A journey along some of the county’s apparently sleepy little lanes will reveal some of the most thrilling, inspiring and beautiful craft work being produced anywhere in the world.
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The pretty Kilkenny countryside, in the southeast of Ireland, has become both home and inspiration for many artists and designers. A journey along some of the county’s apparently sleepy little lanes will reveal some of the most thrilling, inspiring and beautiful craft work being produced anywhere in the world.
The focal point of many artists is the historic and friendly city of Kilkenny. Watched over by the castle – where the stable yard is now home to a showcase of Irish and international art – Kilkenny’s medieval streets and alleys are perhaps just as fascinating as the craft and design that they host.
Nearest airports: Dublin Airport, Waterford Airport
Total distance: 70km
Days: 1 (but could be customised to 2, if required)
Start your day in the beautiful setting of Baurnafea Studio, about 30 minutes drive from Kilkenny city, where you’ll find the natural world brought into the home. Klaus makes the pottery – all kinds of homely, functional and pretty homeware, such as mugs, cups, bowls and vases, plus birdfeeders for the garden; Heike’s skill is in basketry, weaving native willow, some of which she grows herself. Her work includes traditional baskets and furniture, right up to living arbours for the garden. The studio is open by appointment only. Phone +353 59 972 6947 or email: email@example.com
From Baurnafea, bypass Kilkenny city (for now) and drive around 30 minutes south to Cushendale Woollen Mills in Graiguenamanagh, a bustling village beside the River Barrow. The mill has been going for generations, run by the Cushen family, and uses mohair, Irish wool and merino lambswool to produce Irish wool blankets, throws, hats and scarves. Feeling inspired? You can pick up knitting yarn spun in the mill to create your own masterpiece. The mill and shop are open Monday-Friday, from 8.30am-5.30pm (closed for lunch from 12.30-1.30), and Saturday, from 10am-1pm.
There’s nothing like watching craftspeople at work. At the next stop, Jerpoint Glass, a little over 20 minutes away, you can see glassblowers turn red-hot molten glass into the pieces on sale in the shop next door. There are jugs, platters, vases and glasses with rich patterns in gorgeous colours, but make the viewing platform your first stop; it is astonishing to watch the elegant, fluid shapes created from those scary-looking blobs of fire. Glass-blowing displays can be seen Monday-Thursday from 10am-4pm and Friday from 10am-1pm. The shop is open Monday-Saturday from 10am-6pm and from 12-5 on bank holidays, although it closes earlier in winter. Jerpoint Glass ship internationally.
Sweep up to the gracious Mount Juliet Golf Estate nearby and enjoy soup, sandwiches or something heartier at Hunter’s Yard (closed Wednesdays), or reserve a table for Irish-European cuisine at Bassett’s in Thomastown (closed Monday and Tuesday).
It’s a short 15-minute hop to Nicholas Mosse Pottery, in an old mill that has been in the Mosse family for generations. Here you can watch the potters, decorators and glazers producing Irish spongeware, a traditional style from the 18th century. The pretty designs and comforting shapes of Nicholas Mosse are so popular that you’ll spot it in many Irish homes. It’s open Monday-Saturday, from 10am-6pm and tours (minimum 10 people) can be arranged Monday-Wednesday, and cost €5 per person. To ask about large groups or to book a tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org Nicholas Mosse Pottery ships internationally.
Head into the heart of historic Kilkenny city now – just a ten-minute drive away – and on one of the tiny medieval lanes off the High Street you’ll find the workshop of MTW Jewellery. Marie-Therese Walker uses precious metals and precious and semi-precious stones to create bespoke and limited-edition pieces. Browse the collection of pendants, rings, earrings, cufflinks, bracelets, and pick up a piece of modern Irish design. Arrange a visit by emailing email@example.com or phone +353 85 758 4907.
It’s a six-minute walk up a gently sloping street to Kilkenny Castle. The converted stables are now home to Kilkenny Design Centre. If energy levels are flagging, head straight to the Foodhall for coffee and a slice of cake. After that you should be fighting fit to choose presents for family (or yourself) from the range of glassware, candles, fragrances, jewellery, home accessories, menswear and fashion – all of it, naturally, produced in Ireland. The centre is open seven days a week from 10am-7pm.
Just across the stableyard is the National Design & Craft Gallery, the only dedicated gallery of its kind in Ireland and a centre for contemporary craft and design. Work by international designers give a context for Irish-produced work, and its exhibitions – sometimes groups, sometimes solo artists – change every couple of months. Admission is free, and guided tours are available for groups, but must be booked. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +353 56 779 6151. The gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday, from 10am-5.30pm; Sunday and bank holidays, from 11am-5.30pm and is closed Mondays.
Enjoy award-winning food at Zuni, 26 Patrick Street, and then take a five-minute stroll to the Kilkenny River Court Hotel, on a bend of the river overlooked by the castle.
This is a sample itinerary to offer suggestions and ideas for planning trips. You can contact your local Tourism Ireland representative here for further information. Please note, any mention of specific product on this itinerary is meant to be used only as an example and does not represent an endorsement of that product by Tourism Ireland.