Extra, Extra! Forging a family adventure in Kilkenny
From swinging through treetops to swigging rare whiskey, a break in Kilkenny was all about that ‘something extra’, and it’s easy to see why a travel magazine this week named it ninth friendliest city in the world, writes Gary Quinn
In the shadow of the castle: Butler House, Kilkenny City
You can get up close and personal with the animals in the Reptile Village in Gowran, Co Kilkenny
With the help of the great staff if need-be the Treetop Walk at Castlecomer Discovery Park is indeed for the faint-hearted
Paddle-boarding on the Barrow at Graignamanagh with PureAdventure.ie is a great experience for all fitness levels
You probably shouldn’t start a family holiday story with a glass of whiskey, but it was in the Dylan Whisky Bar in Kilkenny that I captured the sense of what we had been enjoying so much all weekend. They didn’t just have my favourite – Mitchell and Son’s Green Spot – they had its 12-year-old brother, Yellow Spot, an Irish whiskey that hasn’t been bottled since the 1950s and is on strict allocation.
I was delighted and sat into a snug and tried to figure out why we hadn’t come to enjoy Kilkenny’s medieval splendour before. We’d been getting this “something extra” throughout our weekend. We always got what we wanted, but somehow everyone was able to offer just that little bit more – and that’s quite a feat in a city that is used to tourists. They could be jaded by the busloads coming through, but Kilkenny people really seem to enjoy the business of tourism.
Kilkenny has more choice and higher standards than we have found in any one Irish town. The night we arrived we walked through the centre to get our bearings. It was a Friday and we were a bit wary for our three children, expecting the kind of stag-night mayhem we’re used to in Dublin. The pubs were packed but the atmosphere on the streets was relaxed, and the medieval alleyways and arches had us circling for a good hour before the kids called it a night.
We stayed at Butler House, in the castle grounds. Being a family of five makes hotels difficult, so finding the superior family rooms in Butler House was great – four beds in our beautiful curved turret room. Once the home of the Dukes and Earls of Ormonde, it has sweeping staircases and wonderful high ceilings. Swallows swooped and cried in the gardens of this dower house, and the bedroom window looked out on to Kilkenny castle.
Waking up in this idyllic location, in the centre of everything, we strolled through the gardens to breakfast each morning at the neighbouring Design Centre, where our children lapped up the terrific choice and great service.
We thought our 10am start the next day was a bit early, but people of in Graiguenamanagh begged to differ: they certainly love their river. By the end of our 25-minute drive through the lush Kilkenny countryside, the River Barrow was in full swing The rowing club was already out on the water, families were setting up along the bank and queues of children and teenagers were pushing the public diving boards to the limit.
Patrick McCormack of Pure Adventure took us paddle boarding (or “SUPing”: stand-up paddling). It is a strange sport – calm and Zen-like.
My youngest daughter took to it like a pro while my eldest found standing on the board a challenge, but she, too, conquered the bizarre feeling of walking on water and we all paddled up river.
McCormack unravelled the story of the Barrow and its nature, landscape and wildlife. Fish darted in the shallows and a family of swans kept watch on our progress.