In Kilkenny, Ireland, Walk a Mile Back to the Middle Ages
By Linda Gasparello
Just a mile-long walk in Kilkenny will take you back in time to Ireland in the Middle Ages. The city’s “Medieval Mile” has some magnificent sites, including the 13th-century, stone St. Canice’s cathedral.
“St. Canice’s has one of two round towers in Ireland that you can climb: The tower was built before the medieval period, in the 9th century. A monk may have a little chat with you as get on your way to the roof,” Colette Byrne, CEO of the Kilkenny County Council, said at the Association of European Journalists’ Congress, held in Kilkenny on Nov. 4-6.
Kilkenny’s brewing history began with monks, who settled at St. Francis Abbey in the 13th century. “The monks drank beer instead of water because the water quality was poor,” Byrne said, adding, “Good excuse to drink beer, I’d say.”
On the city’s High Street, which is part of the “Medieval Mile,” stands Ireland’s oldest operating brewery: Smithwick’s. It was founded on the St. Francis Abbey site by John Smithwick in 1710. Byrne said the beer is now produced by Guinness in Dublin and the Kilkenny County Council owns the old brewery, which it “reinvented” as “The Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny” visitor attraction and center.
Byrne said the city is reinventing many of its landmark buildings. “We’re turning the 19th-century Evan’s Home, a former poorhouse, into a museum. It will house the Butler Gallery in two years,” she said. The gallery has more than 400 works, showing the evolution of 20th-century art in Ireland.
The arts are everywhere in the city, from murals on buildings to music in pubs to “eclectic festivals,” including the Kilkenomics Festival in November, “the world’s first festival of economics and comedy,” Byrne said.
I shot these photographs during a “Medieval Mile” walk, guided charmingly by Frank Kavanagh. “He’s the best tour guide in town,” said a boy, standing on the High Street with a hurling stick in his hand. Kavanagh smiled, took the stick from the boy, and raised it in the air to Kilkenny.