Finding Nenagh's gems with a little help from Twitter

 

Now that she’s mastered Kilkenny with the help of the twitterati, our intrepid tourist sets out again – this time to Nenagh

I HAVE A stack of guidebooks about Ireland, which I update from time to time, and regularly rifle through. I now know there’s another, virtual of-the-moment guidebook that a smartphone can conjure up in minutes like a genie from a bottle. That would be Twitter. Local people are always the best source of information and Twitter has given them a way to impart it.

Last Thursday, I headed to Nenagh in Co Tipperary to try the Twitter Tourist experiment for the second and final time – the first was in Kilkenny. I tweeted “Today I’m going to be in #Nenagh as a tourist guided by Twitter for @IrishTimes article, Where should I go? What to see and do? Pls RT”. It’s fair to say Nenagh does not immediately come to mind as an obvious tourist destination in the way Kilkenny city does. I couldn’t recall when I was last there.

Nenagh was a blank I hoped Twitter would fill in. It did. By the time I’d found a parking space, my Twitter account was pulsing with recommendations.

I started by looking round McCarney’s second-hand furniture shop. “Not quite antiques but good stuff,” as @Claredaisy had suggested. A grand piano was stickered “Sold”, and I spied a 1950s cocktail cabinet, complete with holders for cocktail sticks, for €165; a walnut chest of drawers for €245; and an oak dining table for €145. If I didn’t already have a cocktail cabinet, I may well have left Nenagh with my back seat occupied by this mirrored miracle.

Nenagh’s skyline is dominated by the circular Norman tower at its centre. It dates back to the 12th century. “Nenagh Castle is now open to the public, you have to check it out,” suggested @Lisa_Celtic, @backpagebrian and @Oldefarm. From Dublin, @FixxCoffeehouse (Nenagh connections?) tweeted “The castle is now open to visitors for the first time in a few hundred years.” Twitter called it a castle, I’d call it a tower. Semantics aside, for any town to have a restored 12th century historic structure in its centre that you can climb – for free – and look out over the surrounding countryside, is a tremendous asset.

“This was the Butler’s stronghold before they moved to Kilkenny,” Michelle Harty informed me. Along with Kevin Whelan, they were manning the little information desk on the ground floor.

It was only opened to the public in June and since then, they’ve had over 7,000 visitors. Or as Whelan informed me, I was visitor number 7,017; they manually record the numbers as entrance is not ticketed.

“Climb to the top and survey your morning’s walk!” @aoifemcguire urged. I duly scrambled to the top with its fine view, via a satisfying succession of ever smaller and steeper stairs.

From the top of the tower, you can see the unusual hectagonal structure of what’s now the Heritage Centre, but was the home of the governor of the prison. “Heritage centre/old jail where Cormack brothers hanged in the wrong in 1858,” tweeted @olearya.

The centre is refreshingly full of period character, with not a computer screen or interactive display to be seen.

“Outside Dublin, in the early part of the 19th century, Tipperary had the highest crime rate,” the Heritage Centre’s co-ordinator, Arlene White, told me. The jail held 780 people. The stone archway I’d walked through to reach the Heritage Centre is where “17 people were executed. Children love to hear that.” I passed under the archway a second time with a shiver.

“Save your appetite for @CountryChoice, you won’t find a better selection of tasty local produce anywhere,” tweeted @fionamcnulty. “We’d go to Nenagh (from Fingal) just to eat and shop at Country Choice,” @KathyMarsh said. Among the many, many others who recommended it were @babaduck71, @tipp2chicago and @jennyckingston.

Country Choice, a long narrow space crammed with beautifully-presented, carefully-sourced produce, with café tables at the back, is the kind of deli I would love to have as my local. Peter and Mary Ward have run it for 30 years. In 1982, their most popular product was baked ham on the bone, and it still is.

“We’re on Twitter because my children challenged me to prove our relevance to the next generation after being in business for 30 years,” explained Peter. As we spoke, a man arrived with nine brown hen eggs in an aluminium pot to sell to the shop; a fusion of business models old and new.

I looked round the interiors shop Twenty Six, with its interesting mix of toys, china and kitchenware, as recommended by both @midweshterner and @WriteOnTrack_L.

Thanks to @olearya and @hapawawa, I was guided to The Pantry for mid-afternoon coffee and a slice of delicious, chewy meringue. It’s a lovely airy place with outside seating and a great selection of juices and cakes.

Other things I could have done but didn’t have time to do included a suggestion to “cycle the four miles to Dromineer for a picnic,” with an offer of both bike and guide from @northtippcyclin; and “take a walk along the river bank from Old Dublin Rd to Borrisokane Rd, takes about 45 mins, worth it,” as suggested by @fonferest.

I was in Nenagh the day Katie Taylor fought her final match.

“In honour of the Olympics, check out the monument to Nenagh’s three Olympians outside the courthouse,” tweeted @StyleByCaroline. So I did. There’s a striking trio of three large statues of hurdler Bob Tisdall, hammer-thrower Matt McGrath and marathon runner Johnny Hayes, all of whom have connections with Nenagh.

By this time, it was gone 4.30pm and the people of Nenagh were melting off the streets like snow from a griddle.

Seeking a place to watch the boxing, I went to find @UnaPowellsPub, as recommended by @JR_JennyR.

I now wish I lived in Nenagh, because this charming, utterly simple and authentic, small old-fashioned pub with a lounge that could be a living room from the 1930s, is the best local you could wish for.

It was certainly a memorable place to watch Katie Taylor win Olympic gold. Those of us there roared in unison with the rest of the country.

And if she has any Nenagh roots at all, perhaps they’ll put up a fourth statue outside the courthouse.

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