Walking from the front room of the Nenagh tourism office to the exhibition space, tourist officer, Viktoria Lee explains the “why” behind the related pieces of art, culture and history. Basically, the exhibition showcases Nenagh people that have achieved something and it turns out that there are many.
“Nenagh used to be a market town so if you look at the wallpaper, it is specially designed with pictures of people selling cattle and sheep. Our ‘I love Nenagh’ sign came from a piece that the writer Donal Ryan wrote and we have his 2015 European Literature Award too.”
The building used to be the town hall but was recommissioned to a tourist office in December 2021. All the pieces on display were donated by their owners who range from artists and sportspeople to writers and singer-songwriters. Brendan Graham, for example, wrote ‘Rock and Roll Kids’ and ‘The Voice’ (from Eurovision fame), but he also wrote ‘You Raise Me Up’, which has been sung by 1,500 different artists across the world.
Some of the other items on display include the Lough Derg Monster, which Viktoria says to the wide-eyed children is “Nessie’s Irish cousin”. He was made by local artist Paul Finch, as was the chair of hurleys - a seat bearing a striking resemblance to another famous chair, but with different weapons adorning it.
A sporting county, it is no surprise to see lots of rugby and hurling paraphernalia, including Donnacha Ryan’s 41st cap jersey and one of Michael Cleary’s three all-stars. And crossing the road to the courthouse, statues of three Olympians stand tall: Bob Tisdall, who won the 400m hurdles in Los Angeles in 1932, Johnny Hayes, who ran in the London Marathon of 1908 and Matt McGrath, who threw the hammer in Stockholm in 1912.
Water sports are popular as the town is only minutes from Lough Derg. But Nenagh has a rich history in itself.
“The castle is free to visit. You can go right to the very top. There is the Franciscan Abbey and the Heritage Center is a museum but it’s also part of the old governor’s house so it has the jail element as well,” says Viktoria.
Right beside the tourist office is the 12th-century Nenagh Castle. Before guide Kevin Whelan had the opportunity to explain the rich history of the building, the kids had climbed the 101 steps to the top.
When we eventually decamped to the basement level again, Kevin- who also does historical tours of the town- walked us through the castle’s centuries of history.
Built by the Butlers of Ormond, the castle served as their first seat of power until they moved to Co Kilkenny. A cylindrical keep that originally incorporated four flanking towers joined together by a curtain wall, today only the keep, the remnants of the gatehouse and one small tower remain. Built specifically for defence against the Gaelic Irish clans of the area, the O’Kennedys, O’Briens and O’Carrolls, there are several defensive features including arrow loop windows and a machicolation. Open April to October with free admission and free guided tours.
Riding around Tipperary
Getting out for a hack is a great way for my older child and I to talk but on this particular trek, we were too enthralled by Clare Leon to talk at all. For the past 20 years, Clare has been leading horseback tours around Rusheen, sharing her knowledge of the archaeology, history and biodiversity of the area.
The three of us set out on the one-hour ride, although I would recommend the two hours to really get the best out of the experience, from the back of the stable yard up into the hills. The land rises steeply and although the rocks around us appeared random, Clare believes that many were part of ancient settlements. We passed by a turlough, which she explains is rarely dry, reaching a height above the tree line that provided an amazing view across Tipperary, with the Slieveardagh Hills and the ‘V’ of the Kilkenny Gap in the distance. It was over too soon. One-hour trek semi-private (2-3 people) trek: €40 per child under 16, €45 16+. See timotrec.com
Spirit of Killaloe
The river Shannon is one of the finest waterways in Europe, and along that beautiful amenity, James Whelan started renting boats out of Killaloe in 1991. Summer 2023 is season 33 for James.
“All of our trips are sightseeing cruises for an hour. We cover 12km, sailing by St Flannan’s Cathedral and Brian Boru’s Fort - both of which are national monuments.
Every day is different. You meet the best people on the river. We are constantly trying to get people back to stay in Killaloe-Ballina. We work closely with people who do food or tours. I walk around with my little map of the town so that people see what we have to offer here,” he says.
The tours operate seven days a week from March to Halloween. killaloerivercruises.com. Adult €16, Child €7.50
Abbey Court Nenagh
Synonymous with Nenagh, The Abbey Court is a well-known hotel in the region. Having previously only travelled for meetings, I was pleasantly surprised by the range of services and will be returning.
The family room we stayed in was very large with a separate adjoining room of three single beds. Having spacious accommodation with tables to relax at is important when travelling with children. The in-house restaurant and bar had a wide-ranging offering, making it an ideal place for a family dinner or with a group of friends. The hotel provides a range of facilities including a 24-hour front desk, well-equipped fitness centre, complimentary Wi-Fi and a hairdresser.
The children’s favourite part of the hotel, and the trip, was the large heated swimming pool; but their mother’s favourite was definitely her one hour that turned into three hours at the hotel spa. My package included a seaweed bath followed by an anti-ageing restorative facial. I was treated to fruit and teas between the treatments and left feeling very relaxed. Seaweed bath €35, facial €110, escape priceless. A three-night family break including one meal, full Irish breakfast each morning and a number of other features for two adults and two kids €469.
You know that there is something good when in the middle of a busy day, people are willing to wait patiently for a table to become available. This was what we experienced at the Pantry restaurant, Grainne Moylan’s food emporium, and it was worth the wait.
The menu is extensive, I couldn’t decide, asked for a taste of all the salads with Crowe’s baked ham and was very glad of the result.
Cold salads €13, sandwiches ~€5.50 and for children, all mains can be served in small portions for €7
For 20 years, The Peppermill restaurant in Nenagh has been catering for celebrations and it is no wonder that people return. The bar downstairs offers a range of tapas, while the contemporary space upstairs with oversized windows is bright and buzzing.
The menu is modern Irish and European cuisine with some offerings not seen regularly, which should be ordered for this reason alone (Corn ribs - delicious). With one member of our party late but children hungry, the excellent staff accommodated two servings to one table while also being happy to help with recommendations. Braised blade of beef €24.95, corn ribs €7.95
The Wooden Spoon
How to describe The Wooden Spoon in Killaloe - bakery, café, curio shop. All food is prepared on site and although there are many healthy options, the desserts are what stole the show.
Generous portions packaged up to share were taken down to eat on the Millennium Cross walk. Laura Kilkenny has created something really special in the Wooden Spoon.
Note: Amii McKeever was a guest of Tipperary Tourism.
John Hanly & Co Ltd, Ballyartella
It was John Hanly’s (son of the current owner Brian) great, great, great grandfather who started the company in 1893; but it was that fifth generation before the name John came back around.
Although predominantly a manufacturer supplying woollen products to the trade, the shop has been redesigned so customers can come and see how everything is made, with soundboards that show you the 130-year history.
The product options are myriad starting with a range of pure Shetland wool blankets, which are the company’s ‘Irish picnic blankets’. Then there are lamb’s wool blankets: lovely, warm wool blankets for beds and throws and more of a heritage collection. The Merino lambswool blankets are larger, and the inclusion of cashmere gives it a soft feel, making it their bestselling product. Baby blankets that can be personalized are also popular presents.
Hanly’s traditionally utilised UK companies for the brushing of their products, but Brexit has added massive complications to this, John explains.
Before Brexit, the products were sent over and they came back finished within two weeks. Now he says, “You send it over, it takes 10 days to get there. You have to fill in all this extra paperwork and customs and there are a number of additional charges on top of your Ukraine war. The bottom line is that it’s gone from a two-week process to six weeks.”
One positive for the company is that due to the factory’s positioning on the river, energy costs have remained relatively constant because of their water turbine. This produces electricity - about 16 or 17 kilowatts an hour and it does well from September to March when the river is high.
John wants people to know that there is manufacturing still going on. There are loads of brands “designed in Ireland” that are not made here. There are only three or four weaving plants left in Ireland, but the demand is there.
You can buy online at johnhanly.com. You get 10% off your first order and in Ireland, it is generally next-day delivery. Natural wool eco throw €119, large Irish picnic blanket €79.