DID WE ever think we would see the day when there would be more cafés (coffee/tea shops) in Kilkenny than pubs?
If we have not already reached what some might term that odd situation then we are certainly on the way there – at the speed of knots.
There was a time that ownership of a pub was akin to having a back door key to Fort Knox.
Alas, that is no longer the case for all bars.
Yes there are some great pubs still thriving but many more have already gone to the great public house plot in the heavens while others have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin.
It was in this not so healthy atmosphere that local politicians came together to unleash another pair of tea shops at the heart of our city, on the banks of the River Nore, neighbours for Dunne’s Stores.
The Tea Houses, once the so-called pleasure houses of our late and perhaps lamented local gentry, have been given a facelift, beauty treatment maybe that may help with their Lazarus-like return, a reincarnation that marries the topsy turvy present with the rather posh past.
Optimists may view the latest relaxation spots as a noble addition to chilling out in our city.
Pessimists just may see them as two further additions to an already crowded local tea/coffee shop population.
The notion is that a son or daughter of Kilkenny might have mixed feelings if he or she were bequeathed a pub or a coffee shop.
In the present climate bookmaker Paddy Power would probably view that situation as six of one and half dozen of the other, with a reminder that Kilkenny boasts some of best coffee/tea shops in Ireland.
With refurbishment work completed, the Tea Houses were officially opened by Minister Malcolm Noonan.
The houses, dated early 19th Century buildings, are, a press release tells us, at the southern entrance to our Riverside Garden.
A blurb states that the buildings are important riverside landmarks, noted for their rarity and historical significance in the context of Kilkenny City.
The Tea Houses were built between 1790 and 1810 for use by the gentry.
The buildings are part of the Abbey Quarter and are located at the entrance to the relatively new Riverside Garden and Skatepark.
Councillor Fidelis Doherty explained that thanks to funding from the Urban Regeneration Development Fund from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, together with matched funding from the council’s, it was possible to bring these landmark heritage buildings back into use.
PUBLIC REALM EXPERIENCE
The newly named Isabel’s Tea Houses, will, we are told, add to the public realm experience of the Abbey Quarter site as locals and visitors bask in our summer sun.
The té tigs are named after Isabel de Clare, daughter of Aoife and Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow. Aoife was the wealthiest woman in Ireland at the time.
A significant woman in her own right, she was married to William Marshall who has many buildings attributed to him in Kilkenny.
Isabel’s soldiers successfully defended Kilkenny Castle during an attack in 1208.
Minister Malcolm Noonan said it was always intriguing to see how funding from the constituency, in this case the council and his department, through the Urban Regeneration Development Fund, can combine to such great effect as it has at these new tea houses.
“Their opening is timely as we enter our first summer away from pandemic-related lockdowns. I look forward to us all visiting and, as we do so, breathing new life into these beautifully restored heritage buildings.”
Tony Lauhoff, Senior Engineer, Kilkenny County Council, said it was great to see the tea house buildings get a new lease of life and contributing to the vibrancy of the Abbey Quarter and City Centre.
The wish has to be that the Tea Houses will be a wonderful addition to cosmopolitan Kilkenny.
Hopefully the river bank businesses will lead to healthy bank balances for whoever may venture into business.
Fortune may just favour the brave.