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Kilkenny, South from Dublin to History, Art, and Great Shopping. Kilkenny Ireland Road Detour Located in the southeast of Ireland an easy day trip from Dublin Kilkenny is worth the effort for the art, shopping, stained glass windows, and the scrumptious brown bread, breaded French camembert and chutney, and pea soup at Hibernian Hotel Restaurant.
Fly - drive is the most workable option for a free form family holiday in Ireland. So, fly-drive is exactly what we did from our vacation base at the Liffey Hotel near the airport. In addition to tromping around Dublin we managed two day trips. Our first was to Kilkenny, selected because of the words medieval, cathedral, and castle in that order. Our concierge confirmed that the drive was easy and the town manageable on foot. He scribbled directions and we were off.
We left our guidebook at the hotel in a rush to leave Dublin before the traffic (There was no need to worry apparently no one goes to Kilkenny on a Wednesday.). Tuned to the local radio station we were entertained by the bilingual (Irish and English) advertising and an announcer who often sounded like he was doing a Diylan Moran impersonation. Several roundabouts down the road, one detour and one missed turn, “Kilkenny City Centre Turn Here” became a reality.

County Kilkenny, anchored by the city of Kilkenny, melds medieval vignettes and contemporary artistic style. We were pleasantly surprised by the compact city centre with its cobbled stone pedestrian walkways, vintage pubs, yummy bakeries, mix of trendy shops, awesome art galleries, working artist studios, and cafes. The purpose for our day’s outing was to see the medieval city, Saint Canice's Cathedral, and Kilkenny Castle. Need to know: Parking on the street is almost impossible during the summer season so be prepared to be patient and quick to take action or give in and use a car park. Kilkenny Castle Ireland
Play “King of the Castle”. Kilkenny Castle, a 15-minute walk from McDonagh Railway Station, is in the heart of the city. Remolded during Victorian times, very little is left of the 12th century nevertheless it is worth a look because the rooms are impressive and the view of the extensive greenbelt - sweet. The Castle, the updated version, is impressive because of its sheer size even if it is missing one critical wall. Visitors access the castle only on a guided tour which begins with a video describing the life of the castle. The tour moves through limited sections of the building including the library, drawing room, Long Gallery, and bedrooms outfitted in the style of the 1830s. As we learned on the tour the Butler family is connected in a big way with the place proven by the copious Butler portraits in the Long Gallery - yawn. I think one of the best reasons to visit the castle is to discover the Butler Art Gallery in the basement (former servants' rooms) showcasing contemporary art. Bonus Points: The 49-acre park surrounding the castle has several trails along the River Nore, a lovely rose garden, acres of lawn ideal for kite flying or a game of tag, and a playground for young children. Need to know: During the busiest times of the year lines can be long but there is an ice cream truck with treats not far from the entrance and the old castle kitchen operates as a tea room during the summer season. Need to know: This is not a castle with interactive rooms or games for children so, staying alert is essential for parents of you children.Kilkenny Craft Centre Outdoor Gallery
Go to the stables for art. The Castle’s former stables have been re imagined as the Kilkenny Design Craft Centre. Hang on to your credit card because the creative quality at reasonable prices is at every turn. The Centre is one of the main reasons to drive from Dublin because the selection of Irish handcrafted gifts is extensive assembled for quality, uniqueness and style. In one spot we found products created by the best of by Ireland’s artists and crafters from jewelry, crystal and knitwear to Celtic gifts, pottery, and woolens. At the Craft Centre is a delightful family-friendly restaurant which serves delicious homemade selections including divine bread and cheeses – of course it’s Ireland isn’t it? We sampled yummy scones and citrus tea before our Castle tour and I noticed the desert menu could be a problem. Bonus Points: The Centre is located adjacent to the National Craft Gallery one of Ireland’s trendiest artistic venues and a place to be inspired.

The shopping scoop condensed. In addition to awesome woolen items, silky shawls, and very tempting clothing for children (wee sweaters and tiny socks - oh so cute) two items stand out as memorable. First, Claddagh rings Ireland’s symbol of love, loyalty and friendship are available at the Craft Centre or can be custom made in one of the craft shops found adjacent Craft Gallery complex. And second, re energized Celtic Ogham wishes (duplicated messages found carved on ancient stones throughout Ireland) dating from the first century B.C. have been framed for personal use. On the contemporary side, I saw hand-blown crystal of Jerpoint Glass, exquistie leathers by Chesneau, and beautiful glass beads at All That Glistens.  

Not the cathedral we expected. Kilkenny has two amazing cathedrals, something we learned quite by accident (remember we left our guidebook at the hotel) while meandering the city centre looking for St. Canice. Irish folks by nature wish to be helpful so look lost or confused and someone will stop to ask can they help. But getting directions from folks on the street does not always yield the optimum results. Our question, as we stood under an awning waiting for the rain to lessen, was which way to the cathedral?  We were looking for St. Canice but we received directions to St. Mary’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic) on St. James Street located on the highest point in the city. It was our bonus for the day. When we arrived the organist was practicing and we had a mini concert that only enhanced the Early Gothic atmosphere. The site information explains it was inspired by the Gloucester Cathedral in England but it is remarkable on its own. Look for the nethercross carved out of granite and made to look like the cross carried by St. Canice, the patron saint of Kilkenny.Saint Canice Cathedral Kilkenny Ireland
A cathedral is forever. I love cathedrals and luckily I have passed that passion on to our children. On our Kilkenny list, the Early Gothic St. Canice Cathedral located on ground consecrated in the 6th century. It is simply splendid. Located on the northern edge of the city, atop of one of the city’s many hills, the impressive limestone structure features many stained glass windows each more beautiful than the next. The baptismal font is original and the ancient stone of enthronement for bishops still exists in the north transept. As one might expect the beautiful black tomb in the transept and assorted others in close proximity belong to the Butler family. Guarding the cathedral is a 9th century stone watchtower just waiting to be climbed. I learned that children must be at least 12 years old to climb the 100 narrow steps to the top. The view from the top was rewarding in spite of the intermittent rain. Surrounding the tower and Cathedral is a well-kept cemetery which might be really spooky at night but seemed appropriate given the history of the site. Bonus Points: To enjoy the cathedral with young children (or students of art and architecture) useful worksheets are available. Just ask at the desk.

The bottom-line about Kilkenny. The city is inspiring because of its creative energy but medieval? Well, it is not York. It is however a lovely town for shopping. For high quality art and awesome works of craft the town cannot be beat. I learned from one of the gallery owners that more than 130 crafts people live and work within the county. Creativity just oozes out of the ground and fills the air. After our time browsing the Design Craft Centre we wandered along the streets ducking in and out of shops find plenty of fashionable bargains. Before leaving town we stopped at the tourism centre (I know backwards). I learned that there’s plenty for active young families to do in the area from hiking and cave tours to falconry and farm tours. I can honestly say the city is ideal for families with older children or parents traveling with you adults because there’s plenty of music, theatre, shopping and other young people in a compact area. While we did not overnight in the city I can only imagine how lively things are at night. We were not disappointed in our daytrip. It was the art that made the difference. Need to know: When we were there the route from Dublin to Kilkenny was in various stages of construction much like the rest of Ireland. Detours are random and unpredictable so be prepared stop and follow a free-form route.
Planning Details and Things to Do with Kids
Kilkenny Castle. The Parade Kilkenny City Centre.During the summer months go early (or saty late) to avoid crowds. (0)56 772 1450, 770 4100 or

Kilkenny Design Centre. Hang on to your credit card this is a black hole of lovely must-have things and they ship anywhere you wish. Castle Yard Castle Road, Kilkenny. (0)56 -772 2118 or

National Craft Gallery. Prepare to be surprised ans inspired. Castle Yard Castle Road, Kilkenny. Craft Council of Ireland or
St. Mary’s Cathedral.  James Street Kilkenny Co. Kilkenny  (0)56-772  1253.

Cathedral of St. Canice.  The Close, Coach Road, Kilkenny. (0)56 776 4971 or Hibernian Hotel Lobby Kilkenny Ireland

Hibernian Hotel and Bar. This was our mid afternoon stop for lunch. Before heading upstairs for lunch we stopped at the bar and within minutes met fellow Americans from Green Bay and Austin. We exchanged notes and insider tips and agreed the town cannot be beat for art and shopping. This boutique hotel has vintage charm (award winning 4-star luxury) and a friendly helpful staff. Bonus points: The menu selection is tempting. Consider Kilmore Quay Fish Pie topped with potatoes and Dubliner cheddar, carrot cake with and orange glaze, or rhubarb apple crumble – yikes!  Hibernian Restaurant 777 1888 Patrick Street, Kilkenny. (0)56 777 1888 or

Festivals worth the trip.
Cat Laugh Comedy Festival. I received this tip from the concierge at the Hibernian Hotel. It’s perfect for families with college-age kids who want to share more than just a night of drinking. It seems that each year in late May or early June comedians congregate and cause laughter. If you enjoy Josie Long, Bo Burnham, Maeve Higgins or Roisin Conaty then put this event on your list. (0)56 776 3416 or

Kilkenny Arts Festival. We were in the city during the festival held each August. The atmosphere was extra lively and there were oodles of family friendly activities. (0)56 775 2175
Kilkenny Tourism Centre. In addition to oodles of brochures this location has an extensive store with plenty of town guidebooks and walking maps. 1582 Shee Alms House Rose Street, City Centre. (0) 56 775 1500 or 
Content and images provided by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files. Copyright updated 2016.