Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Castles, Beers, and Churches of Kilkenny and Environs

It was time to check out Kilkenny! The name Kilkenny sounds a bit violent but it looks like it's derived from the Irish: Cill Chainnigh, meaning "church of Cainnech". Now you know.

We stayed at the  Pembroke Hotel which was nice and it was really well located. Our part of town was very picturesque I thought. It was also walking distance from all the fun things we wanted to see in Kilkenny.

Our first stop was Kilkenny Castle.

One thing I found interesting about the castle was all of the transformations it went through. You can tell that it's not symmetrical at all from all of the various additions it went through over the years. Initially its purpose was defense but as time went on it became just a stately home.

One entire wing of the castle was built just to house the family's art collection.

As we walked back through the city streets toward our next destination, I spotted this copy of Scrabble in Gaelic.

We stopped and poked around a bit at the Black Abbey. I thought maybe the name Black had something to do with the black death, but according to its Wikipedia page the "name Black Abbey derives from the use of the term "Black Friars" to describe members of the Dominican Order." The Abbey was celebrating its 800 year jubilee. It was built before Columbus discovered the ocean blue or whatever the heck that guy even did.

Inside the Abbey are lots of stained glass windows. This one is called the Rosary Window and Wikipedia says it's the largest in Ireland, although I couldn't find much else to support that claim.

It has a very awkward, mismatched interior which points to more of that constant expanding that we saw at the castle.

We stopped by St. Canice's Cathedral but they were having services inside so we didn't go in.

We switched it up a bit with a visit to the Smithwick's Experience Kilkenny Tour. Luckily I'd already heard some locals say the word "Smithwick's" so I didn't sound like a complete idiot. In Ireland they pronounce it "Smittick's". Now that we're on the subject an Irish pronunciation of "idiot" is "eejit".

Wikipedia offers this nightmare: "Official Smithwick's videos give the pronunciation as (/ˈsmɪðɨks/). Due to the differing accent and dialects of Ireland, it is generally pronounced /ˈsmɪθɨks/, /ˈsmɪtɨks/, /ˈsmɪdɨks/ or /ˈsmɛθɨks/ there but never /ˈsmɪlɨks/ or /ˈsmɪθwɨks/. When ordering in the US, /ˈsmɪθɨks/ or /ˈsmɪdɨks/ is preferred, while /ˈsmɪdɨks/ is the most prevalent pronunciation in Canada."

There's a magical stream running under the building apparently. Wikipedia: "Smithwick's was founded by John Smithwick in 1710. It was originally brewed in St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny which is Ireland's oldest operating brewery. The brewery is situated on the site of a Franciscan Abbey where monks had brewed ale since the 14th century, and ruins of the original abbey still remain on its grounds. The old brewery has since been renovated and now stands "The Smithwick's Experience Kilkenny" visitor attraction and centre."

The production value of the tour was pretty solid, with lots of smooth looking visuals. This is a monk tasting some of the beer his crew made. Our guide Simon told us that in this area at this time they wouldn't have used hops, so the "beer" they made would have tasted terrible and gone bad after only a few days. Bleh. Everyday that I'm not drinking beer out of an animal's horn is a day wasted in my opinion.

We got a healthy dose of the history of the Smithwick family. Especially interesting to me is the Penal Laws period of Irish history, where the UK effectively made Catholicism illegal in Ireland. The Smithwicks were Catholic, and so were unable to own property or a business at the time, so they made a protestant friend and used him as a front man while still in reality running the business. Catholicism being illegal in Ireland of all places is completely crazy to me. On this trip I definitely developed an understanding of why the Irish didn't want to be ruled by the British.

This room was cool, with a lot of "paintings" of important Smithwick family members coming to life and talking with one another about their stories. They had something similar at the Maker's Mark tour during our visit to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky.

This was interesting. It showed that the roasted malt content changes the type of beer. Lagers have 0%, ales 5%, and stouts around 10%. I assume a 100% roasted malt beer must be undrinkable. But I have to wonder....

This was a manual malt miller thing. It was hard to turn.

We got a chance to taste the sweet wort, which is super sweet because it's pre-fermentation and it hasn't had the bitter tasting hops added yet. It was nice, but I prefer the finished product.

Finally we got to try some. He poured it and let it sit a bit before finishing, similar to how Guinness is served. This is done to get the head to firm up, then the rest of the beer is added, pushing that firmed up head over the top of the glass while maintaining its shape. It reminded me of a big marshmallow at that point. Also notable is that the beer taps in Ireland apparently have a separate valve that controls the amount of gas entering the beer, to put even more effort into making a good head. Very cool.

I bought this in the gift shop. Yes it's not Smithwick's but whatever. Guinness bought Smithwick's in the 60s and then the giant Diageo ate both of them, so we're all one happy family.


On the road again. We just couldn't wait to get back on the road again.

Our end of day destination was Cork, but we stopped for some sights in Cashel on the way.

Behold the Rock of Cashel in its charged us full price despite the fact it's all scaffolded and not fully accessible glory!

Thank my Lucky Charms for Wikipedia: "According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil's Bit, a mountain 20 miles (30 km) north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock's landing in Cashel. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century."

Queen Elizabeth II didn't enjoy her visit here much either quipping "your castle is bollocks bros."

We freshened up our accommodations with a stay at the B&B Garnish House in Cork. As soon as we checked in we were given a killer afternoon tea. I ate more scones with butter and jam than is probably recommended.

We're all excited about the pantomime (panto for short) that we have booked in Dublin at the end of our trip. My understanding is that they are like plays but they spoof traditional fairy tales. This is an interesting poster for a different panto in Cork.

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