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A Journey Round the British Isles … Part 67

There are a dozen tables neatly laid. I’m the first to arrive in the dining room and I’m shown to the table for one. The room soon fills up and is groaning and straining with a Babel of accents and languages by the time I’ve breakfasted. I start with muesli and add the first banana I’ve eaten in over a week. My body scents healthy breakfast and sets up a little chorus of thanksgiving. My mind, though, has seen the words “Full Irish” on the chalk board and I simply haven’t the will power to resist it. When God or physics set the universe going they inserted an inevitability clause. I am no more guilty of weakness in choosing the big cooked breakfast than the apple was guilty of falling off Isaac Newton’s tree. There is an immutable law of cause and effect at work here. I see the words “Full Irish” and the words “Yes please” come out of my mouth. I could be speaking any one of the seven languages currently being used in the Kilkenny dining room. I have every idea of what I’m saying but absolutely no control over the saying of it.

The husband is playing the Maitre d’ and playing it with a full measure of bonhomie, even if a little of it seems to come from the drawer marked “forced” rather than the drawer marked “natural”.

The breakfast should be the last I have in ireland if the day goes to plan. The day does go to plan but the breakfast turns out to not even be the last one I have that day. Fortunately for my lethargic side, it isn’t as huge as some have been. The sausages are smaller, as are the black and the white puddings and there is no soda bread and not even a hint of a potato pancake.

The man is very keen on my shirt. I’m sitting radiating glory from the yellowest shirt I have ever worn. I think the fellow is trying to belittle me in some way. I am in Kilkenny and I am wearing the yellow and black of that county and have the crest emblazoned on my breast. It cost me five euros and my only regret is that I didn’t buy five more. He’s keen to point out that Kilkenny are playing Waterford in an important semi-final in a few days and that my route takes me through Waterford. “Those boys down there will be having something to say to you when you ride by with a cats’ shirt on yer back.”

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I continue to enjoy my breakfast, down two rather good cups of coffee and am visited  at table by the stunning lady of the house whose offer to knock ten euros off my bill may or may not have something to do with me being served by an irritating fellow. i like to think it was because she knew a handsome fellow when she saw one. The truth is actually that she, like most small business people preferred fifty you can fold to 60 through a card reader. I wandered off to find a bank machine and to have a final look at this almost perfect little city.

Ireland is smaller than mainland Britain by quite a margin but it has longer and bigger rivers and lakes aplenty. The River Nore runs  north to south right through the city and on to New Ross where it joins the River Barrow before flowing out to sea. All the best cities make a feature of their rivers and Kilkenny is no exception. The guest house is situated by the Great Bridge of Kilkenny,  known for centuries as Green’s Bridge. The current structure has survived for 350 years and is a rather elegant multi arched bridge. It is the site of a number of bridges that have been somewhat less successful. The river has a strong current and is shifting a great deal of water, even in August. In time of heavy rain it can be a tremendous torrent. In 1763 the whole bridge collapsed and was washed away. Locals gathered around the next bridge downstream to watch the event. Unfortunately sixteen people thought the best place to see the bridge wash through was on John’s Bridge, some few hundred yards to the south. The effect of the flood and the masonry from the northern bridge washed away the southern bridge too. None of the sixteen people were ever seen again.

The castle is a magnificent sight today and has a long history. I only have time to skirt round. It is beautifully open to view. No high walls to obscure it, and open gardens to the rear. There are churches and cathedrals and abbeys to spare. The Black Abbey is actually grey. The name derives from its Dominican status. The Dominican’s were known as the black friars.

There’s a St Mary’s Cathedral, which is quite splendid and a Saint Canice Cathedral which is almost too good to be true. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city and indeed the one that gave the city its name. Kilkenny translates as the Church of Canice. The round tower is something I have never seen before. It is too narrow to hold a stairwell and can only be climbed internally by means of some very long, and rather steep, ladders. Its purpose seems to have been as a lookout. there is something haunting about the whole building and not entirely in a ghostly sense.

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The city has always been a centre of brewing and though the main brewery was closed there is still beer made in the city. My friends who still partake of a drop or two are keen to point out what I missed in being an early to bed with a mug of cocoa sort of a fellow.

I locate the two buildings I have been in search of. A bank and a post office. At the bank I get prompt, efficient and altogether impersonal service from an ATM. In the post office I get my customary friendly welcome and altogether superior service.

By ten o’clock I’m on my way. Once round the castle and onto the road heading south. I take two attempts to make sure I’m on the right road. I might have been better going by river. The Nore has already been my guide for twenty miles. It is going to keep me company for another forty five. And that’s just the first part of today’s adventure.

Jonathan Swift and Bishop Berkeley were both educated in Kilkenny. I pedal off to explore countries as yet unknown to me wondering whether my bicycle is actually real or if it only exists in the mind of someone looking at it.