Suzie in the sunshine.

When it’s sunny in Ireland you have to get your bike out. The V-Strom was a joy to ride today.

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Weather in the high teens means bike time in Ireland.

Today was a beauty so I decided to take the V-Strom out for a spin. I haven’t being biking lately because I’ve had to take it easy recently after a quick pit-stop in hospital for an oil change and service. It was an over-due bit of maintenance on me, rather than the motorcycle for a change, but I am well on the road to recovery. It’s like when you get new tyres you’ll be told to take it handy until they’re worn in a little bit. In Ireland if you see that yellow thing up in the sky, well then it’s time to get out and about and enjoy it because it could be back to dampness again without too much of a delay. Not to worry, it’ll change again before you get a chance to get accustomed to the new weather situation.

I met up with my brother-in-law, Declan who wanted to knock the cob-webs off his Triumph AmericaIMG_0162, a cool little cruiser, that has been well behaved since a few incidents I described in an earlier post (http://wp.me/p7IHqF-wo). Yes, it’s the same Triumph America that I “push started” more times than I care to remember in France a few years ago. All is forgiven now and Declan and I met up and went out to enjoy the sunshine. 18ºC is a positive heatwave in April in Ireland and it was not to be wasted. Since I’m not fully back to fitness,  and Joan the Weather Lady on the national TV channel had advised of the possibility of sea fog near the coast, we decided to go to one of myIMG_0160 nearest and dearest destinations, the little inland city of Kilkenny. It didn’t disappoint. Thronged with other people out enjoying the sunshine, it is always a pleasure to visit. The castle is a complete gem and definitely not to be missed on a sunny day. Already Kilkenny is bursting at the seams with visitors and tours from overseas. Rather than making it feel overcrowded, it gives Kilkenny that cosmopolitan air to it. It makes you feel you are where it’s all happening, in a relaxed sort of way. People are strolling around enjoying what there is to see or just chilling in the beautiful castle gardens.

One of my favourite spots to visit in Kilkenny is Sullivan’s Brewing Company where they have DSC05369their own beer and their own wood-fired pizzas. Declan and I had a gorgeous pizza each and a pint of their award winning Maltings Red Ale, sitting in the sun-trap that is their beer and pizza garden. That’s the good life for sure. We enjoyed that little piece of heaven, sitting in the sunshine, but reality intrudes and before long it was time to go about our business. We walked up High Street and I showed Declan a motorcycle shop up beside Rothe House in one of the laneways off High Street. Brodericks is run by Enda Carrigan. Enda was busy with a customer so we just checked out his stock of motorcycles and as usual he had a nice selection of bikes to look at. Shortly after that we parted ways and when I got home I was satisfied that I had got a spin on the V-Strom and it was as enjoyable as expected. I have to be fully fit for my big European trip on Suzie in May and it won’t be long now until I have to get all my gear onto the V-Strom for the first time. Maybe a little practice run might help. You’d never know.

 

Suzie Stars in Dancing On Ice.

A scoot to Kilkenny, icy blast to Mount Leinster and a run to a bike show in Dublin before a date with a man with a scalpel.

About to suffer an absence from biking, I got out on the V-Strom in spite of very wet and cold weather.

I had a date with a scalpel wielding medic yesterday so, knowing there was going to be a period that I would not be able to take Suzie, my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure out to play, I took the opportunity to get out last week. My first destination on Thursday was  Gorey Business Park in Wexford, the South East of Ireland, to the guys in AMI (Adventure Motorcycles of Ireland). David had a few spare tickets for customers for the Carole Nash Motorbike and Scooter Show, in the RDS (Royal Dublin Society) Showgrounds, starting the next day, Friday. He kindly gave me my ticket and I had a coffee and a browse through the motorcycles on offer in the AMI shop, and as usual there were many fabulous examples to ogle.  After a chat with Derek, the Patriarch of the Ryanhart motorcycle dynasty, I headed off again on Suzie to Kilkenny.

One of my favourite short rides is to Kilkenny and a quick visit to Sullivan’s brewery Tap-rooom. I wrote about it in an earlier post about medieval Kilkenny (http://wp.me/p7IHqF-K2)sullivans and my feelings on their beer have been vindicated. There is a medal hanging on the beer taps indicating that the experts at the recent beer judging in the Alltech Dublin Craft Brews and Food Fair event, rated it very highly too. I ran into Ian, their Master Brewer while I was parking the V-Strom in the car-park at the rear of the premises. He is also an avid motorcyclist and we swapped a few war stories on our biking adventures abroad before I went in to order my pint of Sullivan’s Maltings Red Ale and Tikka Chicken Pizza. A pint and a pizza for 12 euros is good value in my book and the chef busied himself with their own wood-fired pizza oven making me a gorgeous crispy based offering. Ellen the bartender was kind enough to advise me to move Suzie into the covered area that is the walkway into the Tap-room to prevent it getting too wet. Which I gladly did because the rain was now teeming down. I had a  browse in their excellent wine and liquor shop at 15  John Street, before heading out on Suzie in the rain again.

A quick scoot to Borris, a small town in the general direction of home and I made the decisionninestones to go over Mount Leinster which had a little snow on it when I looked out my front door in the morning but I didn’t think that was going to be a problem. The rain was coming in heavy intermittent bursts but it wasn’t really an issue either. I made it up to the Nine Stones which is the viewing area at the bottom of the road to the Mount Leinster TV Transmitter mast or antenna, and took a snap with my phone showing a wet and misty County Carlow. I noticed that the gate to the TV mast road was open, which it almost never is, but knowing that the road is really only for RTE TV (national television broadcaster) personnel I wouldn’t be going up there. After all, it’s probably not allowed. And anyway there could still be ice and snow and the usual gale force wind so it would be dangerous up there. So, of course I set off up the road to the mast knowing there were a couple of places I could turn so as not to get to the icy, snowy and blowy bit. Which I duly ignored and got the full dancing on iceblast of the icy gale-force wind I was expecting when I rounded the last bend before the mast compound. Even so, it was hard to battle the wind, but at this stage you are totally committed, no turning back, with a nice covering of ice on the very steep narrow road and snow on the banks. The wind kind of picked me up and deposited me in the middle of the compound, wheels and boots sliding gracefully along in our version of “Dancing on Ice”. I think the judges would have been impressed. I was swiftly reminded why the RTE four-wheel drive vehicles have a little shelter built there to protect them from the large lumps of ice that fall off the mast and could easily damage a vehicle. It’s not a pleasant feeling thumping off a helmet either. I killed the motor briefly, and hanging on to the bike with my knees, I managed to retrieve my phone for another quick snap before the old adage: “discretion is the better part of valour” kicked in and I got out of there, rather gingerly.

The next day, Friday saw me heading off in nasty sideways rain. Real rain. If you get straight down rainDSC05578 in Ireland it’s not considered real rain. Straight down rain brings the comment “it’s a grand soft day” instead of a hard day with proper sideways rain. Straight down rain is kind of summer rain, but don’t let that fool you because summer is a moveable feast in Ireland that doesn’t follow any real seasonal occurrences or dates. I rode up to the RDS in Ballsbridge, Dublin for the Carole Nash Motorbike and Scooter show and luckily found a nice sheltered place to get the bike out of the nasty weather. The show itself was excellent. The AMI & Overlanders, Touratech Stand was one of the highlights and their customised black Africa Twin was a sight to behold. It’s theirs for the year for tours and demo rides and I hope I am back fully fit in time to get a jaunt on it before it goes on a holiday abroad. I am not sure DSC05599how to give you an idea of the scale of this event because it was way bigger than I imagined it was going to be. All the major manufacturers of bikes and suppliers of clothing and protective gear as well as many other organisations were present. There were lots of exhibitions too, custom bikes, vintage bikes and the myriad prizes, cups and medals, as well as the leathers of a certain Mr. Joey Dunlop. A Northern Ireland motorcycle legend, Joey Dunlop was voted the second greatest motorcycle icon ever by Motorcycle News, and many would argue should be considered number one. DSC05666Some living legends were called to the stage in the Main Hall and gave interesting accounts of their racing experiences too. Of course there was food and drink stands and at times when the rain eased off a little it was possible to go outside and see the stunt riders performing their skills in a fenced off paddock. I imagine it is more usual to see four legged steeds being lead around there because the RDS is most famous for equestrian events. I could have stayed ogling the bike beauties for days. All the best adventure bikes from Honda, Yamaha and many more as well as fabulous cruisers from Indian and BMW. Ducati, Yamaha, Harley, Suzuki, Triumph, Husqavarna, Royal Enfield and many more were also showing their fabulous wares. As well as the beautiful vintage Indian in the featured image, the modern “behemoth” Indian Roadmaster was spectacular, but all the manufacturers did themselves proud. Kudos to Carole Nash for a fine spectacle. And that was only Friday with two more days to go in what had to have been a brilliant weekend for all the motorcycle enthusiasts who attended over the weekend.

I met Colin, an old school friend, also a big bike fan, and we nattered away for about an hour and then it was time to gear up and head back out into the heavy traffic and sideways rain. It was a rotten dark, wet evening heading down the M11 on Suzie but it was worth it.  Now lying convalescing in my sick bed (read: being spoiled rotten with beverages and tasty bits) I know I will again be suffering some withdrawal symptoms (http://wp.me/p7IHqF-ST) and worse than the last time, because this time I have a bike in the basement but am just not allowed to use it for a few weeks, or maybe a week, or maybe… We’ll see.

Musings on Medieval Kilkenny

Kilkenny is a great old city with lots to offer the visitor including some new experiences in beer.

New discoveries in Kilkenny City including the Growler

Some motorcyclists wash their motorbikes and put them away for the “winter” months at the end of September. This time of year can be a really great time for day-trips and even longer rambles. dsc05300This year the weather in October (and now in early November) in Ireland has been exceptional and there is no excuse for not kicking it into gear and twisting the throttle. A really great destination for a trip in Ireland is Kilkenny, a city in the south east of the country on the banks of the Nore River. Kilkenny is about an hour and a half from the ferry terminal in Rosslare Harbour, if you are coming from Uk or Europe, and about the same distance from Dublin. If you are planning on staying, there seems to be an endless supply of accommodation here.

 Kilkenny Castle, ancestral home of the Butlers, is now a great place to visit. The grounds and ornamental gardens are fantastic and are particularly worth a visit at this time of the year when the trees are turning dsc05330their beautiful golden autumnal colours. It’s a little bit late in the year to enjoy the full potential of the formal rose gardens with the fabulous fountain, but it’s still worth seeing. The inside of the castle is a great tour too, and among it’s treasures is the fantastic art gallery, part of the National Gallery of Ireland. Across the road from the castle is the Kilkenny Design Centre, in what was the coach and stable yard of the castle. It is now an internationally renowned centre of excellence for many craft workers and artisans.

Kilkenny seems to be a Mecca for tourists, which is not a big surprise when you see the numbdsc05335er of great cafés, restaurants, bars, hotels and tea rooms as well as the large number of historic buildings and other attractions on the “medieval mile” which is a tour that includes the Castle, Rothe House, the Smithwicks Experience, Saint Canice’s Cathedral and many more interesting attractions. The town itself is a great shopping town and the old passageways such as the Butterslip, many still with the original flagstones still in existence from centuries ago, bring you through an archway, under the buildings and down to a lower street below. There are quite a few of these passageways that are reminiscent of the medieval city.  It’s also famous for too many festivals to try to tell you about them all, but there are festivals celebrating food, arts, theatre, comedy and beer, and more.

A beer festival? Yes indeed. Kilkenny had a very famous beer festival and it drew large crowds a few decades ago but it was discontinued only to be recently revived as the Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival. In 2017 it will be held from the 5th to 10th July. I suggest you mark it in your calendar. If you are looking for a reason to visit Ireland or Kilkenny it will be worth your while mulling those dates to plan a visit, especially if you like your beer. If you’re a biker and you want to visit a biker friendly place in Ireland, this might be the trip for you, as there always seems to be lots of motorcyclists here.  Kilkenny has always been famous for its brewing industry.  The Monks of Saint Francis Abbey started brewing their own here around the 13th century and brewing caught on in in a big way in Kilkenny. Richard Cole and John Smithwick started a brewery in Kilkenny around 1705 and their Smithwicks ale was brewed there up until a few years ago. The Guinness Group purchased Smithwicks in the 60s but the brewery and the Smithwicks experience is still there, at least as a visitors centre.

There are some great eateries in Kilkenny but a recent discovery for food and beer needs to be shared here.  First established in 1702, the Sullivan brewery was the biggest in Kilkenny, a city known for brewing and it has re-opened in recent times at John Street. dsc05354The Tap-room opened in August this year and it is a worthy pilgrimage for beer drinkers. A couple of recent visits have convinced me that this is a destination with many added benefits when I swing the leg over the bike and try to figure out which direction to take. Thdsc05366e Sullivan’s ale is a great drink and far superior in my humble opinion, to another well-known ale that was formerly brewed in Kilkenny.  I was reliably informed by a pretty young lady behind the bar that the beer is so superior in taste because they use four different barleys which are there on display beside the Growler dispenser, more about which I will explain shortly. It seems that a number of varieties of hops are used too, to get the great taste that doesn’t have that crafty beer after-taste that many people profess not to like. The Sullivan’s Brewing Company has a lot of Smithwicks names associated with it. I met and briefly spoke with Paul Smithwick on my most recent visit. It would seem that Smithwicks and Sullivans, once great rivals in the brewing industry, may have thrown their lot in together to revive the famous tradition of beer crafting in Kilkenny and it seems likely to be a resounding success.

There were some added benefits to my visit to The Tap Room as well. An offer of a wood fired pizza, made right there, and a great pint of the brew, which is called Malting Red I believe, for a tenner is a great idea. Jalapeño peppers, pulled beef and other tasty bits on a thin crispy base along with the delicious beer was a great lunch and the pièce de résistance was the aforementioned Growler. Now, this is a new experience for me, and one that has already enticed me to revisit there.  A Growler is a container for draught beer. In this case, it’s a seal-able litre bottle that the dispenser first removes the air from and replaces  with CO2 (I think), and then fills it with the tasty draught brew. dsc05370It meant that when I had finished my lunch I could fetch the Growler that I had brought back with me from my previous visit, from the top-box on the bike, and get a refill. This task was performed admirably by the helpful young lady behind the bar. I then had a litre of the delicious draught brew to bring home to enjoy in my own time. So guys, if you are looking for a place to head to when you are out for a blast, I recommend a spin to Kilkenny and if you fancy a bit of lunch, and if your taste in beer and pizza runs is a similar vein to mine, I suggest you stop in Sullivan’s Tap Room, on John Street, Kilkenny.

Mixing with Monks in Graignamanagh

 

Last week Laurie and I packed the saddlebags and headed to Lismore in County Waterford. The unwritten plan was a break in Lismore and then maybe west and south towards Ardmore. We only got to Lismore. This week we headed out on the bike. No saddlebags and nothing packed so there was little doubt we wereDSC04909 coming home in the evening. A short spin from base and we found ourselves in Borris, the ancestral home of the MacMurrough Kavanaghs. One option from the Capital: take the M11 / N11 to Enniscorthy. From Enniscorthy take the R702 to Borris. The views from Borris of the Blackstairs and Mount Leinster are great, and the town itself is quaint and picturesque. The tudor style mansion, Borris House, is open to the public by prior arrangement and for special occasions such as weddings or concerts. At the bottom of the town there isDSC04929 a 16 arch viaduct which was built in 1860 for the Great Southern and Western railway. The railway line closed completely in the 1960s but the viaduct is still there. After a walk around Borris we saddled up again to travel about 10 kilometres or 6 miles to Graignamanagh (or Graiguenamanagh: Gráig na Manach, village of the monks) in County Kilkenny.

The most striking building in Graignamanagh is the national monument, Duiske Abbey. A 13th century Cistercian Monastery, founded by William Marshall, in 1204. It is the largest of the 34 medieval Cistercian Monasteries in Ireland and in 1228 it was occupied by 35 monks and 50 lay brothers. The name Duiske comes from Douskey or An Dubh Uisce, The Black Water, a tributary which runs into the Barrow River in Graignamanagh. The abbey is well worth a visit, with 13th century stonework still visible, some of the original medieval floor tiles, Gothic and Romanesque architecture and an effigy of a Roman Knight on display. We spent some time wandering around the Abbey, appreciating its beauty and Laurie said a few prayers for my salvation. Probably entirely wasted because the next thing that caught my eye was a small grocery store opposite the Abbey. A grocery store, oh, and did I mention it was also a bar. Of course we weren’t going in because remember, we didn’t pack the saddle bags and therefore it was definite we were going home. We just went in to have a look at the grocery. The grocery that happened to be a bar as well.DSC05008 There were a few chaps there sampling the wares of course. One man was from Dundalk, a fact that was correctly guessed by Laurie, after just a few utterances by him. Another man was drinking a very nice looking pint of Guinness and eating slices of cooked ham from a brown paper bag. As you do. There was a very varied selection of goods for sale. Everything from mackerel lures, garden implements, tins of beans and did I mention, pints of Guinness. Of course we weren’t staying. One pint of Guinness, and then a look around for a suitable venue for food, before we set off home again.

The next morning, when we woke up in the B&B, we were very impressed with the view from our room. We were looking out over the quay, with barges and river boats tied up and the attractive looDSC04944king bridge over the Barrow River just a few yards down from the Waterside Restaurant and B&B. The bridge crosses the Barrow and Herself wasn’t slow to point out that it was County Carlow on the other side. She is from Carlow and that is why that was relevant. We had another wander around picturesque Graignamanagh. Historically it was an important town because it was a main base for barge traffic, which were the articulated truck, tractor / trailer units of their day, from the 1700s on.  In the town theDSC04953re is a concerted effort to grow and develop, through a scheme supported by a European rural development plan and Graignamanagh Local Development Company Ltd. The renewal is making a big difference to the town and there is a massive floral effort being made by the local people. The most impressive is the Kebab House, which is weighed down with flowers. The florist located directly across from it has a lot to do with the flowers, I fancy, but lots of other buildings are well decorated with flowers too. There are attractive shop and pub fronts and some very interesting life size statues of the Cistercian Monks depicting their lives.

What do you mean I skipped a bit? Oh, how we got from a quaint grocery store to waking up in a B&B? A grocery store that happens to be a pub too. Well, as I said we decided to sample the Guinness because it looked so nice and creamy and while we were enjoying it, Pat, the owner of Doyle’s explained a little about the premises. DSC05011 (2)It was originally a hotel and a stop for the Bianconi coaches. Carlo Bianconi was an Italian refugee from the Napoleonic Wars. He moved to Ireland, changed his name to Charles, and became a successful business man, inventing the first public transport system in Ireland: horse drawn coaches. The coaches required regular stops in various towns where the horses were changed. The man with the ham in the brown paper bag was telling a story about a father who had been a very hard working farmer all his life. When he died he left the thriving farm to his only son. Everyone remarked how much hard work this man had done in his lifetime. The son replied that he had left a lot of it behind him too… The man from Dundalk was telling how he had come down from Kildare in his river boat. Another customer told how he had been working in Australia for seven years and was back home for his first visit. Obviously we weren’t going home.

When I went back to the bike to get something I spotted the Waterside B&B and Restaurant and decided to book us in.  After one or two more in Doyle’s we adjourned to the restaurant in the Waterside and had a delicious salmon dinner. There had been a discussion about returning to hear more about the history of Doyle’s after the meal, but tiredness won out and we retired for tDSC04932 (2)he night. The staff of Waterside B&B and Restaurant were so friendly and helpful, and the next morning we had a great breakfast of cereal, tea and coffee as well as the obligatory full Irish. The motorbike was safely stored away in a building to the rear where they keep the bikes and electric bikes they have for hire. The tow-paths beside the waterway were once used for the horses that towed the barges. Now bike hire businesses can take full advantage of them as ready made routes for their customers. The tow-paths are great for walkers too as the paths are flat and scenic and the next beautiful village, to the south, Saint Mullins, is only four miles along the path or Barrow Way, as it is known. In the other direction the Barrow Way is accessible all the way to the Grand Canal in County Kildare. DSC05105Before we headed back out on the road, we walked down to look at the sports and rowing facility. The rowing club, unlike a lot of older, established rowing and boat clubs, is relatively new, having been founded in 2001. There are lots of sports and water activities here, swimming, canoeing and rowing as well as field sports. We were well impressed with the new poster over the rowing club. The O’Donovan brothers from Skibbereen won silver in rowing in Rio but they also made a big impression at the Olympics and are now known for some famous statements they made while being interviewed. The rowing club have harnessed this popularity with a large sign of the two heroes on the clubhouse wall.

Borris:

 

Graignamanagh: