Our first full day in Ireland, Kilkenny to be more specific , revealed a bit of scandal in the Royal Family. No, it is not “Megxit”. This scandal dates back to the 16th century, involving Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth I and Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde, 3rd Earl of Ossory, Viscount Thurles -were rumored to have had a long standing affair that produced a child. The Butler family lived in Kilkenny Castle for hundreds of years and were related to the Queen through her mum, Ann. The Earl was very loyal to Queen Elizabeth I and it is said that they had a very close relationship and he received much favor from the Queen. After one of their encounters, Elizabeth taken ill with a swollen stomach, went into seclusion for a period of months, sparking this rumor. To this day no one has been able to prove it, but the Irish love to still talk about it.
Current day- Kilkenny Castle, http://www.kilkennycastle.ie has less drama and is a very peaceful place. Gone are the battlefields and guards, replaced by green soccer fields, elaborate play structures. and a lovely park The sun was out as we walked along the path and it was a warm 50 degrees. Children were laughing and playing, dogs were sniffing and trotting along while friends chatted and pushed strollers. We all were basking in the pleasure of the sun and warmth of such a glorious February day.
The Kilkenny Design Centre http://www.kilkennyshop.comis located across the street from the castle in the former stable section of the castle. Today it showcases; art, textiles, and glassware from artists across Ireland. The prices are very reasonable on Aran Island’s scarves, blankets, and hats as well on the beautiful works of art capturing Ireland’s landmarks and rich history. There are so many great gift items it’s hard to chose. You are able to receive a refund on the sales tax paid by registering for the Horizon cardhttp://www.shoptaxfree.com. Knowing this, it certainly encouraged me to buy more stuff!
Dining in Kilkenny can be a great culinary experience. Typically you don’t think of Ireland as a foodie destination but it has many gastro delights to offer. You have your traditional Irish Pubs and then your more modern Irish cuisine to chose from. We went a more traditional route on our first day. We had a great breakfast at The Fig Tree http://www.thefigtreerestaurant.ie. Took us a bit to figure out what rashers were. Grateful to the woman dining next to us that solved that mystery and informed us that rashers are what we call bacon. The food, atmosphere, and conversation at The Fig Tree made us feel like locals. The Irish are very warm and friendly and quick to offer up a great recommendation or helpful travel tip. Another common theme we noticed through out Kilkenny is their “age friendly” efforts The National Council on Aging and Older People have worked diligently to ensure stores, restaurants, and attractions have modifications to make it more comfortable for the older generation. Preferred seating, large print menus, brochures as well as physical assistance if needed are readily available- yet another reflection of the warmth and hospitality that the Irish are known for.
After exploring the great shops and a fabulous bookstore, we found ourselves a bit thirsty. We decide to stop in at Left Bank http://www.leftbank.ie located in the former Bank of Ireland building. Left Bank is one of the more popular places in Kilkenny to dine, drink, and experience the lively nightlife. Kilkenny is popular to what they call “hen and stag parties” – think of it as the “Nashville of Europe” for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Today was a quiet day, so we were able to chat with the our bartender, Ian about politics, history, and whiskey- the 3 favorite topics of any Irishman you meet. After a pint , we headed out to Smithwicks for a tour. Smithwicks is the oldest brewing company in Ireland, first brewed in 1710- 50 years before Guinness. The breweryhttp://www.smithwicksexperience.com has moved to Dublin so what remains is the historic factory that you can tour. You are still able to taste samples of their famous ales and pick up a t-shirt to commemorate your visit.
Our day was wrapping up in Kilkenny as we had 170 KM to go to our next destination – Ennis, in County Clare. The travel along the narrow Irish roads proved to be an experience of it’s own and worthy of a separate post. All I can say is that I am grateful for the calm and confidence of my boyfriend. He took on the challenge of driving “on the left” without hesitation and has mastered it quite well (and quickly).
Stay tuned for more of our Irish adventures.