Hello! We are Four Acorns, and as you know from our previous blog, we are just back from the ultimate Ireland camping holiday.
While Part I was about the first half of our adventure, this post covers the last three days of our road trip around 4 counties of Ireland's Ancient East, the perfect opportunity to explore and discover 5000 years of Ireland's history and culture.
After a night of relentless rain, it was a relief to see that the lake at Lough Ree (East) Caravan & Camping Park hadn’t risen closer to our hard stand for the night! With the rain still drumming on the campervan’s roof, we had breakfast and left Westmeath for another day’s adventures on this Ireland camping holiday, this time in Kilkenny.
Castlecomer Discovery Park
The weather was beginning to improve as we made our way to Castlecomer Discovery Park. We were due to take the Tree Top Adventure Walk but, on arrival at the beautiful Visitor Centre, we were informed that all activities had been cancelled for the day, due to the heavy rain and high winds.
The acorns forgot their disappointment as soon as we set off on the Easter Woodland Hunt, which remained available for the duration of the school holidays. A dozen Easter bunnies were scattered along the Arboretum Loop walking trail, each displaying a word/clue. This was the perfect excuse to explore this “young park” with a long history and a rich heritage, from the enchanting Elf & Fairy Village, to the boating lake, all the way to the mightily impressive zipline – at 300 metres, it is the longest in Ireland, no less!
One of the Easter hunt clues was actually located off the Arboretum trail, near the impressive pithead wheel, stark reminder of Castlecomer’s coal-mining past. Castlecomer Discovery Park was set up on the former Wandesforde Estate as a social/community enterprise to rejuvenate the town, following the closure of the coal mines in 1969. The Visitor Centre houses a coal-mining museum, which we didn’t have time for, unfortunately.
Once the acorns had collected their Easter hunt prize from the Visitor Centre, we headed out to the Kilkenny-Carlow border, for an unforgettable adventure on the majestic Barrow River.
With such a jam-packed itinerary for our Ireland camping holiday, we very nearly didn’t go canoeing. What a mistake that would have been! For paddling down the Barrow to Graiguenamanagh was one of the highlights of our road trip.
The sun was shining at last when we parked our Celtic Campervan at the end of a narrow country lane outside Clashganny, Co Carlow. Charlie Horan, owner and founder of Go With The Flow River Adventures, was expecting us.
Now canoeing is something we had wanted to do as a family for some time. But with Pebbles still under the age of 5, we had never attempted it. We needn’t have worried. The Barrow is one of the safest rivers in Ireland to go canoeing as a family, and Charlie is well used to dealing with young children – he took Pebbles and Squirrel, the younger two, in his red canoe, while Brian and Mermaid, and Jedi and myself, paired off in two other boats.
With the heavy, incessant rainfall of the last few months, the Barrow was at an all-time high. But the many side canals and locks built alongside it during the great canal-building era of the early 19th century mean it remains safe for canoeing.
Ducking really low under an ivy-clad stone bridge, we set off on the river. On Charlie’s advice we stayed close to the left bank until we reached a tranquil canal. Pebbles and Squirrel were giggling happily as he expertly steered his boat down the current.
Through a water-logged patch of trees, some impressive rapids in the bulging Barrow could be seen. Yet the overwhelming feeling as you paddle down this beautiful river is one of utter quiet and stillness.
Charlie hopped out of his canoe to operate the double lock at Ballykeenan. Seeing from a boat the lock in operation, as the water level slowly lowered and the floodgates opened to let us through, was one of the many memorable moments of our canoeing experience.
We then rejoined the Barrow itself – mighty yet gentle in the late afternoon sunshine, with our three brightly coloured Canadian canoes gliding between its wooded banks. Too soon, too quick, we reached Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny.
The canoes were pulled out of the water at the rowing club for a later pickup, as Charlie had arranged a taxi to take us back to the starting point in Clashganny. On hearing of the many river adventures that Go With The Flow offer through the season, Jedi immediately added to his nascent bucket list a family canoe wild camp safari!
Tree grove Caravan & Camping Park
After such a busy day of touring in our campervan, we arrived at Treegrove Caravan & Camping Park about 7pm. The reception hut was closed but owner Dan turned up only a few minutes later. He lives onsite with his family in Danville House Farm, as Treegrove is also a family-run yard set in an old Georgian farm.
We parked the campervan for the night on a hard stand of the first terrace. The upper level has grass for tents, the toilet/shower block and a couple of glamping huts. The acorns immediately went to see and feed the two ponies in the nearby field, using up for them all the carrots stocked in the campervan’s fridge! See them in action here.
At this time of year, and also due to the incredibly wet weather, a large section of the camping park remained cordoned off. Treegrove also offer pony trekking and horse-riding lessons, and the campsite is only 5 minutes’ drive from the centre of Kilkenny.
In the morning, Dan surprised us with half a dozen “real free-range eggs” – you should have seen the size of them!
Brian took the opportunity of this slow, sunny morning to service the motorhome, much to the delight of campervan-mad Squirrel. We then drove 5 minutes into Kilkenny City and parked on Castle Road in a coach parking bay.
“Kilkenny Castle stands dramatically on a strategic height that commands a crossing on the River Nore and dominates the “high town” of Kilkenny.”
Our self-guided tour of Kilkenny Castle started and ended at the playground, and rightfully so, as this is one of the best the acorns have ever played on. Then it was time for lunch. The beautiful café is housed in the former Castle Kitchen. Located in the basement of a round tower at the very end of the kitchen corridor, the stunning tearoom, complete with high ceilings and large bay windows, still sports some of the original features, such as a humongous cast iron stove.
Kilkenny Castle is simply beautiful. I was blown away by the effort and the exactness of the lengthy (and still ongoing) restoration work, since the buildings came in the care of the OPW (Office of Public Works) in 1969. For instance, in the sumptuous Library, on the first floor, the golden silk poplin on the walls was faithfully recreated by French Manufacture Prelle of Lyon (France’s second largest city has a long tradition of silk weaving) after a remnant of the original wall covering was found behind a skirting board.
Similarly, the Butler family papers yielded the receipt for the Library’s beautifully intricate carpet. This allowed the restoration team to trace back the original manufacturer Woodward Grosvenor who, as luck would have it, had retained the design records!
While the younger two acorns found the visit sometimes hard-going, Jedi and Mermaid were truly impressed by the Nursery and the magnificent Blue Bedroom, on the second floor, both hung with exact reproductions of the wallpaper the Butler family had commissioned at the time.
Walking down the stunning Moorish staircase, we finally arrived in Kilkenny Castle’s centrepiece – the Picture Gallery. To be honest, we hardly glanced at the paintings on the wall. For it is impossible not to look up in the Picture Gallery – the roof, every square inch of which is richly decorated in intricate designs and vivid colours, steals the show.
Practical information – Days 3-4
Lough Ree (East) Caravan & Camping Park to Castlecomer Discovery Park – 1h40mins, 110km
Castlecomer Discovery Park to Go With The Flow River Adventures (Clashganny, Co Carlow) – 45mins, 40km
Go With The Flow River Adventures (Clashganny, Co Carlow) to Tree Grove – 35mins, 30km
The Estate Yard
Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny
Te. +353 (0)56 4440707 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Driving along the N24 towards Tipperary in the gorgeous afternoon sunshine, I put on my sunglasses for the first time this year. Now the holiday was starting!
As it turns out, a short but heavy downpour had engulfed the Glen of Aherlow Caravan & Camping Park when we got there. After checking in with owner George and parking the campervan near the top of the park, we watched through the windshield as the rain slowed and the clouds cleared from the soaring Galtee Mountains across the valley. The summit of Galtymore was still streaked with snow.
We had pitched our family tent at the Glen of Aherlow campsite last year, on a very busy June bank holiday weekend. This time we had it pretty much to ourselves, due yet again to the appalling weather of a seemingly endless winter. Still, as the rain stopped for good and Brian got the portable barbecue going, we were treated to a stunning sunset over the Galtees.
The acorns first disappeared into the games room, but they soon came out again to explore their surroundings and sit around the campfire. Mermaid and Jedi had a game of wooden skittles while Squirrel and Pebbles scaled a large tree stump that was most likely brought down by a winter storm. As darkness descended over the Glen of Aherlow, we cooked s’mores over the embers. Then Jedi set up his telescope for a much-awaited spot of stargazing – to the north, he spotted and identified golden star Capella, in the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer.
The last evening of our road trip in a campervan felt like the ultimate camping experience.
Rock of Cashel
We woke up the next morning to the pitter patter of the rain on the roof of the campervan. On our way to the Rock of Cashel, last stop of our Ireland camping holiday, the motorhome got a good wash driving on the flooded roads of south Tipperary.
Even on that damp Sunday, the Rock of Cashel made for an impressive, if a tad gloomy, sight against the overcast sky. It is one of the most visited sites in Ireland, and it’s easy to see why.
Stepping inside the roofless cathedral, we were taken aback by the scale of this once elegant building. While Jedi and Mermaid took a close look at the bas reliefs and ancient frescoes, Pebbles and Squirrel jumped in the puddles and stood under the water dripping from the keystone high above their heads. In the Vicar’s Choral, we watched a highly informative documentary titled The Strongholds of Faith about the turbulent times the Rock of Cashel witnessed, and their architectural legacy.
Unfortunately the panoramic views over Tipperary’s Golden Vale were all but inexistent on that misty day, but Hore Abbey, a ruined 13th century Cistercian monastery, was clearly visible at the foot of the Rock.
From Cashel it was another two hours’ drive to return our motorhome to Celtic Campervans, near Dublin Airport. Manager Damian welcomed us back with a smile and a question: “Would you do it again?”
To which the answer is, unequivocally:
In a heartbeat!
Practical information – Day 4-5
Kilkenny Castle to Glen of Aherlow Caravan & Camping Park – 1h25mins, 91km
Glen of Aherlow Caravan & Camping Park to Rock of Cashel – 33mins, 28km
Rock of Cashel to Celtic Campervans – 1h50mins, 168km
Get out there go camping – Camping Ireland, over 100 Failte Ireland approved caravan & camping parks.
Four Acorns / Quatre grains de chêne
Annette is French, married to an Irish man, and they live in Co Wicklow with their four bilingual children. She blogs in English and French about their family adventures to inspire families to unplug, go outside and reconnect with nature and each other.