Have Twitter, will travel

Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 01:00

LAST WEDNESDAY, I headed off to Kilkenny. Before I left my house, I sent out this tweet: “Twitter alert! En route to #kilkennycity where I’m going to be guided by your recommendations today. What should I see and do? Pls RT.”

The idea was that I was going to be a Twitter tourist for the day, seeking out the places that people who knew Kilkenny well would recommend. If anyone actually responded, that is. I had no idea what people might be recommending, but I did hope that I’d get more suggestions than the predictable and obvious, such as visiting Kilkenny Castle, magnificent as it is. I was hoping for a bit of direction on culture, shopping, eating and nuggets of local colour.

By the time I looked at my phone again, when walking down High Street a couple of hours later, I had 34 responses with suggestions of where to go. Phew. I was in Twitter tourist business.

The first task of the day was strong coffee and somewhere to sit down to read through the tweets. I needed a café. There were plenty of recommendations, and I didn’t recognise a single name. I realised then that no matter how well you think you know a place – I thought I knew Kilkenny reasonably well from previous visits – businesses open and close all the time between your visits. It’s only the locals who are truly up to date.

Two café names in particular came up again and again, @Mugshotcafe and Slice of Heaven, which @VibrantIreland and others raved about. There are only two tables in Slice of Heaven. I colonised one of them smartish, while noting with the hooded eyes of America’s most famous avian symbol that the one daily newspaper put out for customers was a rival. The coffee was great, and the choices on the glass shelves were beautiful examples of instant artery-hardening. Would it be chocolate and raspberry roulade, or homemade meringue with passionfruit and Irish strawberries? Lemon curd cakes, truffles, oreo cupcakes? Roulade it was.

Before I left, I chatted with Margaret Keever, behind the counter. “Ah no, we never get The Irish Times,” she confirmed cheerfully when I identified myself. The following day, I had a tweet from one of the café’s owners, @neilmcevoychef, that declared “complaint dealt with!”, and with a picture of Margaret laughingly holding up that day’s Irish Times. Well done, Slice of Heaven. And you better keep stocking it now, or the Twitter spies will let us know.

The 90 plus tweets I got with suggestions on the day fell into three surprisingly consistent categories: culture, shops and eating out.

Two people, @Maria_Aylward and this newspaper’s @emmetmalone, also suggested I attend to Kilkenny’s sporting history. Maria said: “See if you can catch a Kilkenny hurling training session in Nowlan park this evening.” I didn’t, but if, unlike me, you are interested in sport, you can do this instead.

Several people alerted me to what sounded like a terrific show featuring vampires, Night of the Living Dead, by @devioustheatre in @WatergateKK. They included local radio station @kclr96fm and @niamhsmith. I was meeting a friend, Helen, who lives in nearby Kells for dinner, so an evening activity was out, but I was intrigued by the sound of the show. As it turned out, when I met Helen later that day, she’d been to the same show the previous night, and confirmed the buzz word on it.

I didn’t do sporty things, and I didn’t go to the theatre. Neither did I climb for a second time in my life St Canice’s Tower, as suggested by @sccenglish, who also recommended the Smithwick’s St Francis Abbey Brewery tour, which I didn’t do either.

So what did I do? Much as I love reading things on my iPhone, I love proper printed books and magazines better. I can’t visit anywhere without seeking out independent bookshops. Both @CormacKinsella and @sineadgleeson recommended Khan’s Books on James Street.

“Got loads of New York Review of Books classics there last year,” Kinsella said. Another recommendation was Stonehouse Books, by @TownofBooksFest.

In @KhansBooks, where I had never been, there was indeed an orderly expanse of interesting, discounted books. I found a Rachel Allen cookbook discounted by two thirds.

Several people recommended an interiors shops called Gorgeous, but both times I passed by, it was closed. On the way there, I went into @kwillakk, “well worth a visit for random bits of chocs and the cards/paper as Gaeilge” according to @NiamhNic.

Owner Shannon Forrest was wearing three arresting rings, all for sale in the shop. One was a pig’s pink head with a yellow coronet, and the other was a giant pair of antlers that covered her hand. Neither of these were Irish-made, but she does stock the work of 10 Irish designers in her tiny shop crammed with cards, jewellery, and esoteric bits and pieces that she describes as “a different spin on craft”.

I also looked around the Butterslip, both the shop and the passage itself, as suggested by @Aisling_Gheal. Several people, including @alisonnulty and @Carolb10, told me to go to @shopshutterbug. I hadn’t been there before, in the same way I hadn’t been to Kwilla or the Butterslip, either. It sells vintage clothes, hats and belts that are heavy on the beading, and display a stern notice that implores, “Please please PLEASE DON’T HAGGLE”. I tweeted a picture of it, and minutes later, owner Blanaid Hennessy (who was out of the shop at the time), tweeted back: “We hated having to put that up but it was just getting out of control with some customers.”

At one point, the mayor of Kilkenny heard I was in town and tweeted to ask me to join him for a cup of coffee. I was too busy scampering around to do so, but he’s @seanohargain and he may well ask you too, if you’re in Kilkenny and engage with him on Twitter.

I was too full of roulade to eat lunch, but two of the recommendations I received were Café Sol, from @thegoodearthkk, and promises of “a fierce doorstep sandwich in Cleere’s, along with a fine array of soup” from @kenmcguire.

Several people told me to visit the medieval merchant Rothe House and gardens, including @rothehouse itself. “Go see the ducks waddling round the gardens of Rothe House in the heart of the city”, @mollyontheweb tweeted. “Lovely restored hse and garden”, @ClaireNolan said.

It’s more than 10 years since I’ve been in Rothe House. I arrived as Catriona Dowling, director of tourism and marketing, was closing up. She obligingly opened several doors and gates so I could have a quick look around the renovated house and gardens, which are planted with flowers, trees and herbs that are of the original period. Swift as my visit was, I’m glad I experienced the tranquil lozenge of green in the city centre and the cool damp-smelling stone of the striking 17th-century rooms.

I made it to the bright @mugshotcafe for a sparkling apple juice 10 minutes before it closed. The inventive lunchtime salads listed on the blackboard would tempt any person not full of roulade.

With businesses closed, I wandered around the rose garden of Kilkenny Castle, and the larger gardens beyond, as suggested by many, including @BrianNolan1974 and @adrianshanahan. It struck me how seldom I visit the castle grounds when in Kilkenny, and how I should go more often, because it really is a great, free facility in the city centre.

Later that night, Helen and I tried to get into @HoleInTheWallkk, which @fancy_clancy had recommended for “a drink somewhere out of the ordinary”. Helen had been there before and loved it, but warned me that opening hours are erratic. Alas, the place was dark. Still, it leaves me something to go back for.

And at some point in that very long day in Kilkenny, I discovered I had forgotten my toothbrush.

You’ll be glad to know I was able to buy a new one without the help of Twitter.

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