more visitors into the countryside and to the studios of area artisans. Along the way, alert tourists see other examples of medieval castles, churches and abbeys.

North American visitors also appreciate driving — or walking or cycling — for sightseeing among County Kilkenny’s river valleys and forests. The county is known for Dunmore Caves, site of a 10th century Viking massacre; the caves can be seen on guided tours.

Active travelers have a variety of options, ranging from fly-fishing in the River Nore to horseback riding, from cycling or boating to golfing. For spectator sports, there is horseracing or watching a hurling competition, something the county is known for. The hurling tradition is highlighted at the Lowry Meagher Heritage Center in Tullarone.

And, if the city of Kilkenny is not small and quaint enough, there are appealing villages which include Callan, a once-fortified medieval town that has preserved a number of old buildings and its large moat; Castlecomer, which has a crafts center and hosts a couple of festivals; Graiguenamangh, noted for its riverside setting and as the site of Duiske Abbey, a Cistercian house; and Thomastown, site of Jerpoint Abbey — and deemed especially pretty.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Get out and about in County Kilkenny on horseback. If getting into the saddle is a favorite pastime, check out Riding in Ireland Week at Piltown in September.
  • Follow Kilkenny’s Trad Trail, which is a shorthand name for the Irish Traditional Music Trail and refers to a night’s pub crawl led by two professional musicians on select summer nights. At each venue, the musician-guides provide a music session plus information about the music’s origins and the instruments. There’s time for a refreshment at each pub.
  • Go to the source, source of the liquid refreshment, that is. Visit St. Francis Abbey Brewery for an audio presentation on the making of Smithwicks ale, followed by a tasting session in the Cellar Bar.
  • Try fly-fishing on the River Nore.
  • See Kilkenny’s hurling team in action. Hurling, a stick-and-ball game somewhat comparable to lacrosse, is played by amateurs for the love of Ireland’s oldest sport. The game also is celebrated at the Lowry Meagher Heritage Center in Tullarone.
  • Ride a bicycle or walk one of the county’s signposted touring routes. There are seven such routes often used for driving tours, but the route called Ridge of Leinster out of Castlecomer is best suited for cyclers and hikers.

Things to do for Centrics

  • For a sober reminder of recent Irish history, drive south to Licketstown to see the Famine Village, an outdoor museum that tells the story of life in the time of the potato famine of the 1840s and in the decades that followed. Structures include original thatched dwellings.
  • Sample the goods at Langton’s Bar and Restaurant. This establishment has won Ireland’s National Pub of the Year award four times. There are plenty of other atmospheric pubs in which to sample the locally made ales.
  • Attend the Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival, a musical event that encompasses Americana, country, blues, alternative music, folk, rockabilly and western swing.
  • Place your bets on the horses at the Gowran Park Racecourse just outside Kilkenny City. Or, see races of another kind at the Kilkenny Greyhound Racing Stadium.
  • Choose the waterside village of Graiguenamangh for a romantic dinner in a local restaurant.
  • Drive (on the left) along one of County Kilkenny’s seven signposted touring routes; choose the one with the attractions or scenics that appeal to you most.

Things to do for Authentics

  • In late spring, attend the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, described as one of the world’s top comedy fests.
  • Follow the Kilkenny Craft Trail in the city and in the surrounding area to visit your choice of several craft and design studios and workshops. Participants include jewelers, potters, leather and wood workers, glass blowers and candle makers.
  • Learn about Ireland’s Celtic traditions at the Kilkenny Celtic Festival, an event celebrating all things Celtic — the history, traditions and culture — through music, dancing, art and Celtic performances.
  • Take a walking tour of Kilkenny to see its castle, cathedral and well-preserved medieval buildings.
  • Play a few rounds at any of five golf courses within a 10-mile radius of Kilkenny City..
  • After a visit to the 13th century St. Canice’s Cathedral (where the city’s black marble is much in evidence), make your way to the Black Abbey, also from the 13th century. Named for the color of the Dominicans’ robes, it lost eight of its members to the Black Death in a single day in 1349.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Kilkenny Tourism at