From medieval history to holographic monks, Kate Ford samples the best of Kilkenny's past and present.

A holographic monk is giving us a history lesson. We are in the belly of Smithwick's, Kilkenny's brewing company which boasts Ireland's oldest ale, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that perhaps we are under the influence.

There really is, however, a holographic monk. He is regaling us as part of the Smithwick's Experience, a guided tour that delves into the brewery's story. Located on the site of an old Franciscan abbey, Smithwick's roots stem from the 14th-century monks who brewed ale on this site.

Along with the chatty monk, Smithwick's keeps its history alive in exciting ways. The beer is no longer made at this Kilkenny address (Smithwick's was acquired by Diageo, who own Guinness, in 1965), instead the former brewery exists as a showcase. The abbey's ruins remain and Smithwick's recognises its more recent history with interactive components that would make even a tour about walnuts exciting.

Advertisement

After learning about Smithwick's colourful history and how the beer is made, you can quench your thirst with a few drops of the ale. New Zealanders will be familiar with the beer named Kilkenny, a rich ale-style brew perfect for cold nights and St Patrick's Day. Kilkenny is produced for export only, so you need to travel to get your hands on their namesake beers.

It's a blistering cold day when we mosey around the city. The pint has taken the chill off for us as we walk along the frosted footpaths. The rich history of Kilkenny flavours the city and all its main attractions are easily within walking distance. Stepping out of Smithwick's will place you smack-bang in the middle of Medieval Mile, a stretch of narrow streetscapes that once formed Ireland's medieval capital. Bookended by Kilkenny Castle and St Canice's Cathedral, Medieval Mile is worth strolling along to imagine the city's past.

The cathedral was built in the 13th century but the site itself has been a place of Christian worship since the 6th century. It is a striking building, beautiful and misty coloured with a round tower that you can climb.

Barely a 10-minute walk away is Kilkenny Castle. A dramatic form, the castle sits on the River Nore and overlooks the city. In its eight centuries of existence, Kilkenny Castle has been through numerous alterations and refurbishments. Today, with its many additions and architectural styles, it remains the proud symbol of Kilkenny.

An especially great spot to take in castle views happens to be from our room at River Court Hotel.

Set right alongside the River Nore, this four-star establishment features sumptuous rooms and relaxing restaurants. We retire to our quarters to find the imposing castle lit up, sending a glittering ripple across the river underneath our balcony. It's the perfect spot to put the day to bed, glass of wine — or beer — in hand.

We may know Kilkenny for its famous brews, but it's worth visiting this medieval city for more than a pint.