The area south – and notably southeast – of Kilkenny city is a patchwork of country roads and picturesque villages overlooking the rich, green valleys of the Barrow and Nore rivers. This is fine walking and fishing country and home to some of the county's most notable crafts makers – pick up a copy of the Made In Kilkenny crafts trail leaflet, or see www.madeinkilkenny.ie.
Named after 14th-century Welsh mercenary Thomas de Cantwell, who became a local lord, Thomastown retains some fragments of its medieval town walls. Down by the bridge over the River Nore (built in 1792) you can find Mullin's Castle, one survivor of no fewer than 14 towers that once stood along the town perimeter.
The rolling green hills of northern County Kilkenny are ideal for leisurely drives along the back roads with the makings of a picnic stowed in the boot. There's not a whole lot going on in this part of the county; it's best enjoyed by simply taking in the scenery and discovering peaceful little villages.
Tiny Inistioge (in-ish-teeg) is a delight, with its tranquil village square, riverside park, and 18th-century, 10-arch stone bridge spanning the River Nore (fishing permits available from O'Donnell's pub on the square). The Nore Valley Walk heads north along the riverbank to Thomastown, or try the Nature Walk signposted south from the square.
Castlecomer & Around
Castlecomer is on the gentle River Dinin, some 18km north of Kilkenny city. The town became a centre for anthracite mining after coal was discovered nearby in 1636; the mines closed for good in the mid-1960s. Anthracite, a very hard form of coal, burns cleanly and produces almost no smoke.
Kells & Around
Kells (not to be confused with Kells in County Meath) is a mere hamlet with a fine stone bridge on a tributary of the Nore. However, in Kells Priory, the village has one of Ireland's most evocative and romantic monastic sites. The village is 13km south of Kilkenny city on the R697.
Striking calcite formations enliven Dunmore Cave, some 6km north of Kilkenny on the Castlecomer road (N78). In 928 marauding Vikings killed 1000 people at two ring forts near here. When survivors hid in the caverns, the Vikings tried to smoke them out by lighting fires at the entrance.