Weekend in Kilkenny

For a few months now we’ve been planning a trip with some friends of ours, Audrey and Dave and their three children: Zoe, Jack and Benjamin. Audrey and Dave are from a place called Kilkenny, and they were generous enough to offer themselves as our hosts and guides for our weekend out in the country. We were all very excited for our little 2-family getaway. That is, until this happened:

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On the eve of our most-exciting trip, David came down with a nasty viral infection. His fever spiked to 105 degrees in the middle of the night, and we decided to take him to the hospital for a little check-up just to be safe. So, with a sick child and no previous Irish-hospital experience, Jon braved a night in the ER. I could devote an entire blog post just to this ridiculous hospital visit, but for now I’ll just say that it involved Jon kicking down a door in the hospital, sitting in a waiting room with people who had been waiting for TWELVE HOURS, and getting sent home with a “prescription” for Tylenol. Needless to say, Jon and David were pretty wiped out from the whole hospital experience and neither of them were up for a trip to the country–no matter how glorious it was going to be.  We decided that it would be best for Jon and David to stay home and rest up while Jacob and I went on to meet our friends in Kilkenny.

Jacob and I got up before the crack of dawn (his idea, not mine), packed up the car, and drove 2 hours north into the Irish countryside. The drive itself was gorgeous–pastures, farms, animals, and ancient ruins everywhere you looked:

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We arrived in Kilkenny just after 10:00 on Saturday morning so we had the whole day to explore. Audrey’s parents run a grain farm, and they were kind enough to put us all up in the bungalow on their property. The “bungalow” was actually a huge house with 5 bedrooms, a large kitchen, and 2 sitting rooms. The bungalow is on the farm, so we could look out the window and see tractors going by and even hear animals baa-ing and moo-ing in the distance.  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to stay on our little Irish holiday.

The first thing we did after getting unpacked was to go for a little walk around the farm:

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All of the kids had a great time checking out the big tractors and massive farm machinery. Every little boy’s dream come true!

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We walked through the ginormous grain sheds (seriously, I think you could fit Safeco Field inside one of these guys!) and got to learn about all of the different grains that are on the farm:

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Audrey’s dad, Farmer Harper (alright, I don’t know if anyone calls him that, but his last name is Harper!), came down for a bit to show us around his farm and take the kids for rides on the tractor:

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And then it was insisted upon that I drive the tractor:

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I tried to warn them that I didn’t have an insurance policy to cover tractor collisions, but they still gave me the go-ahead (don’t worry, I drove at about 0.5 Miles Per Hour and couldn’t have hit a turtle if I’d been gunning for it):

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After a fun morning playing at Farmer Harper’s grain farm we headed out for our next farm-venture. Audrey’s cousin runs an open farm (a farm open for visitors with animals and kids’ activities) called Nore Valley Park, just up the road from her parents’ farm. There were lots of baby animals for us to see and pet and cuddle at Nore Valley: ducklings, chicks, and bunnies.

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My favorite babies, though, were definitely these twin lambs (you can only see one because her sister is lying behind Mama Sheep). They were born just a few hours before we arrived–they were so new that they still had their umbilical cords hanging on them!

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There were lots of fun activities for the kids including Jacob’s favorite, the sand pit:

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There were so many gorgeous animals for us to visit out on the farm. It doesn’t get much more Irish than this: a flock of fuzzy sheep and their new baby lambs grazing in a lush green field:

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We made one last stop after Nore Valley at a pottery studio called Nicholas Mosse. Kilkenny is well-known for the Irish arts and crafts that are produced in this region, so I had to see at least one design center while we were there.

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The Nicholas Mosse studio was very cool. The building itself is a 250-year old former grain mill on the banks of the River Nore. Inside, you can see demos of artists throwing the pottery and hand-painting each piece. Unfortunately, there were no demos for us to view while we were visiting, but there were several displays and videos showing us the whole pottery-making process.

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We spent a bit of time perusing the pottery that was for sale in the store. But, since I didn’t have $80 to spare for a tea cup, we decided to move along.

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There was a lovely cafe upstairs with a view of the river below. We all got tea and snacks to eat in the cafe. And, just to prove how Irish he’s becoming, Jacob drank nearly my whole pot of tea before I could get a sip in.

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We took the scenic road home from Nicholas Mosse and, my, was it gorgeous. Beautiful roads winding along rivers and past pristine country farms. A gorgeous end to our first day in Kilkenny.

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We spent our second day exploring the sights in Kilkenny. We started at Kilkenny Castle, a majestic building that is very unlike the rest of the typically rustic castles I’ve seen in Ireland. We posed for a quick group photo in front of the castle and then explored a bit of the grounds. There is a beautiful park surrounding the castle, complete with rose gardens and an awesome playground for the kids.

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At this point, the babies were already asleep in their strollers so we decided to leave Dave outside with all of the kids at the playground while Audrey and I went inside to tour the castle (you win Man of The Year for that one, Dave!).

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The castle itself was incredible. It was built in 1195 on the banks of the River Nore and was occupied by many different people throughout its history. The last family to inhabit these walls was the prosperous Butler family, and they went all out in the opulence department. There is hand-painted silk wallpaper in the drawing room and gold-plated ceilings in the library. Most of the furnishings, decorations, and details of the castle have been restored to their former glory. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside–but just take my word for it, it was amazing!

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After touring the castle we walked through town to do a bit of exploring:

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As we were walking through town we came upon all of these lovely anti-witch posters. You see, Kilkenny was the home of Alice Kyteler, the first woman accused and condemned as a witch in Ireland.

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After her fourth husband “mysteriously” died, Alice Kyteler was accused of being a witch and sentenced to death. She got wind of this unfortunate turn of events and hastily found her way right out of Ireland. She must have forgotten to tell her maidservant, Petronella de Meath, about all of this, though–she was burned at the stake in Kyteler’s place in 1324. Today you can still visit Kyteler’s former house in Kilkenny. It is a pub, as it has been since 1324 when the residents abandoned the house.

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Continuing our walk through Kilkenny we came to a spot on the sidewalk where you can see the remains of the 13th century city wall. This wall was (obviously) built as a fortress to protect the residents inside the city and (not so obviously) as a means to separate the wealthy English residents and the poor Irish residents. Consequently, the two sides of the wall were called English town and Irish town, respectively.

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Our final two stops on our walk through Kilkenny were two ancient churches. The first church we visited, Black Abbey, was built in 1225. It was deliberately built outside the town walls so that they could serve residents of both English town and Irish town and claim their independence from either side.

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The second church we visited was St. Canice’s Cathedral. The cathedral was closed to the public when we visited, but I hear that the inside is gorgeous. What we could see on the outside was also quite fascinating.  For instance, the round tower that stands to the side of the cathedral was a sort of hideout that the monks could go to if the cathedral was ever attacked (which, by merely imagining the effort that must have gone into building that tower, I would have to assume happened quite often). The door to the round tower is about 10 feet off the ground and would be accessed with a ladder–once the monks were safely inside, they’d pull up the ladder and climb to the top of the tower where they would be safe.

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I loved Kilkenny–the beautiful countryside, the quaint town, the rich history. I’m already planning our next trip here–hopefully minus the fevers and late-night hospital visits!

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