When people talk about Ireland two things are usually mentioned, the green landscapes and their beer. More recently I’ve also been hearing a lot about Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Ireland, which is apparently one of the best hotels in the country! I longed to experience all of this, so I set off last month to see Ireland for myself. I only had a few days to explore in Ireland as I was off to cover a music festival in Sweden and had planned to holiday in England first. I thought I would be able to do much more with my time, but once I set foot on the Irish soil I realized I would need much more time to do all the things I wanted to do. For being an “island” Ireland is a lot bigger than I realized and things are spread out pretty well in distance.
The main focus of this trip was one so many others go to Ireland for, to visit places that their family genealogy has uncovered. For me, this was the top of my travel agenda. My mum has been tracing our family history for sometime now and has credibly unlocked the mysteries of our family heritage. For our family like so many others around the world, we are tied back to the FitzGerald dynasty which is linked back to Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland. The Geraldine earldoms of Kildare and Desmond and Ormond are all in the Republic. Not to be confused with Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom and under British rule.
For those of you reading this that just stopped and asked yourself, Ireland is not one joint nation? Read up on the 1922 Government of Ireland Act; the Irish Free State Agreement. There’s a lot of historical information online about the division of Ireland you can locate if you need or want the in-depth details about it all.
This trip included four days, three in Kilkenny and one day for Dublin. The fun started in Dublin picking up the rental car, as I didn’t fancy the Dublin public transport, I’ve heard good things, but it’s just not for me. For those who are not aware, they drive on the left in Ireland and the United Kingdom. So imagine the fun when I realized the car that was supposed to be an automatic was a manual instead. I can drive both but it’s a little challenging shifting left-handed when used to doing it on the right, at least the clutch, brake and gas pedals are all the same configuration as in the USA. LOL, that would have been a very bad mix! My mate couldn’t handle the adjustment so I did most of the driving this trip.
So with the car loaded, gps set and nerves on high alert, off to Kilkenny it was. Being that I am from Seattle and we have lush greenery all around in the northwest, I didn’t really get the awe from the landscapes in Ireland that so many boast about. Don’t get me wrong, Ireland was lovely, but I just didn’t get the awe feeling because we are so spoilt in the northwest with our scenery. The southern drive was fairly flat, a few hills here and there. It actually reminded me of driving through mid California just past the northern part of the Tejon pass when you leave the pass and are on the flat areas where the farm lands are.
The roads into Kilkenny were pretty narrow and the town was completely packed full of people when we arrived to our destination. Driving into this town was like driving into the past. All of the old buildings and narrow walkways between buildings takes you out of today and into the past, especially when you pass the castle. It is a destination town for sure and we happened to arrive on Saturday which we quickly found out was the big party night in town. If you want quiet on a Saturday night in Kilkenny, you won’t find it in the summer time.
The hotel of choice was the Kilkenny Pembroke Hotel on Patrick Street. It’s a street over from the Kilkenny Castle and just up the street from the main shopping and dining district in town. We were told by the hotel that people would be out most of the night. The room was a nice large room with plenty of space for all of our bags and for us to relax. Thankfully the hotel had air conditioning because it was actually pretty warm the day we arrived. So after the long flights and the almost two-hour drive we decided on dinner in and resting to get up early to wander the town when people were still sleeping. I do this just about everywhere to get lots of photos with the least amount of people in them.
So up and out at 4:30am with the first light of day. Camera in hand and what I hoped would be an almost desolate town was. There were a few townies still wandering the streets. Still making their way home from a long night of partying. We ran into a few gals that were attempting to climb up a newly installed statue down by the bridge and just over the bridge a group of young men laughing it up and stumbling along on their way home as well. A few stopped and chatted with us then were on their way. I first surprised at how much litter was left about from the night of partying. Take away containers and food tossed on the streets and sidewalks as well as many spots of vomit from overzealous drinkers. Then I saw the town clean up crews coming through. This is something they are apparently used to and prepared for. Just as quickly as the town was made a mess it was cleaned up before the usual people start making it out on Sunday morning.
Mission accomplished, lots of great photos of town that appeared to stand still in time. Walked almost the entire town whilst everyone else was asleep and got to enjoy the sights without all the hustle of the people in the town. Three hours of wandering and then back to get breakfast, relaxation then headed back in to town when the day was in full swing. We spent the day exploring the town, shopping and searching for a place for dinner. We decided on a place called The Left Bank just down from our hotel. The room was dark and set in an old Victorian style with a beautiful old wood bar counter. The food was brought out on wooden plates resembling a paddle. I had the duck with sweet potato and root veggies, my mate a steak. The food was fabulous. I would recommend if you plan on stopping in Kilkenny to plan to dine here at least once. If eating pub style is more your choice finding a decent pub is very easy in Kilkenny. There are pubs on just about every block. They all serve food and have plenty of choices of beverages on tap. While in Kilkenny, you have to stop by the Smithwick’s brewery and go through the Smithwick’s experience tour. The oldest brewery in Ireland even has ties to my current home state where it gets its hops from for its pale ale. At the end of the tour you get to enjoy and hand pulled Smithwick’s of your choice and can even do a little shopping in their gift shop.
As Monday rolled around, it was off on a long drive. I could not go to Ireland and not see the Cliffs of Moher. Yes seeing the cities and historical villages is always a great thing to do, but you have to see some of these amazing natural sites. Along the drive there were many old castles, churches and abbeys to see. Some still in very good condition whilst others where in ruins. The drive from Kilkenny was about 2 hours to get to the Cliffs of Moher and the roads, some highways and some narrow two lane roads, were very curvy and at times a little unnerving to drive on. Therefore, if you are considering a tour of the Cliffs of Moher, you might want to think about scheduling a coach tour. We were often joined by large trucks, tour buses and tractors that could barely fit on the roads with us. Once we got to the town just at the base of the Cliffs of Moher it felt more like being at the beach, well yes we were technically at the ocean, but I mean like being on the west coast at the beach. Sand everywhere and the day we went it was just about 80 degrees and the winds that are usually around on the coastline were not there this day. Not at all what I expected. The sites at the Cliffs of Moher really make you realize how small we are as human beings and how long things have been around before we were here. The day I was there the puffins were back, I wasn’t sure they would be there but I am glad they were. We hiked around and enjoyed the sights then headed back to Kilkenny for our last night there.
On our last day in Kilkenny we visited the Kilkenny Castle where my ancestors once roamed the halls. It’s so surreal to walk through the halls and rooms there and think that hundreds of years ago someone who shared your DNA lived there. For sure a very different way of life indeed but to see the oldest place that we know of that’s still standing and that is linked to our family is really kind of unreal. After the castle it was off to the Smithwick’s tour.
If you ever want to know all about the beer that Smithwick’s makes, the tour is a great history lesson about beer and their personal history. Well worth the stop in. After the tour it was off to St. Canice’s. The abbey was the last place on my list we had to see before leaving Kilkenny. My oldest ancestors are entombed inside the abbey, most likely they are some of yours too. It’s very interesting and surreal to stand next to the entombments knowing that inside them are the remains of your oldest relatives. I had to sit there for a bit a take that in. It’s not everyday you are standing next to ancestors from hundreds of years ago. Weird to say the least. So with that piece of the trip wrapped up, it was off to head back to Dublin for early morning flights.
Sadly, we didn’t have anytime to head into the city once we got up to Dublin. We stayed over longer than expected in Kilkenny. So now we just have another reason to go back to Ireland again. All in all it was a lovely visit. The hotel was great, food was great and the town was very enjoyable. If you are planning a trip to Ireland think about stopping into Kilkenny, but plan enough time if you want to visit other cities while you are there. Next up, travels in England.