Solving a Mystery in Kilkenny

In Con's Corner, Ireland by Con JagerLeave a Comment

I’m no Colonel Mustard – not even a plain old Mister Mustard, mean or otherwise, but, this mystery was easy to solve: the Butler did it! That is, the Butler House in Kilkenny did it for sure, providing a lovely stay in a wonderful town!

Vacation time is never long enough and choices have to be made. Traveling in Ireland a few weeks ago, we ended up with a mere one night in medieval Kilkenny. Priorities set in advance, we arrived in town mid afternoon and went straight to – the Smithwick’s Brewery! OK, so this was my priority rather than my wife’s, but she’s a good sport. I’ve enjoyed Smithwick’s amber/red Irish Ale for a very long time and cherished the opportunity to finally do their Smithwick’s Experience tour.  Our guide Colm was a 4th or 5th generation employee of the Brewery, a youngster obviously proud of his heritage, pointing out relatives in historic black and white photographs, in between telling us all about the brewing process.

The tasting room at the end of course offered the aforementioned Irish Ale and two additions. The Blonde is a lighter alcohol lager that my wife liked, despite not being much of a beer fan. I enjoyed the hoppier Pale Ale and returned to it several times on this trip. Tip: do reserve a tour time in advance, as they fill up! We almost missed out on the intended 5pm and were saved by the Brewery inserting an extra 5:20pm tour due to demand. Another tip: there’s a large but busy public parking lot right around the corner. If it’s full, the machine won’t issue a ticket: just wait a few minutes at the barrier for a car to exit. After that, the machine will print you a ticket: a nice system that tells you there actually is a parking spot – somewhere in the lot! Fun fact: you can sound more local by not saying “Smith-wicks”! Instead, say either “Smit-ticks” with a double “T” sound or “Smith-icks”. Never pronounce the “w”…

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And then, our overnight at the Butler House. This lovely old manor sits next to Kilkenny Castle in the heart of lively Kilkenny at a perfect one block away from where the nightlife scene begins. Butler has its own secure gated car park right behind the building, south-side, with a well-marked entrance. The Butler family has hundreds of years of fascinating local history. Walter Butler, the 16th Earl of Ormonde, built this impressive Georgian manor in the late 1700s. It is usually referred to as the “Dower House” of Kilkenny Castle, a Castle that for centuries was owned and resided in by the Butler family. But, what does “Dower House” actually mean?

The word “Dower” has the same base as “Dowager”, a familiar term for the BBC’s “Downton Abbey” fans: think Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley as portrayed by the inimitable Dame Margaret Natalie “Maggie” Smith. Countess Crawley was the “Dowager” or “widow with rights” of the late Earl of Grantham, father of the current Earl Robert Crawley.  A Dower House carried a legal provision that enabled a wife to remain in the House should she survive her husband. The word’s base can also be found in “dowry”, an amount of wealth a bride is supposed to bring into a marriage, still a custom in some cultures to this day.

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Butler House remained in the hands of the Butler family until it became the home for the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association at the end of the 19th century. After substantial renovations in the mid 1900s, the House is now owned and operated by the Kilkenny Civic Trust. The gardens were restored around 2000 and are quite lovely, even this late in the season. Of course we were fortunate, with the amazing no-rain and sunny October weather. You just never know in Ireland!

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The hotel offers a variety of room types, from regular doubles and twins to larger triples with a double and a single bed as well as superior rooms. At the top end, Butler House offers a Presidential Suite with a huge bedroom (with one double and one single bed), a separate large living room, bathroom with tub plus a full kitchen. It has comfortable furniture, decorated high ceilings and bay windows with views towards the Castle. If you’re lucky, catch a spectacular sunrise! Surprisingly affordable, this suite makes for a fantastic base for a special occasion, such as a honeymoon or anniversary, or parents with a younger child wanting extra space. Best use is for a longer stay to enjoy Kilkenny and surrounding area in a relaxed fashion.

We chatted with Wendy, the longtime weekend hostess at Reception, for dinner suggestions, as the Butler does not have a restaurant itself.  Wendy provided us with tips, details and a map on which she marked the locations of her recommendations. We picked the Kyteler’s Inn for a good pub meal and some great local live music. The musicians must have known the elderly man seated at the next table from us, as they called him over to sing a few songs. And that he did, booming strong voice, a capella, inviting the audience to listen to the lyrics, enthralling us all. A true local Irish experience!

Butler’s breakfast is served in the Kilkenny Design Centre, the Castle’s former stables sitting pretty between the Butler House and the Castle. Converted into design shops and studio, gallery, coffee shop and restaurant, it’s a very short stroll across the aforementioned pretty and well-manicured grounds. It’s a stroll outside nonetheless, so be prepared and take a jacket or umbrella in case of rain. Again, it’s Ireland and you just never know. The breakfast itself was sumptuous, with quite a number of menu choices including of course the Full Irish.

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Breakfast was not the end of our time here yet though. After the short stroll back, we packed up, put our luggage in the car, checked out and headed over to Kilkenny Castle. We had pre-purchased tickets and spent a good amount of time admiring the historic exhibits, art and general quality restoration of its old glory. It’s self-guided, so you can spend as long or short a time as you wish. Start with the historic overview film in the Medieval Room, to your right after you walk in. It did not have a ticket check, at least not when we visited. The ticket office itself is to your left and they also have the inevitable gift shop. Parking tip: Butler House kindly allowed us to leave our rental vehicle in their private car park while we visited the Castle, despite this being after checkout time: very kind!

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Oh, and by the way: my Butler House story is not a company marketing promo! This was a personal trip, no tit-for-tat, no feeling beholden. I report on my true travel experiences, and mine could be yours. The only difference should be luck of the draw: did I mention we had no rain??

And with that, I hope I’ve clued you in properly: the Butler did it, did it well, and as far as we are concerned, should keep doing it! I’ll let Colonel Mustard know…

DISCLAIMER: My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no clearing streets to get cars and trucks out of the frame, and no Photoshopping. It’s true travel. Note that my opinions and views are not necessarily shared by the company. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine except where credited as noted, as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.

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