Claire O’Sullivan found unexpected zen on a family break in Kilkenny.
There’s a friend of mine who likes to scoff at the supposed emancipation of women via working motherhood.
To what end have we decided that it’s acceptable to not sit down until 9pm midweek and then when we do hit the coach, we pass out as we’re so bloody knackered?
Racing out of the office to get home to get started on dinners, to light the fire and check homework? Why? For a second car and two weeks in the sun each year, he snorts. That’s what.
That’s the big material difference between our lives and that of our parents.
Aah yes, two weeks in the sun. Joyful. Delicious. Sexy. Much needed.
Two weeks to breathe properly and not be a slave to a to-do list.
Yes that two weeks may be glorious but driving two hours up the road last month for a weekend that wasn’t composed of cleaning, shopping, bulk cooking and trying to get uniforms washed, dried and ironed by Sunday evening did as much good for us as that first week of waking up to blue skies in a Spanish apartment.
It’s a cold Saturday evening and my husband and I are submerged in the bubbling outdoor vitality pool, leaning over the edge silently watching birds take off and others land on the branches of a majestic mature tree that dominates this section of lawn at the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny.
We’re watching their flight through a wall of steam that disappears overhead into the night air.
All is quiet bar the sound of ducks and geese on the hotel grounds. It’s a rare moment when everything seems still and I’m locked in the present.
Meanwhile, the kids love the pool. What kids don’t?
They’ve been in and out for the bones of an hour now and so we’ve got to swim, float in the vitality pool and zone out in the sauna. I love saunas at hotel leisure centres like the Newpark.
There are always plenty of locals so you can sit there looking vacant but you’re really smiling inside as men and women in their 60s and 70s who know each other for years chat back and forth about the the ‘great stretch in the evening’, about grabbing these few dry days to give the lawn its first cut and how the ‘94-year-old woman back the road is living on god’s time’.
The nine-year-old cannot believe meanwhile that he can do the ice-bucket challenge, all day every day at the leisure centre.
We hear the shrieks of laughter through the sauna as he fills up the wooden bucket on a pully again and lets the water tumble down.
Five minutes from the city centre, the Newpark is a real family hotel.
It isn’t so fancy as to be intimidating with children and it has a cosiness that you enjoy returning to in the evening.
We tried without fail both Friday and Saturday to grab the armchairs by the fire in the lobby but they were ever reserved for afternoon teas and evening drinks.
There is much for the children to do in Kilkenny.
We checked out the Kilkenny Way on Saturday morning, a genius of an idea as Kilkenny’s reputation as the capital of hurling hadn’t heretofore been exploited as a tourist ‘experience’.
For €25, you walk from Lanigans bar down to Nowlan Park with a guide who fills you in on the history and wonders of hurling (I never knew for instance that Babs Keating played barefoot in the 1971 All-Ireland after he forgot his boots).
At the hallowed ground, he demonstrates the basics of the world’s fastest and oldest game, organises a ‘puck around’ and a penalty shoot out before you all head back to Lanigans where you can watch an All-Ireland game at the bar while having a bowl of Irish stew and a pint — food and drink included in the price.
One of the best ways for parents to ensure a relaxed evening is to exhaust their children by day. And so we headed out to the Kilkenny Activity Centre, about five minutes from the hotel, for outdoors ‘splatballing’, a lower-velocity form of paintballing.
The 14- and nine-year-old were helmeted up and spent the next hour-and-a-half racing around as part of two teams of children ‘splatballing’ a range of fixed and moving targets with guns.
The supervisors roared out instructions and tips constantly so even the meekest and weakest children got absorbed.
Next up was the centre’s assault course. My kids like to think they’re hardy but it nearly broke the smaller as one pulled the other up and over hillocks, palates stacked at 120 degree angles and down smooth 3.5m concrete walls.
It was cold that Saturday and when they faced the water section, the nine- year-old yelled ‘no more’. That doesn’t happen often; we smiled with smug satisfaction.
That afternoon, events conspired that my husband and I could nip off to Warrington Topflight Equestrian Centre which is about 10 minutes drive outside Kilkenny. We had ordered a lunch picnic basket from the Newpark.
Some people feel part of the countryside atop a motorbike but to me, nothing beats horseback.
Warrington is run by the Moloney family ( of Eddie and Richie Moloney international showjumping fame) and is a busy spot for lessons at all grades.
We had a great instructor with us who encouraged us inexperienced riders to canter rather than just trot along and just like the evening previous in the vitality pool, it was an opportunity to zen out.
The only sound was horses’ hooves and the rushing River Nore. We just passed through the countryside in silence taking in the mature birch, oak and ash that surrounded us and Kilkenny’s late winter/early Spring beauty.
If we’re away for a weekend, it’s rare that we would eat at the same restaurant twice.
Well, that weekend in Kilkenny we joined the ranks of what we would have once described as the spectacularly unimaginative as the Newpark’s brasserie was great.
With dark-grey exposed ceiling joists and red lamps in each mahogany dining booth, it is so cosy that it’s hard to leave after eating.
We had sea bass, a guinness and beef pie, chorizo spaghetti and the younger a fantastic fresh fish and chips.
Both nights we all ate the teriyaki chicken wings as starter and they were juicy and spicy with plenty of chicken meat.
And there’s another reason why eating in a good hotel restaurant is irresistible with older kids.
They can just head upstairs when they’re bored. We found ourselves able to relax after dinner when the kids disappeared to watch a movie.
I can’t write this piece without mentioning the staff at the restaurant and bar as they are the real pros that unfortunately you don’t get to experience half enough these days; efficient, courteous and genuinely concerned that we all enjoyed ourselves.
We had a great break in Kilkenny.
My one gripe was that the jacuzzi was out of order at the leisure centre and so were a number of jets in the vitality pool.
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