Have you ever found yourself in a new place and felt a stirring deep within of some ancient memory? Well, I have and it was spooky.
I was 12 years old, on a school coach trip and my class of convent girls went to a few educational ‘hot spots’ outside Dublin. One of the destinations was the historic city of Kilkenny, approx 70 miles from Dublin. The ‘educational’ element to the Kilkenny visit was Kilkenny Design Workshops, a design body set up by the Irish government to establish a design industry in Ireland. KDW was located in the stable courtyard of the impressive Kilkenny Castle which stood across the road from KDW surrounded by a high protective wall and backing on to the River Nore.
At the end of our “Girls, please, no talking there” tour of KDW we were allowed 15 minutes to wander off and find a shop to buy the essential souvenirs to clutter up our parents’ window sills. You know the sort of thing. A ceramic flowery plate decorated with: “To the Most Wonderful Mother in the World” (in a fancy gilt script) and a clear sticker that read: “From Kilkenny” crookedly pasted on. Not my style. I was looking for sweets, a stick of candy rock (“From Killkenny”) and aniseed balls. Giddy with the thought of 15 minutes with no teacher supervision sent us running madly down the street to the shops. 15 minutes later (by the way that is way too short a time for excited schoolgirls to make ANY decision) we were still shopping, late and in trouble. This is where it got spooky.
A bunch of us stragglers were standing on the street near a bridge, when we realised the time. Now, we were convent schoolgirls and were were the good convent schoolgirl types that just never, ever, did wrong (yeah, well I can’t help it, it’s my past, I eventually became ‘Head Girl’, some of us were not fashionable ‘wild child’ girls. Move on). So we squeaked and clung to each other (we were 12 years old, forgodssake!) and then it happened. Deep inner memory stirring.
“Hey…” I piped up, “…if we go along the river there are steps up through the castle wall, we can cut through and that’ll get us back quickest.” As we all turned and set off together like lemmings someone asked “How do you know?”. We were running now and I thought about it and suddenly realised I didn’t know how I knew. This was my first visit to Kilkenny. But a memory of walking up some dark steps into a wooded incline had come to me in a flash and I just… knew. The lemmings halted as one. They looked at me and I looked ahead and on the riverside path stretching in front all I could see was a solid stone wall rising up high above us. No steps or gap visible. I almost faltered but the memory was so strong I just set off again, the lemmings followed.
Sure enough, as the wall followed the river bend a discreet set-back revealed stone steps that led up into the wooded grounds of the castle and we managed to run undetected to the rear of the coach where we acted as if we’d been there all the time. Phew! We clambered into our seats “oh-my-godding’ over our luck at not being found out and my weirdness.
Now are those that may say that I must have somehow glimpsed the steps from the bridge. Or that maybe I was just lucky and that the likelihood of there being steps up from the pathway was high but I reply that a) 10 years later when I lived in Kilkenny (working at the same KDW as a graphic designer) I checked and no, the steps are not visible from the bridge plus b) I was 12 and was so far from being travel wise it was scary and finally c) I had felt that ‘memory’ stir and it was intense. I like to think that some long-forgotten ancestor of mine knew Kilkenny and as Phelan is one of the most common surnames in the county there’s a fair chance of that. The place memory had just laid dormant in me until I needed it. I was so certain of not only there being steps in the wall but also those exact steps, exact. Spooky, yes? Well I think so.
All of which is a long-winded excuse to show some images from my recent visit to Kilkenny. Travelling with my husband and his australian family and friends we stayed overnight in the beautiful 16th century dowager house, Butler House whose grounds lead to Kilkenny Castle through the stables that housed KDW.
Butler House was the place where I lived while working in KDW (Kilkenny Design Workshops was later disbanded as a government design centre in 1988 and its individual elements sold off) and unexpectedly the manager had arranged for me to stay in the same rooms that I had occupied when living there. I had mentioned the suite I had used when I had telephoned for information. Honestly, I teared up when I entered my bedroom suite which consists of an entrance lobby, antechamber, spacious bedroom and a bathroom suite down some steps. So many memories flooded back of me as a younger woman, so unsure and beginning to find a way in life and now here was I, same views, same elegant surroundings, happily married and content with myself. I found it quite emotional and it was lovely to be able to share the past with people from my current life.
If you are ever planning a tour of Ireland, Kilkenny should definitely be on your list of places to visit. The city (very small, pretty, interesting medieval alleys and very lively) has become a cultural centre for the many, many crafts producers, artists, artisans and food producers in the surrounding region. We stopped off at Jerpoint Glass Studios in nearby Stoneyford and purchased some of its fantastic glassware, we dropped in to my favourite Irish chocolatier, The Truffle Fairy in Thomastown (where it would have been rude not to buy, never rude am I), we visited Woodstock in pretty Inistioge, a ruined stately home whose vast arboretum gardens are a delight to walk around, we drank at my old drinking spot, Tynan’s Bridge House right on John’s Bridge in Kilkenny where I had had my spooky memory experience and we had breakfast in Kilkenny Design Centre restaurant right at the window where my desk had stood in what had once been the graphic design studio of KDW.
Memories, spooky and special.
Butler House, 16 Patrick Street, Kilkenny*
T: +353 056 7765 707 W: www.butler.ie E: firstname.lastname@example.org
I heartily recommend this beautiful house as a place to stay. Not just because it holds special memories for me but it was the most historic and luxurious B&B we stayed at on our trip, the staff are extremely helpful and attentive, it boasts a wonderful garden, it’s located in the city but is quiet and it is reasonably priced. Breakfasts (stunning food by the way) are held in the restaurant of Kilkenny Design, the retail arm of the old KDW. Their scones were much admired by all. Need any more reasons?
Go on, make your own Kilkenny memory.
*I should add we paid for our own accommodation.