Ah Kilkenny CITY – for yes, it is indeed a city – has quite a lot to offer.
So much, in fact, that some would say that the nation's former capital is on a par with its current one.
That's why, today, we've handed the keys of the site over to a native – local lady Caoimhe O'Reilly – who's here to convince us that there's no side like the Noreside.
1. Officially the friendliest vibe in Ireland – and Europe
You need not only take our word for it – swanky publishers Condé Nast voted it ninth-friendliest city in the world, making it Ireland and Europe’s highest entry. A friendly bunch so we are, so we are.
2. A city status that you'll NEVER take away from us
Granted City status in 1609 by Royal Charter (because we’re worth it) we’ve retained our status as a city, despite repeated challenges. And why? Cos we’ve got TWO CATHEDRALS, DAMN IT!
St Canice’s Catherdral features a round tower, which gives a bird’s eye view of the city in all its glory. It is frightfully high, however… the climb is not for the faint-hearted, let me tell you.
3. The Hole in the Wall
It’s hard to know where to start with this place. Bought and renovated by a consultant cardiologist who amongst other things, was Metallica’s doctor, this is Ireland’s oldest pub. Sorry, Brazen Head.
Go there at any time and be given a fascinating tour and history (of the venue as well as owner Michael Conway’s exotic life).
To give you a flavour: the aforementioned Mr Conway will often break out his saxophone and visitors have been known to be randomly given a tambourine to join in. In brief: My top Kilkenny tip.
4. The dead body of Santa Claus
The big man himself, St Nicholas, is buried here. If it’s a good enough resting place for the most universally adored man in the world, then that tells you all you need to know really.
5. A capital history
Kilkenny was the de facto capital of Ireland for a time in the 1600s… until Cromwell came plundering. (BOOOOOOO Cromwell). But it will always be the real capital in our hearts.
6. THIS CASTLE
The Castle. THIS CASTLE!
EVERYBODY LOOK AT THIS CASTLE!
It belonged to the Butler family until it was given to the people of Kilkenny for £50 in 1967. A bit of a bargain, really; sure you wouldn’t even get a meal in Dublin for that. Missing one of the original walls due to the bold Oliver Cromwell’s rampage, but even he didn’t defeat us. No one can.
7. DJ Bainne
And on to more serious matters.
Milkman by day, DJ by night, the superstar spinners of the world have nathin' on this fella.
8. The nicest shifting spot in Ireland
Where most of the city’s youths will have enjoyed their first, or indeed many shifts. It’s a beautiful place to clear your head, have a jolly stroll and a shift… all smack bang in the centre of the city
9. Rock royalty
Jagger turned up with Marianne Faithfull at the gala in Kilkenny Castle in 1967 to commerate the handover. Rumour has it he danced the night away in Kytler’s once the boring bits were done.
10. And speaking of Kyteler’s...
Alice Kyteler – a local woman – was the first person in Ireland to be accused of witchcraft. Married four times (good woman yerself) she evaded capture, probably to England, but her servant Petronella was burned at the stake.
11. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
The most famous address in the world. You might even have a photo of yourself smiling manically outside it. And it was designed by Kilkenny man James Hoban.
You can keep your Guiness Storehouse, Dublin.
The family brewing business starts in 1710 with John Smithwick in Kilkenny, who was left orphaned by rebellion. He managed to get through that AND found the Smithwick’s Brewery. A pretty good idea, eh? And predating Guinness in Dublin by nearly 40 years!
13. The Roots Festival
Since its inception in 1998, the festival has grown to become one of the foremost Americana hooleys in the world.
Every May Bank Holiday the city hosts some of the finest bands in the business and previous visitors have included Ryan Adams, Alabama Shakes and Phosphorescent.
14. Cat Laughs
The June Bank Holiday sees Kilkenny turn into the Comedy Capital of the world – Kilkenny once again attracts the cream of Irish and international talent, the sun always shines, there’s an Ireland vs the Rest of The World comedians football match (ticket price: free) and every year, without fail there’s an element of scandal.
Yup. We do festivals well.
Comedy and economics. Not a natural match, by any means, but we can make anything work – and so, we play host to the world’s first and possibly only comedy economics festival.
Set up by David McWilliams in 2010 and now in full flow, November sees the world’s top economists come to the Marble City to debate the weighty issues of the day. 2015 saw the visit of the enfant terrible of the finance world, ex-Greek Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
16. The Fiennes brothers
Yup. Oscar-nominated Ralph Fiennes, and brother Joseph, went to St Kieran’s College. No biggie.
The ultimate rite of passage.
Every Thursday night after first Year College, this is where you’ll have spent your formative years… always in the smoking area, always in the pursuit of the shift. If you’re aged 17-23, this is your Holy Grail.
18. The Venue that was once THE Venue to be seen in
Now sadly gone, but never to be forgotten, a nightclub that looked like an underground car park. May she Rest in Peace. Sadly no photo evidence of The Venue exists to our knowledge – but if you’ve got something, drop us a line on [email protected].
19. A graveyard for dogs
Because, why not?
20. Dore’s Nostalgia Café
If you want to buy a (dubious) antique whilst enjoying your tea and cake, do it here. The upstairs by the window also provides an excellent people watching spot (if mild stalking is what you’re into).
21. Bridie’s Bar and General Store
You want a pint but you also want to buy some olde worlde sweets and possibly see some examples of taxidermy? Yup, yup, we got that.
Bridie’s will also give you a hot water bottle if you want to sit outside in the smoking area – we’re sound like that.
22. The Patents Office
If you’ve got an idea that you want to patent, you’re in luck kid! A home for all things innovative, different, unique, world-changing – sure where else would it be?
23. The National Reptile Zoo
What’s that, you want to see a crocodile and a snake up close? Well you can do that in Kilkenny. Ireland’s only dedicated Reptile Zoo is located in Gowran. Play nice, though.
24. Kilkenny Elvis
The one and only Myles ‘Elvis’ Kavanagh – Kilkenny hurling superfan and Elvis Impersonator extradinaoire.
An unlikely alliance, but one that’s earned Myles an exalted status in Kilkenny and beyond. If you’ve heard him do his ‘Love me Tender’, than by God you are truly blessed.
25. Oscar-nominated animators
Okay, so you have these in Dublin… but whatever. Local lads Cartoon Saloon were nominated for not one but two Oscars for the stunning animated films ‘Secret of Kells’ and ‘Song of the Sea’ and were up against the likes of Pixar.
G’wan the lads!
26. Moone Boy
If you thought Moone Boy was all about Roscommon, think again. Co-writer Nick Murphy spent his formative years in Kilkenny and there’d be no Sean Murphy without our Kilkenny man.
A stretch, you say? Well. Shut up, that’s what.
27. A bowling alley fit for a Boss
The time Bruce Springsteen took some time out from his busy Rock and Roll lifestyle to go bowling in K-Bowl will forever live on in Kilkenny lore. A venue also beloved by teens who are too young to get into Langton’s and children for their birthday parties.
28. More Michelin Stars per capita than (almost) anywhere in the world
Second only to San Sebastian in Spain for its number of Michelin Stars per head of Population. That’s how we roll.
Campagne and Lady Helen Restaurant (in Mount Juliet) were both awarded Michelin stars in 2013 and have continued to retain them since. If you’re feeling flush, a trip to either of this can’t be missed – and for a thrifty tip, try the early bird in Campagne. Three courses for €32. There’d be no value like that in the big smoke.
29. The friendliest little record shop in the world
The Gem that is Rollercoaster Records. Go in and peruse the vinyl and have your tastes judged unreservedly by Willie and Davy (Think the scorn of Jack Black in High Fidelity, but somehow sounder).
See below for a sample judgment.
30. Ireland’s swankiest nightclub
You heard it here first: The Set is a hands-down winner of this honour we just invented right now. Also a theatre and part of the Langton’s empire.
Doesn’t have a coat check, but does have a secret vintage armoire where you can stow your jacket away safely. (You also heard that here first.)
31. Brewery Corner
One of Ireland’s only dedicated craft beer pubs – brought to you by the people behind O'Haras beers – you’ll find excellent drinks, board games and more.
Upstairs has a live music venue, and it’s a cracking place for a date. So people say…
A brilliant pub with an intimate theatre venue out the back. It’s without doubt the place to be during festival season and hosts the best trad nights in the city.
And if you get a seat of a Saturday night, more power to you.
33. Billy Byrne’s
One of the most eclectic pubs in town. Jazz nights, quizzes – it’s all happening. They host a free movie on Wednesday nights where they dish out popcorn (also free).
And there's an excellent back garden, which is home to The Bula Bus, a converted double decker, which does a thriving street food business. Best sweet potato fries in Ireland, you know. (We'll see about that – ed)
34. The man who inspired Scorpion
One Mr Walter O’Brien went to school in, where else, St Kieran’s college Kilkenny. He’s the blueprint for the main character and share a name. Walter is famed for (allegedly) hacking NASA and tells the tale of arrive home from school to find Interpol interviewing his parents.
Walter serves as executive producer for the series, when he’s not busy you know, foiling terrorist attacks and other bits and pieces.
35. Dunmore Caves
Rumoured to be the third darkest caves in the world, whatever that means.
36. The Rugby Club
When it comes to sport, Kilkenny excels at far more than the you-know-what.
There’s a thriving rugby club in the city too. With men’s and women’s teams (including Caroline Jenkinson who played for the Irish women’s team) and a very social tag team, it’s not just a location for 21st birthdays.
Speaking of which, The Club also hosted a nightclub back in the day where many shenanigans were known to have taken place. These cannot be revealed, sadly.
37. So many conkers it’s... bonkers
A real danger sport. (Ever been hit on the knuckles by a conker, not cool…)
The Irish Conker Championships take place annually here on the October Bank Holiday weekend) Enter the competition… If you think you can handle it.
38. Folkster – the original
Blanaid and her team restored a former bank into one of the coolest shops you’ll set foot in. The changing rooms are located in the former bank vaults. So, like, suck it Camden Exchange.
For a small county (in land size, not in heart, obviously) we sure do well in the sporting stakes.
Paulstown man Darren O’Neill captained the Irish boxing team at the 2012 Olympics, Joanne Cuddihy represented us on the track in Beijing and London, while pentathlete Arthur Lannigan O’Keefe hails from the county too. He won gold at the European championships and we’ll be cheering him on as he seeks to do it again at the Rio this summer.
40. Ballykeefe Amphitheatre
Just seven miles from the city lies one of the most unique live entertainment venues in Ireland – a former quarry that’s has been restored to a traditional amphitheatre.
It can play host to music, festivals, theatre… anything really. You can also do rock climbing or hike one of the beautiful trails here, if you’re so inclined.
Oh, and it’s also a good place for shifting… so I’m told.
41. Kilkenny on film
Or, in another word, Woodstock.
Located just outside the village of Inistiogue – about 30 minutes outside the city, you can hang out in the village where numerous Hollywood blockbusters were filmed… Widow’s Peak, Circle of Friends, the forthcoming Secret Scripture…
And you can even have lunch in The Circle of Friends Café. So there.
42. We’re not afraid to write plays about the big issues of the day
The delightfully named Devious Theatre are based in the city, and 2016 sees them celebrate 10 years of playacting.
In particular, they have a fantastic bit of theatre called ‘Shifting’ – amongst other gems in their repertoire – so I would say catch them in action this year, if you want a bellyache and some tips on the finer details of romance.
43. The Butterslip
Named after one of Kilkenny’s famous pedestrian slips this beautiful shop is well worth a visit if you want to buy a thoughtful gift, or to just, you know…. treat yo’self
45. The Design Centre
Formerly the stables to the Castle across the road, this spot is home to a fabulous café and award-winning restaurant ‘Anocht’ by night (see what they did there?). It’s also home to The National Craft Gallery.
Culture and fancy eats. So convenient!
46. The Lyrath
Pure class. Enough said.
46. And finally, more hurling All Irelands than anyone else. EVER.
You thought we were going to leave it out, didn't you?
Well, it hardly needs to be said, but the Cats quite simply aren’t to be beaten. With a record 36 wins to our names, and a winning streak that doesn’t seem to be coming to an end, Brian Cody and his boys really have cracked the magic formula for the fastest sport in the world.
We've won eight out of the last 10 All Ireland Senior Hurling Championships – and if you're wondering why it's not 10 out of 10, that's because we decided to give someone else a go during the other two years. (Like I said above, we're pure sound.)
We hurl, therefore we are.
Win a stay in Kilkenny
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