This week I, a Smithwick’s virgin, was invited to tag along on a tour by the company for a bit of craic in the marble city of Kilkenny.
We arrived at the Rivercourt Hotel on the banks of the River Nore at about 3pm, and got a bite to eat before dropping things off to our rooms.
With a jam-packed schedule at our fingertips, our first port of call was a stroll with an expert guide.
One for the history buffs: Pat Tynan’s Walking Tours
Pat Tynan of Tynan Tours has been on the go since 1983, and takes people on a one-hour history walk through Kilkenny’s winding laneways and compact streets.
By the way, did you know that there was a Kilkenny Mayor who fathered 25 children? Prolific!
For someone who does so many tours, it’s a wonder that he isn’t exhausted by the end of it, but ever-the-professional, he delivered us a tour with a smile and good laughs, touching on the more humorous aspects of Kilkenny and information that would make you “that’s mad!” rather than yawn.
I don’t want to spoil it for you but one of the most interesting stories I heard from Pat was about a certain “witch” in the city who came under intense scrutiny back in the 1200s.
The tour itself is great value for €8 for an adult and €6 for seniors/children or family deal of two adults and two children (12-16yrs) for €20.
One for the beer lovers and surprisingly kids: The Smithwick’s Experience
Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny’s latest claim to fame is that it has been listed as “one of the top 26 hottest new attractions in the world to visit in 2015” by The Lonely Planet, and being the only Irish attraction to make the global list.
Having never tasted the drink before in my life, but having a great appreciation for flavour, I was looking forward to trying something new.
Guided by our capable tour guide Simon, we experienced four different aspects of Smithwick’s from its inception by the monks (clever lads), how five generations of the family developed it into something more than just a beer, to the key ingredients in the brew and the actual taste.
I have to say it was definitely one of the better tours I’ve been in over the years – the length was just right and its modern approach to storytelling was highly enjoyable.
After sitting down with a glass of the traditional brew, as well as their Blonde and Pale Ale, we were very lucky to meet Paul Smithwick himself, the ninth generation of the family and a true character indeed.
A showman at heart, he gave us a brief run-through of his memories of working in the brewery as a young man, as well as showcasing the many historic photographs, articles and ledgers that pieces together the finished product.
Adult tickets are €12, over 18 students and senior citizens €9.50 and students under 18s paying €7. Children between 7 – 14yo get in for €4 with children under 6 getting to go in free. It’s recommended that you book online for a 10% discount. This includes a free pint (in the end I decided that I more of a fan of the Pale Ale!).
Surprisingly, though I never thought I’d say this about a tour with alcohol at its core, this is actually something that would work with the children, simply because it’s so interactive and fresh, that it’s not boring. Oh and don’t worry, the kids don’t get a free pint at the end – they get a soft drink!
One for the hungry: Anocht Restaurant
With our tummies full of booze, we sauntered over to Anocht Restaurant, situated in the Kilkenny Design Centre. The building itself was built in the 1760s as grain stores for the Earl of Ormonde’s horses but now houses all things design as well as a restaurant in its loft.
With a three-course meal that had a, you guessed it, Smithwick’s theme, my eyes immediately jumped to the 12 hour slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with champ mash, smoky bacon peas and jus.
Impressed that the menu featured so many local ingredients like Knockdrinna Goats Cheese, Kilmore Quay Potted Prawn and Crabmeat and Millevan Glazed Pork Belly, I was delighted to get tucked in.
Though not overly fond of the herb, garlic and Irish cheddar yeast bread, I was blown away by their beer-infused treacle soda bread – especially when it was toasted. Combined with all the flavours of the tasting platter starter, it was a wonderful little introduction to what the rest of the meal was going to be like.
Now I really love my lamb (I usually only have it once a year for Christmas), but I have to say that the lamb was cooked perfectly and when I poured the jus over it, it just made for a song in my mouth.
A trio of desserts to finish which included a brew infused chocolate mousse, honeycomb cheesecake and raspberry sorbet, you can imagine that we were suitably stuffed. My only small qualm was that we had to keep asking for water rather than getting a top-up but I’d definitely head back there.
Anocht is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Bank Holidays and Sunday from 6pm until late. Early bird prices are two courses for €24.50 or three courses for €28.50.
One for the craic: Irish Beats with Damien Walsh
To top off the night we headed back to Kyteler’s Inn for bodhrán lessons with Damien Walsh. A wee fact for you: the skin that’s stretched across the bodhrán is made from a goat.
Damien hosts free Irish bodhrán classes every Monday and Tuesday at 6.30pm in the Inn and has been playing the instrument for about 16 years. Under his expert humorous tutelage, we followed his lead as he went through the steps and tapped our feet to the music.
If you had as entertaining and as funny a music teacher as Damien, we’d all be master bodhrán players.
One for the kids and design lovers: Cathedral Church of St Canice’s and Round Tower
Up early to nab a quick breakfast, it was then time to head to the Cathedral Church of St. Canice’s and Round Tower. A black feline went streaking into the cathedral when we arrived and I mused to myself how fitting it was to be near a Kilkenny cat!
The Round Tower stood at 100ft tall, with seven narrow staircases and a looming appearance. Though I’m not one for heights, I thought “sure, look I’ll give a lash and at the very least I’ll only embarrass myself in front of a few people”. I’m happy to report that I didn’t throw up on anyone!
Even though it was a gloomy day across the city, you could get a real sense of the landscape and its surrounding green. Built sometime between AD 700 and 1000 on the site of an earlier Christian cemetery, the Round Tower is something that you should try to climb, but be warned: it’s a tight squeeze!
The cathedral itself is a sight to behold if you’re into your history or architecture (I was immediately drawn to the black cat lounging in a beanbag). It’s the second-largest medieval cathedral after St Patrick’s in Dublin and is decorated with highly polished ancient grave slabs on the walls and the floor. A feeling of the “old world” captures you when you head in, and it’s no wonder that they still hold ceremonies in such a beautiful and historical place.
Both the tower and cathedral are open Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sundays 1-6pm with shorter hours from September – May. Prices for the cathedral is €4, round tower €3 and if you combine the both, it’s a very reasonable €6.
One for the foodies: Fab Food Trails
With our trip almost coming to a close, we met up with Eveleen Coyle of Fab Food Trails who provides walking food tours of various cities. Keeping groups small with a maximum of 14, the Kilkenny branch of the tour heads along to some of the city’s culinary treasures.
Getting a glimpse at just some of the local produce and businesses in the city, I got a feeling that Kilkenny is quietly proud of what it has achieved over the years without having to shout it from the rooftops.
The Kilkenny Tasting Trail starts at 10.30am, and finishes around 1.00pm and costs €50.
Waving goodbye to Eveleen and the Rivercourt, it was time to jetback to the Big Smoke. Grabbing my things, I hopped onto the bus and shut my eyes for a well-needed nap.
Good company, good drink, good food. Make a trip to Kilkenny if you can – it’s worth it.
A few things worth mentioning:
- If you’re booking a room in the Rivercourt, while the view of the River Nore is lovely, sound travels to the rooms from the local pubs (along with the ringing of church bells at bizarre hours!). This was problematic for me because I had to leave the window open because the room was a bit too stuffy and I couldn’t seem to find a switch for air-con and I was wrecked from the day’s events. Next time, I’d probably book a room more to the back of the hotel not facing the water. Also, it was a bit annoying that there were no plugs right next to the bed for my phone but I’ve noticed that seems to be commonplace in hotels.
- I’d highly recommend having a bottle of water with you when you’re heading up St Canice’s Round Tower – though not exactly Everest, you become quite out of breath and if you’re someone like me who doesn’t do well with heights, you might get dizzy.
- If you can, head to Kilkenny during the week, apart from getting hotels at better prices, you’ll also be avoiding the many, many Stag and Hen parties that descend on the city at the weekend (unless you decide to join in!)
Many thanks to Gillian Herlihy of Ogilvy/Wilson Hartnell, Mark McGovern of Smithwick’s for helping organise such a fun experience.
(All images copyright of SpilltheBeans)