Ireland/Britain 1998 day 4: Kilkenny


Whether I travel east or west, the effect of jet lag on me is to wake up early rested and refreshed (quite contrary to my day to day behavior). This was true on the morning of 23 January 1998 when I arose ridiculously early to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine on a walk around Kilkenny. Granted none of the sites were open, but I enjoyed circulating around the town and taking in the atmosphere. The locals were up and about at least including some school children some of whom had gathered in the schoolyard to bully a young lad by pulling his blue uniform sweater over his head. “I can’t breathe,” he shouted in vain. The Market Cross Shopping Centre was also open, notable in that it is full-sized modern shopping mall completely hidden behind medieval-style buildings so it is not an eyesore in the city centre. Why American cities can’t preserve historical buildings in the same manner I don’t know.

Having covered the whole of Kilkenny, I went back for a second go-around in hopes of finding things open. First stop, St. Canice’s Cathedral the namesake of the city (Cill Chainnigh means “The Church of St. Canice”). The cathedral was lovely but what I really wanted was to climb the adjacent round tower, but there was no one there to unlock the door. Fortunately, a couple came into the cathedral who were more assertive about finding the custodian. I followed them giggling and huffing up several ladders to the top. The view of Kilkenny and the surrounding countryside was astounding and I was especially amused by the Smithwick’s Brewery where beer kegs are stacked around the shell of a ruined abbey.

I also met the Canadian Katy and American Billy and we agreed to tour the town together. Since I’d already found all the sites I went into my natural tour guide mode. We visited the Catholic St. Mary’s built during the Great Famine and the Black Abbey, which was still closed but Billy liked the name. We stopped at Caislean Ui Cuain pub where Billy quaffed his first ever Guinness. We also tried some of the Budweiser that is brewed at the Smithwick’s Brewery and believe it or not, it is better than the American version. With a bit of a buzz we took a tour of the last big attraction, Kilkenny Castle, led by the pompous eccentric John Burke.

That evening on the recommendation of the Japanese man who ran the hostel I went to a pub called Matt the Miller for Irish trad. I sat with a large crowd of North Americans, mostly college students, but I didn’t mind since it was the first social interaction I had all week. Since I was raised on Irish folk songs, I sang along with everything the band played, much to the surprise of my fellow Americans who didn’t know any of the songs. There was a stag party in the pub making things rowdy, and after the lights went up a crowd of drunk Irish guys descended on our table. One of them asked where I was from and when I told him Virginia he launched into a rendition of John Denver’s “Country Roads.” I decided to sing along instead of correcting him and telling him that was West Virginia.

Back in the hostel I sat in the hallway talking with my fellow travelers about Irish literature, finally turning in around 2 am. I awoke completely refreshed at 5:30.

Guinness is good for you.

Yard sale

Some architectural detritus outside of St. Canice’s Cathedral, that made me think of an ecclesiastical yard sale.

Smithwick’s Brewery

The Smithwick’s Brewery surrounds the ruins of St. Francis Abbey.

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