The Irish town of Kilkenny has a variety of experiences to offer to its visitors. The best known are the Medieval Mile and Kilkenny Castle (one of the castles in Ireland that must be visited!). However, Kilkenny has another, quirkier side – its old pubs. The discovery of this Kilkenny old pub was a pure case of serendipity!
It was a beautiful October day in Ireland when, my friend Naddya and I, arrived in Kilkenny. To find the villa where we booked a room through AirBnb was not difficult. The difficulty came from accepting what was offered to us. I’m not one focusing on and talking about bad travel experiences but this was the worst AirBnb so far.
A Bad AirBnb Experience Sometimes Can Be a Good Thing
The guy at the door was definitely not in his best shape. With half-down pants and mind somewhere in the clouds, he was not the host we hoped for. The house was smelling pot and our room was missing a key.
‘It’s like that in our house. There are no keys.’ he said.
We left the AirBnb place like antelopes pursued by lions. After that, many things happened. With the help of the Tourist Office of Kilkenny (God bless them), we found a great B&B with good prices and met interesting people. My travel writer’s heart is thrilled about the stories I collected and this is one of them I want to share with you today.
If it was not for this bad experience, we would never find the best of the old pubs in Kilkenny and will not make new friends.
In Bulgaria, we say “All bad is for good”. Isn’t it always?!
Women Behind The Bar
While getting together our thoughts and thinking how to find another accommodation while making sure we can get a full refund from AirBnb, my friend (who is a pro in finding the best places for food and drinks) pointed at a tiny pub at the street corner.
‘Let’s go inside to have a drink and think about what to do. They should have a Wi-Fi too.’, she added.
By that time, I already had learned to trust her intuition, especially about when comes to the Irish pubs.
This pub was painted in the traditional red. It looked like a small nook and when I opened the door was surprised to see a second, heavy wooden door. With a hand on that second door, I was imagining the pub full of drunken men and an interior smelling an Irish stew.
I was so wrong. Behind the bar was standing an elderly woman in a tweed jacket, wearing a smile. Instantly I felt relief. I knew we would not be homeless that night. My friend Naddya felt it too.
The old lady was Carmel Lenehan. And she was carrying the typical Irish humour in her heart.
‘What do you have in these huge suitcases, ladies?’ she asked us sniggering.
I looked at our luggage filling up a corner in the narrow puband felt ridiculous. Did we really needed those huge suitcases?? Mine was half empty anyway.
‘We have one Irish man in each.’ I tried to be funny.
She didn’t laugh. The feel of how absurd we looked in her eyes stayed in my mind for days after that.
After some time, her daughter showed up behind the bar. I didn’t speak to Jane much that day but I came back the next. Jane promised me an interview and I was impatient to ask all the questions that were jiggling in my mind since the moment I stepped in the pub.
The History of ‘The Lenehan’s’
‘We are not a sports pub; we are a traditional family-run pub.’,
was the first thing Jane told me.
It has been in the family since 1911 but the building goes back to the 17th century. At that time, the pub was outside the town and there were stables behind the building where the horses were kept.
This is the third generations of Lenehans that you will meet at the bar. But it is possible that it will be the last one, says Jane. The young people are not interested to run a pub business. And she is not sure she wants her kids to continue the tradition, as it is a demanding job.
The Lenehan’s Bar is one of the 11 (in fact there are 12) old pubs still open in Kilkenny. Similarly to the others, its history goes back more than 100 years and unlike some of the other old pubs, goes hand in hand with the family history.
There are no rooms above the pub as it is very often the arrangement, but there is a cellar underneath. In the past, the old pubs were also grocery stores. This can be seen in The Lenehan’s as well. The first part of the pub is separate from the rest by a wooden screen that looks like it was here since the previous century. And probably it has.
When you look behind the bar, you will see the little square drawers that housed food and other goods in the past. Jane thinks they should be labelled in order to make it visible to the visitors; and more beautiful too. I find her idea great. They should do that.
It is a Family-Run Pub for Families
You won’t see it if the Lenehan’s don’t show it to you, but there is a children’s nook in this pub. This is where Jane and her brother were spending their afternoons when their mother was running the pub full day time. As they were children and in order not to let them alone at home, they were playing in this hidden, but very bright part of the pub. But Carmel was a strict mother. They were in a pub but not allowed to go ‘in the pub”, behind the bar or anywhere near the drinks and the drunks. They were supposed to stay in their hidden world all the time.
It Is Also the Most Authentic of Kilkenny’s Old Pubs
Today, this place is still there. And although I didn’t see children playing inside, I’m sure they make use of it from time to time. The Lenehan’s is not a touristy, fancy-pancy place. It is exactly what the Irish pub was created for and why it became an internationally-recognized institution and represents the Irish culture more than everything else.
The Lenehan’s is a community place. This is where people come not to have a beer (well, that too) but to have a conversation, to share their small wins or life struggles with the others; to share news or celebrate.
During our conversation, I felt that Jane likes this part of her job. To her, talking to the clients that are often the same people and she knows them for years, makes her job meaningful. Just listening sometimes help other people to get their peace of mind.
That Sunday, I saw a father with his sons coming for a drink after, apparently very successful, football match of his boys. While the kids were sipping from their Coca-Cola cans, Jane and their father were discussing what comes up next to the boy’s team. He was proud and Jane was interested as it looked she knew the preceding story. On the tv, we were watching the sports channel and everything felt so much clichéd, almost unrealistic.
There were two women chatting quietly in the corner and I was glad I was there. This is how the real Irish pub is. No tourists, no outsiders; only me and the local people sharing their stories.
The Lenehan’s Needs You to Help It Survive
Let’s keep the authenticity alive!
In the last 10 years, the pub trade in Kilkenny totally changed.
‘We have to change to keep up with the trends but then you lose the authenticity and that is sad, sad…’
People don’t come out so often anymore and when they go out, they go to downtown where the action is happening. In Jane’s words, the traditional pub at the moment is going through a rough period. In the past years, they had to let 6 people staff go and it is really hard for the family.
If you wonder what else you can see in the country, read this blog post about 10 day Ireland itinerary.
» You might want to check this Dublin Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl tour