Did you know the world’s first ever witch trial took place in Kilkenny in 1324?
The accused was local woman, Dame Alice de Kyteler – born where Kyteler’s Inn is today – who had outlasted four husbands and was suspected of poisoning them.
A wealthy money-lender in her own right, she came in the sights of the local bishop of Ossary who wanted to exert church control over the secular and very prosperous city.
When her husbands’ children accused her of using poison and sorcery against their fathers Bishop Richard de Ledrede wanted her arrested and planned to investigate the whole question of witchcraft in the city.
Kyteler fled and her maid Petronilla was arrested instead, and admitted to heresy and witchcraft after being tortured and was burnt at the stake on November 3 1324.
I learnt this and much more of Kilkenny’s colourful past in the Medieval Mile Museum right in the city centre where many secret tombs were uncovered in a recent renovation of the former church.
Pat, the resident guide, was a brilliant raconteur and managed to cover eight centuries of Kilkenny’s story in a fascinating hour long tour which was as much about the city as the museum.
Anyone who has ever been to the Marble City will know it is steeped in history and is the best preserved medieval urban area in the country, and one of the most beautiful.
A major sight not to be missed is the famous castle which dominates the River Nore and has existed in some shape or form for over 700 years.
It’s a magnificent building set in 50 acres of parkland with a renowned rose garden and is one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.
The original castle was built in the 12th and 13th Centuries and was then home to the Butler family for nearly 600 years who made numerous structural changes.
After the family moved out in the last century it fell into disrepair and eventually came under the ownership of the state and has been run by the OPW since 1969.
The castle has been lovingly restored with most of the furnishings resulting in a recreation of Victorian times. The stunning picture gallery, library and dining room are among the highlights.
Another historic building in the city is the former home of Smithwicks beer where you can do a tour and learn the 300-year-old history of the famous brewery, including its launch in penal times when the Catholic owners had to hide their religion. Sadly, the famous beer is no longer made there but at St James’ Gate in Dublin.
Another important attraction in Kilkenny is the beautiful St Canice’s Cathedral, the second longest Gothic church in the country after Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, with a spectacular 100ft 9th Century round tower which you can still climb for some great views.
There is plenty to keep you entertained during the day in Kilkenny but at night the city really comes alive with packed bars and restaurants.
A terrific new addition is the Butcher Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar, which opened just a year ago and was bursting with life on my visit.
Dick the manager gives customers a very friendly welcome and when I decided to have a drink at the bar I was entertained by amiable bartender Siobhan O’Sullivan, who had just qualified as a goldsmith that very day and was decked out in some of her own finery.
Once seated I had a delicious starter of calamari served up in a way I had not seen before, in a rich, cream, garlic and shallot sauce.
Being a steakhouse I had to go for the filet with gratin potato and broccoli washed down with a local craft red ale made by Costellos of Kilkenny, who have been brewing beer since 2014. It was a delicious meal with great service.
Butcher’s, which has huge windows that look out on to the main pedestrian Kieran Street adding to the atmosphere, was still rocking with groups and couples when I left.
“Kilkenny was crying out for a great steakhouse,” Dick told me.
Well, they have one now.
During my Kilkenny weekend I stayed at the lovely four star Newpark Hotel where my newly refurbished balcony suite on the top floor made me feel like a Hollywood star.
I also had a “golden package” session booked at the hotel’s Escape Spa which involved time in a vitality suite and infinity pool, a 15 minute foot cleansing and massage ritual, a 30 minute stress relieving back massage and a 30 minute facial and scalp massage.
In all, I spent nearly an hour and three quarters being preened, pruned and buffed and I have to say it was pure heaven.
And that wasn’t the end of it. The golden package also includes afternoon tea in the hotel lobby or terrace for some internal coddling.
The hotel has an excellent restaurant, Gulliver’s, and Scott’s Bar & Brasserie. The night I dined in I tried a starter of goat’s cheese and sun blushed tomato tartlet, with a mixed salad and raisin relish. And the main was an 8oz fillet of Hereford beef with garlic gratin potato, wild mushrooms and pancetta and a pepper sauce.
Two steaks in two days? Well, I was doing a lot of walking…
For information on the Newpark Hotel, see www.newparkhotelkilkenny.com
The hotel has a midweek Escape for One Night offer including dinner, bed & full Irish breakfast with a complimentary bottle of wine in the room on arrival, afternoon tea and complimentary use of the Escape Health Club with thermal suite and outdoor infinity pool. Based on two adults sharing, up to two children can share complimentary on a room only basis. Starting from €126pp.
Their golden spa package costs €95.
For reservations at Butcher Steakhouse ring 056 7790 655 or see: www.butcherrestaurant.ie
For more information on Kilkenny see: www.visitkilkenny.ie
Smithwicks Experience: www.smithwicksexperience.com
Medieval Mile Museum: www.medievalmilemuseum.ie
St.Canices Cathedral: www.stcanicescathedral.ie
Written by Jim Gallagher