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Kilkenny Trip Oct 2016

posted Nov 15, 2016, 1:49 PM by Reinhard Schoeller

Kilkenny - The outing of the Irish-Austrian Society on October 8th
Trip Report by Alexander von Peez
Outings with The Irish Austrian society have become a much loved tradition attracting young and old, mainly Irish and Austrians from all walks of life. Last year it was Mountstewart in Northern Ireland, the palatial home of the Marquesses of Londonderry. This year we stayed, in true republican spirit in the South. Perhaps we will go up North again next year.

Our eyes were firmly set on Kilkenny and its very prominent Smithwicks Brewery. A city fittingly named after one of the twelve apostles of Ireland St Canice. Ironically St Canice is a patron saint of the shipwrecked. Kilkenny lies about 50 kilometres inland, so he must be there very relaxed and idle. Rosemary, our able and experienced guide, set the schedule and organized the transportation. Her husband Gerhard was always close by: our dynamic duo. Meeting point for the start of the journey was Tara Station on a a slightly greyish Saturday morning, but the weather and the mood would change significantly during the course of this memorable day. Rest assured, beer and good company does help.

As usual some familiar faces showed up and new potential members were quickly introduced and warmly welcomed.
Rosemary whizzing around with her flip chart ensured that we all hopped on the bus on time. It took us little more than 2 hours to get to Kilkenny. And since all of us found ourselves engaged in interesting conversations. It felt as if it took us even less time. We were in Kilkenny around lunch time and we took lunch in the Pembroke Hotel. A fine 4 star Hotel very centrally located. There we were served some refreshments, sandwiches and I must say a very delicious pumpkin soup. Freshly restored, we were invited to go upstairs to the roof top terrace where we enjoyed an enchanting view over Kilkenny and its meandering Nore River.

A member of the staff was kindly willing to explain to us the various churches, St Canice cathedral, the second largest in Ireland in particular, the Ormond Castle, the garden next to the Killkenny Art and Design Centre. We learned that Kilkenny was granted the status of a city by James I 1609 and is not only famous for its beer "Smithwicks" but is also well known for it marble - therefore the name The Marble City. This famous marble was even used for the new tomb of recently rediscovered King Richard III. A ruthless English monarch who was immortalised through William Shakespeare play (" A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse! ")
After reluctantly leaving, we went to Kilkenny Arts Design Centre opposite the castle. It was set up there in the mid sixties in order to promote Irish arts and design. The Irish government then invited several craftsmen from abroad. One of the more well known who left a huge imprint was goldsmith Rudolf Heltzel from Berlin. His jewellery is much appreciated by a lot of Irish families. Hidden within the Arts and Design Centre is the Dower House Garden. The garden is graced by a nice fountain surrounded by some stones with a remarkable history. These were the remnants of the famous Nelson's Pillar, once located there where we now can find the Spire in front of the GPO in Dublin.

Set up at this spot in 1809 to honor Admiral Horatio Nelson and his naval victories over Napoleon. A proud reminder of Dublin's Imperial past. Strongly despised by Irish Republicans it was destroyed in a huge explosion in 1966. Just in time for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Who say's the Irish have no sense of timing ? The remains had a chequered history. The head was even on tour with "The Dubliners" and found its final resting place in the library in Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive in Pearse Street.
The " body " of Nelson was here in the heart of Kilkenny and on some stone there were to be seen faded inscriptions of past British glories. After saying farewell to the resting place of this unceremoniously disposed of hero we went to the Smithwicks Brewery. However, the term brewery is not very fitting any more.The brewery ceased operations in 2013 and now there is a visiting centre instead for those who take an interest in beer and the history of the beer called Smithwicks in particular. Only a small portion of the former brewery is now occupied by the visitor centre. But size does not matter. The museum has a very well made exhibition with some interesting features. We were all very keen on participating.

Our young guide was very knowledgeable and he followed somehow a family tradition, ancestors and various family members were staff of this brewery for generations and although not a brewer he was now a tour guide. So the whole business is and was a truly family affair. It all began with the brewing tradition of the Irish monks in the Middle ages. The water enriched by its limestone was one of the most important ingredients. From then we were introduced to the illustrious Smithwicks family a few centuries later. We learned more about them in a room full of portraits, and like in an enjoyable Harry Potter movie, they were talking to the interested audience. It was set up by them in the 18th century and was owned by them with some interruptions up to the sixties when it was sold to the Guinness family. It was cleverly manoeuvred through the storms of history. Set up by a catholic despite the then the very punitive penal laws. You can say: where there is beer there is a will. We also learned that when the demand of beer was low the brewery sold butter and for a beer connoisseur quite shockingly: mineral water.
Although beer generally only consists of three ingredients, hops, malt and water, it was shown how important so much energy and knowledge was necessary to brew quality beer.

At the end we all became a little bit thirsty and one of the bonuses of our tickets was we could select between various Smithwick beers now being brewed in Guinness's St. James' location (Dublin). After enjoying our drink we marched well lubricated through Kilkenny. A remarkable, very charming city. Passing by a witch house owned by Alice Kyteler who survived miraculously four husbands. Quite an achievement in times where women had a shorter life expectancy due to hard work and the then dangers of child birth. At that time antibiotics and modern medicine were only a twinkle in the eye of history. In a twist of history somehow she escaped the witch hunters - but her maid Petronella was burned instead.

Rosemary in full form and always up to date showed us a new pub in old surroundings.The Hole in the Wall. Interested parties should check on you tube how the old building was restored and became a trendy bar.Then after all these activities we somehow found our way back to the bus stop. The return took a little bit longer but we were compensated by the view of a landscape covered in mist and the sun slowly setting, a truly magical impression.
Not far from O' Connell Bridge we parted company in the hope there will be a new outing in the near future. Certain traditions should most certainly be upheld.