It’s been with great reluctance that I write about Kilkenny, the second last town we visited on our trip. Dublin, our final destination, was a 14-hour whirlwind and we were sleeping for five of those hours so it almost doesn’t count. Kilkenny was the place where we truly said goodbye to the welcoming, community-oriented spirit of Ireland. Perhaps that’s why our night in Kilkenny went on longer than any of our others.
But first, the beginning, which of course includes getting tragically lost. We leave Ann and Peter’s after a long goodbye over breakfast and many pronouncements that we will be back sooner rather than later if we can figure out a way to afford it. I declare that I’m willing to sacrifice buying new shoes (with the exception of running shoes) if it means we can come back next year.
This is the hottest day of our trip, another scorcher, and Dave has to cover his driving arm with his jacket again. We are beyond kissed by the sun. My forehead is peeling and Dave’s is hot pink. We spend most of the early afternoon walking the grounds of the Rock of Cashel, a stunning fortress and abbey that is one of Ireland’s most spectacular archaeological sites.
The fortress sits atop a prominent green hill on the outskirts of the town. The area includes a complete round tower, a roofless abbey, a 13th century cathedral, and a cemetery. I take gobs of photos which we’ll post on a shared website at some point soon.
I also learn from the guide book that Cashel is the home of the fictional Sister Fidelma, a 7th century crime-fighting nun in Peter Tremayne’s mystery series. I remind myself to mention this to my mom and Dave’s mom as they both love a good mystery and Sister Fidelma is considered the Miss Marple of the Dark Ages.
Once again, we wait too long for lunch and we’re starving when we arrive at an overcrowded pub. We sit at an un-bussed, dirty table for about ten minutes before I ask a bartender if we need to order at the bar. She says to sit at a table where we’re sitting. We wait another 15 minutes and no one comes around. We decide to head elsewhere and find a less-crowded pub. Dave gets what has now become his regular lunch fare – egg mayonnaise sandwich. I get a toasted cheese sandwich.
Then it’s off to Kilkenny we go. We hit Kilkenny’s main thoroughfare at rush hour. The streets are jammed and it’s hot and, yes, we’re tragically lost once again. Clare tells us we’ve arrived at our B&B but we’re at the end of a road looking at a detour sign. Hmmmmm. I call Nuala, the B&B operator. She attempts to give us directions after I tell her we’re passing a florist and a butcher and we passed the glorious medieval Kilkenny Castle a few minutes ago. She rattles off some directions and tells me to call back if we can’t find our way. Of course, we can’t. So I call back and tell her the shops that are on either side of the road. She says “go up the lane a bit and you’ll see a car park. Stop there and I’ll come get you.” Before I can object, she hangs up so we find the car park and wait. A few minutes later, Nuala shows up in her Volvo and leads us to the B&B. In true Irish fashion, we’re a mere mile away and we actually passed the B&B when we first entered town. Bad Clare, bad bad Clare had steered us in the wrong direction at the first roundabout.
We set out for pints and dinner around 6 p.m. Nuala is extra careful in explaining how to walk back into town. She gives us a map and marks it up extra heavy with black ink, most likely terrified that we’ll end up tragically lost in Kilkenny for the rest of our lives. The guidebook recommended Matt the Miller’s for a lively night out but when we arrive we are the only customers. No worries, we have 59 other pubs to explore if we want to.
We share a plate of veggie nachos and order pints of Kilkenny, the local brew. Our table has a view of the River Nore and a group of teenagers entertain us and other curious onlookers as they jump off the bridge.
The pub wasn’t filling up so we move on to The Playwright for another pint but the crowd here is minimal. Nuala suggested the Kyteler’s Inn, the 1324 house presumably haunted by Kilkenny’s witch whose four husbands had a knack for poisoning themselves on their first anniversaries, so we decide to check it out. What we first think is a trad session turns out to be a one guy playing some covers, mostly American tunes. Dave and I request several trad songs and he says he doesn’t know them. Boo-hiss to that. We text our friend Brian for more suggestions. Only one request gets through. He’s finishing up his set but we’re not ready to finish the night. Dave goes to the restroom and returns with a new friend, the one, the only Davey Cashin.
It happens to be Davey’s birthday and he tells us his gang is going to The Fields where there will be a band and the craic will be going strong. We’d noticed Davey with his buddies in the Kyteler. They were all slapping each other in the face and laughing it up so we figured this would be a good crew to follow. Little did we know that we’d end up in their slapping game an hour later.
The Fields, named after the play by John B, Keane, is hopping. The lead singer of the band looks like an older version of Dave’s best buddy and former bandmate Sean Rhiney so we immediately feel at home. Davey and crew enter the scene and order up a new round of pints. In short order, we drink pints, link arms, and get slapped in the face.
We’re not sure of the exact origin of the slapping game but Davey and friends give each other slight slaps, and then declare “you can’t get mad!” Dave Purcell takes a slap from Davey and then one from Davey’s friend Seamus. Game on. Now, the thing is, you have to be “level” before you leave the bar. So Dave owes them slaps. I get and give some slaps. A woman at the bar joins in the fun. Soon we’re all dodging slaps and getting level with each other. The good news? No one gets mad. Not even a little bit. We discuss who in the hell we’d be able to play this game with in the States without starting a brawl in the bar.
The game goes on. And on. Near the end, Davey slaps Dave about ten times in a row. The pub is getting ready to close up so there’s not a lot of time to get level but Dave is able to do so. I get slapped by Davey and decide to give him a kiss on the cheek in return. He declares it the most brilliant move of the night. As we’re exchanging emails, Seamus mentions that Davey is in a band called The Kilkennys. We discover he’s an accomplished tin whistler, singer, and all-around grand musician. And here we’ve been slapping him six ways to Tuesday. No matter. We’re all level now so we thank our new Kilkenny pals for a fabulous night and make our way to the B&B. It quickly becomes apparent that we don’t know if we’re heading in the right direction and…well…after all of the pints Davey and crew supplied us with, we’re wobbling down the cobblestones. A nice man in a cab pulls up and saves the day. And just like always, we’re a mere half mile away from the B&B.
The morning’s breakfast is more welcome than ever and I opt for scrambled eggs and toast, a first for the trip. I needed something to soak up the beer. We’re tired but our shopping opportunities have been scant so I suggest we go to the Kilkenny Design Centre where I find most everything friends and family had asked me to bring back.
Our final evening is spent in Dublin but, in our memories, Kilkenny is our grand goodbye to the country we’ve fallen in love with. We know it’s not a matter of if we’ll come back to Ireland someday; the only questions are when and how soon.
The Babo Rating (1 cookie being Tragic!; 5 cookies being Brilliant!)
A bakery filled with cookies to Davey and Seamus for introducing us to their slapping game
5 cookies to the kids jumping from the bridge
5 cookies to Nuala for rescuing us from another episode of Lost, the Ireland series
Absolutely no cookies to the fact that we have less than 24 hours left in the country