Kilkenny city: five things to do

Delve into a world of intrigue, magic and mystery in Kilkenny city. We've got five to get you started…

A 12th-century castle for £50?

1. Soak up the atmosphere of a historic castle

A 12th-century castle for £50? Only in Kilkenny.

The city's famous Norman Castle was home to the Butlers of Ormonde for nearly five centuries, before the 6th Marquess of Ormonde offered it to the city of Kilkenny for £50 in 1967!

A tour will bring you to the Picture Gallery Win, and around the nooks and crannies of the library, with its psychedelic colour scheme. Don’t feel like doing a tour? No problem: 500 years of history is condensed into a 12-minute film in the Medieval Room in the South Tower, and it's free – you only pay to go into the rest of the castle.

The Kilkenny Cats take on Tipperary in hurling

2. Pick up a hurling stick and make like a local

The ancient Irish game of hurling has long links with Kilkenny (“Go the Cats”). The county’s team colours – black and amber – will often be seen on flags flying from every window and car. If you want to get under the skin of the sport, then hook up with The Ultimate Hurling Experience Tour. Rated five out of five on TripAdvisor, the tour gives a great insight into the game of hurling, which according to tour guide Jim Croke has been compared to a “mixture of ice hockey and murder”.

After an explanation of the rules, he brings you to an impeccably manicured pitch, hands you a genuine ash hurley stick and a hard leather stitched ball known as a sliotar – the rest is up to you.

3. Experience mysterious medieval Kilkenny

The 13th-century Black Abbey is a world of candlelit serenity, with the largest rosary window of its kind in Ireland. Containing an astonishing 10,000 pieces of ruby and sapphire glass, it tells the story of the life of Christ and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Just a short distance from Black Abbey is Rothe House and Garden, a restored 16th-century Tudor home, where archaeologists recently found the remains of an earlier medieval townhouse (thought to be the “city pad” of the Abbot of nearby Duiske Abbey). History has shown that this guy lived pretty well, dining on swan and steak and washing it down with his favourite Bordeaux – we like his style.

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4. Taste “the oldest ale in Ireland”

The origins of Smithwick’s Brewery date all the way back to 1231, when a few thirsty monks discovered ale when trying to purify water. Fast forward through 300 turbulent years of penal laws, world wars and poverty, and the brewery fell into the hands of the Smithwick family. The rest, as they say, is history, and this pale ale was being shipped worldwide by the 1800s.

The story of Smithwick’s is told in full at the Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny. Walk through the original St. Francis’ Brewery, discover the story of the beer and finish your time off with a pint. You’ll be thirsty after your long walk through history.

5. Get crafty, Irish-style

Artists and craftspeople work in studios all around Kilkenny city. Renowned potter Nicholas Mosse creates his elegant pieces here, and the Kilkenny Design Centre anchors the city’s retail scene with a stunning collection of jewellery, knitwear, Celtic gifts, china, crystal and pottery.

And don’t miss the National Craft Gallery at Castle Yard, previously home to the stables and coach houses of Kilkenny Castle, where you can watch clay workers in action, or have a go yourself.

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