The Witch of Kilkenny, Ireland
I went for the arts in Kilkenny, and instead I found a witch!
It’s an hour and 1/2 drive from Dublin south to Kilkenny, a medieval town, with a castle built in 1195. Picking up my rental car in Dublin, I was a bit nervous, since driving is on the left side of the road here, but it was fine. After all, I’d had 3 weeks of practice in New Zealand, although that was almost 7 months ago now. I headed straight to the tourist office and spent about 2 hours there, as they tried to help me find rooms for the next 3 nights – it appeared there were none left anywhere near the places I wanted to go. People had told me not to worry about booking ahead at this time of the year in Ireland, late August, as the kids are headed back to school, but they were off by a week. They finally found me some rooms although they were definitely over my budget. Just a reminder to double-check the area you’re traveling to, for special circumstances. Sometimes it’s beneficial to just arrive at a place, as a lot of the nice, smaller places don’t use booking sites, and are also willing to bargain on price. On the other hand, if it’s a busy time, without booking ahead, you might find yourself sleeping on the proverbial park bench.
The tour office lady asked if I wanted to join the walking tour that was about to start. Sure! It’s a great way to get an overview of a town. We saw Butter Alley, where they used to sell butter in medieval times…
…the Black Abby, which dates back to the 13th century…
…and Smithwick’s brewery building, where they no longer brew beer (that’s moved to Dublin) but you can pay a chunk of change to stop in their visitor’s center to shop for merchandise if you choose (I chose not to).
Kilkenny is known as an arts and crafts town, and includes the Medieval Mile, with many shops lining its winding lanes along the River Nore. I just missed the annual arts fair, which was probably just as well, since accommodations were hard enough to come by post-festival.
You can tour the castle for a fee, or just have a wander around the grounds for free.
With notoriously gray skies, and many buildings made of gray stone, the Irish find other ways to brighten their cities, including flowers, graffiti, paint, and lights.
Kilkenny is not a town that’s too worried about safety – check out the security system on their kegs…
And about that witch…in the middle of town, there is a restaurant called Kyteler’s, which was once a stone house owned by a woman whose 4 husbands all died under mysterious circumstances. She was tried and convicted as a witch, but she was rich (from her 4 husbands), and her wealthy friends helped her escape to England. Her maid was not so fortunate, and the punishment was carried out on her – she was whipped through the streets and burned at the stake, supposedly the first in Europe. Quite a sad tale. The establishment is supposedly haunted, and there are photos someone took hanging on the wall that show a mysterious shadow climbing up the stairs. There is also a curious story of an artist and an author related to the Kyteler’s witch tale (see The Spooky Story below).
Haunted or not, it is a spooky place, but in a fun way, and both my tour guide, and later my B&B host said to go back there for dinner, for good food and free music after 6. I followed their advice, and dined on traditional Irish stew – a hearty bowl full of meat, potatoes and carrots, and after, enjoyed a lively room full of music and laughter.
My B&B Mena House, was a nice, big old house with lots of rooms, walking distance to town. I ended up talking to Catherine, the proprietress, for quite a while. She was friendly and funny, and said she’d love to do what I’m doing, travel the world alone, but wouldn’t dare. “You’re very brave,” she told me. I keep hearing that, and at first didn’t think it was true, as I find traveling fun and exhilarating, not scary. But the more people I meet around the world, the more I see how everyone has dreams, and most don’t follow them out of various fears. I’m not sure doing this makes me brave, but I do feel fortunate, for my many misfortunes, like divorce, losing my job and my home, that led me to make this journey. To me, the brave ones are those who quit their good-paying jobs in order to follow their dreams.
Leaving Kilkenny, I made a brief stop at The Rock of Cashel, which local mythology says originated in a mountain called the Devil’s Bit, when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock landing here. I spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins of the cathedral, which was built between 1235 and 1270, and its graveyard, with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
It was especially nice when I bypassed a giant tour group that was listening outside to their guide, while I got to slip into the tiny chapel, all dark and damp, completely alone. And also when I headed out, to the strains of Celtic music as 3 young guys played their hearts out.
Ireland is full of historic sites, scattered throughout the country, so a road trip is an ideal way to see it, as you can stop at will wherever you fancy. I was about to spend the next 2 1/2 weeks doing just that, much of it along the famous Wild Atlantic Way…