The streets of Kilkenny
"Ireland? In December?" responded everyone when told our travel destination. "Well, yes," we answered, "since few Americans consider Ireland a top winter destination, deals abound."
The sun shone the day we arrived, and on day three appeared for a couple of hours in the afternoon, but we prepared for gray days. Daytime temperatures hover in the high 40s to low 50s. Dressed appropriately, wandering outdoors is a pleasant, invigorating experience.
December is an interesting travel month most anywhere. Lights strung everywhere - homes, businesses, public buildings - brighten the darkest hours. About 4:30 p.m. darkness descends on Ireland. Walking the streets of city center Limerick, the sidewalks packed with shoppers, families visiting Santa, listening to groups playing and singing carols, people rushing to holiday parties, tourists - like hub and me - ogling the activity, the winter blahs vanish, at least temporarily.
Holiday lights in city center Limerick
We spent a day in Kilkenny, and wish we had more time to explore the city's medieval-era streets and alleys. We toured Smithwick's Brewery, located on a site tradition dates as a brewery from the 13th century. Monks began brewing beer as a matter of necessity; too often illness resulted from drinking nearby stream waters. Beer was also a means of preserving grains. Seeking an alternative thirst quencher, I have no doubt the monks quickly and not reluctantly accepted the replacement beverage.
Smithwick's dates from the early 1700's. Our guide boasted that he was a fourth generation company employee. Unfortunately no beer is brewed onsite today. The company is owned by Diageo, a British alcoholic beverage company. In 2013 all production moved to Dublin, a sad commentary on the centralization and highly technical production requirements of so many commercial products today.
We walked from the brewery, along the Medieval Mile, the city's main commercial street brimming with stores, pubs and restaurants, to Kilkenny Castle a medieval-era mega-mansion restored to Victorian glory. The original wood castle, built at the dawn of the 13th century, was replaced by a stone structure in the 15th century. The Butler family, English lords of the lands around Kilkenny, owned the property for 600 years. Arthur Butler presented the castle to the people of Kilkenny in 1967 for a token 50 pounds.
Medieval-era warrior at Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle formal dining room, Victorian style
According to Google maps, the drive from Kilkenny to Limerick should be 1 1/2 hours. We missed one turn off, and a portion of the ride was on a narrow two-lane road with no shoulders and imposing stone walls bordering both sides. Hub drove slow, not used to the twisty route, right-hand steering, approaching darkness, and on-coming cars and BFTs (big f**king trucks). Once on the motorway, the drive proceeded smoothly. Three hours later driver and panic-stricken passenger arrived at their destination exhausted.
We agreed no driving day three. We meandered through the Milk Market, the city's farmer's market/flea market/holiday fair. Farmer's markets are more fun when purchasing mouth-watering fare to partake later, an opportunity not conducive to hotel living. We bought a couple of items, including a French Comte cheese, a favorite of hub's, for an evening snack. After visiting the local museum, enjoying a huge meal (lunch portions much larger than imagined) and wandering city streets, our tired feet brought us back to our hotel. No wild Saturday nightlife for us. We are content to spend the evening unwinding in anticipation of another busy travel and touring day.
Hub enjoying his (free) Smithwck's beer.