Our summer holiday in Kilkenny, Ireland – and our back to school week
Ah – that moment three nights before the kids start back at school.
The new school uniform hangs up, ready to go, name tags neatly sewn on. Last year’s school jumper (sensibly bought large so it still fits), is folded neatly in the drawer, freshly laundered, the school insignia glowing with starch and pride.
The new lunchpack sits proudly next to the school bag, empty with anticipation (all the school library books having been handed back before the end of term).
Well at least I guess this is what it’s like in some households.
In ours we were at a big superstore (oh okay, it was Tesco) wading through all the packs of shirts that were left, trying to find the right sizes, and trying on school trousers.
We were choosing a new lunch bag (what’s more important than the start of year new lunch bag?), and buying back to school presents (glow in the dark Angry Birds pig anyone) and Chiswick Boy’s first alarm clock, suitable for a shockingly big boy about to go into year four. (We forgot the batteries. It’s still in its box.)
The Emerald Isle – fit for a family holiday
I’ll pretend for the moment that this last minute rush wasn’t just because of my rubbishness, but because we got back late on Sunday from our week in the Emerald Isle.
I’m half Irish and Chiswick Daddy is half Irish. Which makes Chiswick Boy half Irish too.
We spent a gorgeous week in Kilkenny, in a holiday cottage with my mum (Grams), my brother and sister-in-law and my nephews – Nephew Bee (3) and Baby Dee (6 months).
I love holidaying with my family in this way. It’s so nice to have a big group – and so great for the children. We’ve already been to the Lake District together this summer, and we like to go up to Leicester to hang out with them too. Family is really important to me, and I love that Chiswick Boy can spend so much time hanging out with family too.
We spent a lot of time with my uncle who still lives in Kilkenny – and who was a head forester for the whole surrounding area: responsible for introducing deer to parts of the woodland, and designing forest trails.
These deer in fact:
In these forests:
Woods and rivers to espressos and dinners
We had such an amazing week and packed loads in. From visiting beautiful gardens with hidden sculptures and waterfalls you can climb behind, to walking through Medieval Kilkenny drinking espressos and Guiness (although not, disappointingly, at the same time) and browsing in bookshops (Kilkenny thrillingly has quite a few of those).
Here’s Chiswick Boy with his latest acquisition outside Stone House Books.
I’m going to write up a few posts from our trip – including our top 10 local attractions for families, and some detailed information about a couple of the gorgeous walks we took.
But for now – and squeezed in between reading Secret Seven in bed to Chiswick Boy, and doing the laundry, here’s a top 10 of my favourite moments from our trip.
1. Exploring Jenkinstown woodland park
I’m not sure who made this den in the woods – but Chiswick Boy enjoyed it.
The boys had plenty of time to run around in the late summer sunshine. The dozing figure on the ground is my brother!
2. Finding a colourful mural on the River Walk from our cottage to Kilkenny town centre
I’m a huge fan of street art – whether it’s planned and approved (as I’m sure this mural is) or spontaneous and illicit. (I’m heartbroken that the bridge in Boston Manor Park is continuously being sprayed with arty graffiti and then painted over corporate grey by the local council, in a cycle of art versus establishment. But that’s a whole other story…)
3. Exploring Kilfane Gardens
These gorgeous gardens are open to the public in July and August only. Armed with a sturdy map outlining the circular routes, the gardens are a treasure trove of hidden sculptures and woodland.
The best bit of this day – probably the whole trip – was that Chiswick Boy achieved his “lifelong ambition” (his words) of standing behind a waterfall. I’ll include photos in my next blog post!
4. Finding a vintage Discovering Ireland board game on a bric-a-brac stall…
… and playing it while listening to Irish traditional music and drinking wine when the kids were in bed.
5. Finding new places to drink coffee
Drinking coffee is one of my favourite pleasures. One of the best bits about being in a new place, is finding new places to buy my frothy cappuccino from.
Like this one, a little Italian place on Saint Keiran’s Street that was officially closed for a stock delivery when we piled in unwittingly, but which graciously still made us our coffees/hot chocolates.
Or the Gourmet Store on the High Street, which was probably the best coffee I had on this trip:
6. And finding places to drink Guinness
This wasn’t a holiday for going out in the evening and finding bars. Much as I’d have loved to find a traditional Irish pub with a folk bank playing and a roaring turf fire and hurling sticks on the wall – we were ensconced in a cottage about 15 minutes walk from the town centre and firmly exhausted each night after a day of exploring and running around after the boys.
But we did sneak in the odd half a pint of Guinness.
My favourite place was the 13th century Kyteler’s Inn on Saint Kieran’s Street. A bit touristy if you care about that kind of thing, which I don’t really any more. The history of the place is fascinating: a story of women accused of witchery, odd paintings and bizarre happenings.
Dame Alice Kyteler came from an Anglo-Norman family, and had four husbands. Accused of their murder she was in turn accused of witchcraft, alongside her maid. It’s a terrible reminder of a time when men could exert their power over and fear of women, by crying ‘witch’. And while Alice escaped (we presume to England, but there’s no recorded history of her death), her maid remained to be burned at the stake.
It was the first recorded witch trial in Ireland, and one of the first in Europe.
Sad and grim history aside, the the inn is filled with nooks and crannies to sit at and eat a full meal, or just have that half pint of black stuff, or maybe an Irish whiskey.
7. Going down my mum’s memory lane
One of the most magical things we did in Ireland was visit my mum’s old childhood home in Camolin, and following the lane up to her old school, finding the shop she used to go to next door, and discovering that her old school friend still lived in the shop and ran it.
It was such a beautiful moment. And such a reminder that we think our parents’ lives began with our own, and yet there’s a whole history that precedes us.
8. Discovering history at every turn
Kilkenny is a city steeped in history (the name Kilkenny means church of [St] Canice). It’s known as a medieval city, but in fact there’s been an ecclastical community there since the eighth century.
In the 17th century it was the unofficial capital of Ireland, with its own parliament.
But for me the magic of the city lies not in the grand established castle, but in the little nooks and crannies. The old city wall, the narrow passageways, the worn down steps – and the little wells that you stumble on as you wander through the streets.
9. The ferry
We travelled by Irish Ferries from Pembroke in Wales to Rosslare in Ireland. It’s the first time we’ve ever driven on a ferry, and we’re a bit hooked! (Although the days of cheap travel to Ireland are over – perhaps they only ever existed in my imagination – as the ferry tickets were a bit of an eye-watering £400 return.)
We got the overnight – leaving at 2:45am and arriving at 5:45am in Ireland. Chiswick Boy woke up just as we were getting on the ferry and he had a brilliant time. He was already in his onesie and all sleeping rules were off – he was beside himself with excitement, hanging out with two other kids and watching the kids screenings, and playing in the kids soft play centre.
Chiswick Daddy and I found seats as a base camp, just feet away from the screening room and the soft play area (both free to use, although the soft play centre is very basic, ie no tunnels or slides, just nice soft cushioning on the floor so your dear little one can chuck themselves around with their new friends). Neither of these had spaces had doors on, and were adjoining, so we could keep a watchful eye at all times.
So massive thumbs up for us – so much more chilled out than flying. And we’re now looking for new places to get ferries to – so do let me know your suggestions please.
10. Stopping off at the seaside on the way home
Once we landed at Pembroke on our return journey we headed for Tenby for some fish and chips on the beach.
It was absolutely gorgeous – our first visit and we’ve already earmarked it as somewhere we’d like to return to for a bucket and spades holiday.
I should say we were mugged on the beach – by a flock of seagulls that is, boldly after our fish and chips.
I’ll blame it on Chiswick Daddy. I told him not to throw the first chip to the sad looking seagull wistfully looking at us. I knew it would lead to a Hitchcock style deluge, and I was right. One even hopped right over to our chips and tried to take one from it. Which meant that Chiswick Daddy had to try and lure them away by throwing chips in the opposite direction.
Some of the gulls stayed behind and every time Chiswick Daddy turned his back they hopped three places nearer to us. I kid you not.
Well that was last week, and this week it’s back to school, and early starts, and new (or back to old) routines. We’ve built happy memories, and hopefully these will last when the last ray of sunshine has disappeared and the nights are cold and grey.
What was your favourite new summer memory that you made this year? And do you have any great recommendations for places to visit by ferry?