Making the most of its culture and heritage
My Kilkenny – Bobby Kerr
Bobby Kerr: Kilkenny “got very good at marketing what they had”.
I was born in Dublin but moved to Kilkenny when I was four, and lived there until I went to college. In 1966, my father opened the Newpark Hotel about a mile from the railway station. He had bought 50 acres for £17,000. We lived in the house beside the hotel and, although it was only a mile from town, it felt rural. The cattle mart was about 100 yards from our house.
The big difference between then and now is that Kilkenny has become more urban. The city has extended out.
Kilkenny is a city that has always made the most of what it has. It didn’t have any industry worth mentioning. So by default they got very good at marketing what they had.
The biggie is tourism. They were pretty slick at getting people to visit Kilkenny. They were very careful to cherish the assets they had and the culture and to develop them.
They also created the Kilkenny Design Centre showcasing craft, silverware, modern art. I don’t think people realised it at the time but what they were doing there was pretty cool.
The place is very good at being focused. Look at the hurling. They focused on one sport. They don’t do football. The singular outlook was to be the best at one particular thing. And now everyone in the city and county is connected into hurling. I don’t know if it was planned that way, but it’s worked out that way.
People have always worked very well together in Kilkenny to market it because they have a vested interest: the local authority, business people, people from the wider community. There are some things Kilkenny could do better that they need to address.
It’s a very different place between Thursday and Saturday. There have been times in the past decade when the city became too popular with stag and hen parties – and that becomes difficult to control. It can be dangerous when you are too attractive to one particular type of tourist. You risk becoming a black spot.
It’s a difficult one to call because there’s a lot of value in that business and a big financial benefit to the community. They leave a lot of money in their wake in the bars and restaurants and hotels.
But you also risk alienating others who just want a quiet weekend roaming round the castle and eating out.
This problem isn’t unique to Kilkenny, of course, but it does have a significant geographic location between Dublin and Cork that makes it very accessible. I think it needs to be managed. One of the things that could be done might be to create more non-alcohol related activities to keep young people busy so they are not in the pub 24/7.
I’m not so sure about having the shopping centre so close to the high street. There’s a danger of having too many retail outlets but again that’s not unique to Kilkenny. Would I build a shopping centre in the middle of Kilkenny today? I’d say not.
The only reason I’m not living in Kilkenny is that my business took me elsewhere. It’s not for lack of love for the place. I’d live there in the morning if I could.
Bobby Kerr is an entrepreneur and a businessman.
In conversation with Rosita Boland