13th-century Kilkenny Castle was built during Norman occupation to protect the town from invasion.
  • 13th-century Kilkenny Castle was built during Norman occupation to protect the town from invasion.
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"We have relatives in L.A., and they are amazed at how different our way of life is here than what they are used to."

My Servas host elicited a chuckle out of me as we strolled past rolling green fields dotted with sheep. Having lived in L.A., I could appreciate the contrast. I paused with my new friends to take photos and savor this quiet, late afternoon moment amidst a quintessential Irish vista.

The couple's ten-year-old son sat on a fence and looked out at the fields, still and peaceful in the light of dusk. He gathered some sheep's wool into an envelope for me to bring back to the kids in San Diego.

We were in Gowran, a picturesque village a few minutes outside Kilkenny, Ireland. Life moves at a leisurely pace around here. We paused to look up at an interesting cloud formation. I was shown their organic garden where a variety of fruits and vegetables are grown.

I was also introduced to the sport of hurling, something of a cross between lacrosse and hockey played on grass. It’s the most popular sport in Ireland and said to be the world's oldest field game, brought by the Celts to Ireland over 2,000 years ago.

The boy laid down his practice sticks to form the insignia of the Kilkenny hurling team. They're a perennial power – something like the New York Yankees of Ireland.

A neighbor came by to chat and speak of his experiences working at Kilkenny Castle, which I had visited earlier in the day. They waved to the first car I saw mosey down the narrow country lane.

Perhaps everyone does know everyone else in this small village, I thought.

Kilkenny is surrounded by scenic stretches of fields nestled along the River Nore. Often called "Ireland's loveliest inland city," it has a history that stretches back to medieval days, when it was an important market and trading center.

Locals are justifiably proud of their city's history. Narrow roads that mark the town hearken back to pre-Industrial Era. The street plan remains pretty much as it was laid out about 600 years ago.

The huge, stately Kilkenny Castle is one of Ireland’s most impressive castles. The Butler family made their residence here for nearly 600 years. Built in the early part of the 13th century, the castle has had many additions and renovations over the years. Its impressive dining room and library are what you might expect to find here.

I was curious to see separate drawing rooms for men and women for the post–evening meal activities. The men’s room was devoted to smoking cigars and drinking port, the women’s quarters ostensibly to more ladylike pursuits.

A fifteen-minute drive away, the village of Instioge is a lovely spot for a hike, picnic or bike ride. It was the setting for the films Circle of Friends and Widow's Peak.

A little over an hour from Kilkenny, the Rock of Cashel is one of the highlights of the region. Towering over the Tipperary Plain of the River Suir, the complex is visible for miles around. Once a fortress, the Rock was home to the Kings of Munster for several centuries, beginning in the 5th century.

There's an impressive collection of historic structures here, including a cathedral, monastery and chapel. There are also some fine examples of Celtic stone art. Restoration work on Cormac's Chapel, built in 1134, was in progress to ensure the future survival of the structure.

The frequent tours of the Rock offer some insight into its history. (Allow at least two hours for a visit.)

Kilkenny is just a 2-3 hour drive from Dublin. Those renting a car at the airport might consider spending their first night here if driving to the west or south coast of Ireland. It's an ideal spot to relax after a bout of jet lag.

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