Marvellous marble city
GO IRELAND: Base the family in Kilkenny for a summer staycation and you won’t have to worry about the weather, writes KEVIN COURTNEY
IT’S GREAT WHEN a family staycation plan comes together: a great location, a hotel that amply caters to the kids, and plenty to do that doesn’t cost the earth. So Kilkenny might just be home holiday heaven this month. It’s got the attractions, the accommodation, and the Kilkenny Arts Festival, which begins next Friday. So why not make for the Marble city and grab some festival action, along with numerous other activities within a stone’s throw of the town?
One big advantage of driving to Kilkenny is its handy position on the map – it’s only a couple of hours’ drive from Dublin, Cork, Galway or Limerick. If you’ve got small kids who get bored easily in the car, two hours is the usual threshold for tantrums and tears. So it’s nice to get to your destination before meltdown.
For your accommodation, book the four-star Newpark Hotel on the Castlecomer Road, which is so child-friendly, even its owner, John Flynn, mucks in to entertain the younger guests. When we stayed there earlier this year, he was busy supervising the hotel’s Easter egg hunt, hiding 2,000 mini-eggs around the hotel’s grounds, and handing out bags for the little bunnies to store their bounty.
We were blown away by the reception the hotel’s staff gave our two tearaways. No one seemed to mind that our children treated the hotel’s corridors as their own personal Grand Prix racetrack, and wait staff and bar staff were adept at avoiding collisions with young ones and keeping their serving trays from tipping over.
The hotel was opened in the 1960s by the late Brian Kerr Sr (you might have seen his son, Brian Kerr, on Dragon’s Den). It has recently undergone an extensive renovation, and now has a nice blend of old and new. The restaurant, Gulliver’s, is part of the old house, while the reception area is an elegant stone and mosaic structure.
You’ll want to get the kids out of the way while you have a relaxing Aveda massage from Joan in the hotel’s Escape spa, or a wind-down in the outdoor heated infinity pool, so a couple of hours in the Crazy Cats kids’ club is just the tonic. The club caters to children aged four and up (although we were able to sneak the two-year-old in with his older brother), and it runs in the mornings and early evenings during the school holidays. The club is supervised by qualified childcare staff, and there’s no shortage of games, toys, kids’ DVDs and other kids to make friends with. Right, I’m off for a beer.
Hotels everywhere are catching on to the kids’ club idea, but the Newpark has an added attraction this year that might just give it an edge, its new mini-farm. The farm has been open since Easter, and its residents include chickens, donkeys, a Shetland pony, a goose, a nanny goat and kid, lambs, a llama, two alpacas and four Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. Waking up to the rooster crowing and the goose honking really made us feel like country squires.
The hotel is offering a five-night family break which they are optimistically calling the Sizzlin’ Summer Special. You get five nights with breakfast, two dinners and more for €299pps – and the kids sleep for free.
Active families will find plenty to keep them exercised in and around Kilkenny. To really get those little feet moving, pick up the Nore Valley walk from Ossary Bridge in Kilkenny to Bennetsbridge, a moderate 11km trek that follows the river Nore and takes about two hours. For a more leisurely stroll, Jenkinstown Wood offers peaceful paths, while Castlecomer Discovery Park is a beautiful 80-acre demesne which demands unhurried exploration, and also features craft workshops and interactive exhibitions.
There’s no shortage of family events to keep the children busy during the Kilkenny Arts Festival, many of them inviting active participation. Junk Ensemble will teach you how to create your own dance moves, and perform extracts from their popular show, The Rain Party, while inventive composer Brian Irvine will show you how to write and perform your own songs in The Imagination Song Machine.
Other workshops include learning to make your own table napkins, discovering the art of potato printing, creating miniature sculptures using a range of different materials, and mastering clay-moulding techniques. That should be plenty to be going on with.