Taaffe’s Red – Carlingford Brewing Co.

Taaffe’s Red is a red ale made by the Carlingford Brewing Company, brewed and bottled in Co. Louth. Another Irish Ale in keeping with the ever expanding market for such beers it offers us a back story of being inspired by Taaffe’s castle in the centre of Carlingford. Named for the Earl of Carlingford it who died fighting for King James at the battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Anyone familiar with the area will be aware that the events of the Boyne and the history which followed remain much closer to the surface in this border area than they do further south in the country. It is an incredibly beautiful area, the fishing is good on the lough, there are a few nice pubs and restaurants in Carlingford and the scenery in surrounding mountains is amazing, as is the cycling. Since peace broke out, crossing the border for shopping in Newry or sightseeing in Belfast is much easier and more pleasant. Newgrange, Kells, Tara and the historic towns of Dundalk and Drogheda are in easy reach. But this is not a review of the tourist value of Carlingford, I’m here to talk about the eponymous beer.

If the history of the local area is divisive, the beer is not. This is a really pleasant red ale with a hoppy finish. The flavour is mellow and subtle. Some hop forward ales are inclined to punch you in the mouth with an overpowering hop taste. Not so with this one. There is a slightly roasted taste at the front end and the hops finish off the flavour. The description on the label tells us that it has caramel and toffee flavours and while there is a slight sweetness, toffee and caramel are probably pushing it a bit far.

The colour is a beautiful medium red colour. The aroma is pleasing and light, certainly not overpowering. It is almost completely flat in texture and that’s a good thing with this beer. Too much fix might make the subtle mellow flavours harder to discern.

It is widely available around the country. The Carlingford Brewing Company website has a handy list of places you can get it. I purchased it in O’Brien’s off-license and it retailed at €3.50 for a 500ml bottle. Certainly feels worth the asking price.

Ed Rating: 7/10

This is a very pleasant beer which I would quite happily sip away on all night. The flavour is mellow and enjoyable. It is not a beer with a wow factor so it’s not something that you would go to a particular pub or off license to get. This is not a pretentious beer with has notions above its station. It doesn’t have big flavours but what it does have is a mellow relaxed taste that makes it very easy to drink and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Kilkenny Castle

I visited Kilkenny Castle on December 23rd 2017 with my family including members of my extended family who were visiting for Christmas.

Kilkenny Castle is a castle in Kilkenny City, Ireland, dating back to the 12th Century. It was home to Earl of Ormond and his ancestors for hundreds of years dating back through some of the most important periods in Irish history including the Cromwellian period, the English Civil Wars, the plantation period, penal laws and the Norman invasion. Its original purpose as a defence structure and garrison for troops gave way in later years to being a home for the Irish nobility and landed gentry.

The Castle itself is not a large castle compared to for example Windsor Castle in the UK. It is however a large castle by Irish standards. The gardens are extensive with some impressive fountains. On a summer day I expect the gardens would make for a very pleasant walk or a run if that’s your thing.

The tour is an interesting one and the tour guide did a good job of covering the main points of the rooms shown. Access to the castle is by guided tour only. This a bug bear of mine. While I have no objection to a guided tour I would prefer a lower entry-only price to be available for those who prefer a self-guided or more affordable option. I expect there is an element of wanting to keep people corralled and supervised due to the large numbers paintings and other historical artefacts which are on display and in easy arms reach.

The tour itself was of a good standard and the guide seemed genuinely interested in the subject matter and knowledgeable of same. The tour guide was a local person which is always a nice bonus I find. The tour lasts about 45 minutes.

The highlights of the tour include the Moorish Staircase, the Library and Drawing rooms and most of all the incredibly impressive main dining hall. There are few places that you walk into a room and genuinely have a large intake of breath and an “oh my gosh” moment. The dining hall in Kilkenny castle is one of those moments.

The restoration of the castle and in particular the interior of the rooms is immaculate. The castle fell partially into ruin in the 1950’s and thankfully has been saved for future generations. It is one of the best restoration jobs I have encountered.

Family ticket of two adults and two children is €20. In the scheme of Irish prices this could not be described as excessive. Certainly if you take the time to wander the gardens and do the tour you will get value. A picnic in the gardens on a summer’s day would be lovely.

There is a cafe on site but we did not use it so I can’t pass comment on its value or quality. There is no on-site parking but parking is readily available in the city. The castle cannot be entirely accessed by wheelchair or if you have a pram. One of our party had to carry a three month old for duration of the tour. This would be completely unacceptable in a modern building, but this is not a modern building and I do not believe we should be ripping apart an important nationally historic building to install lifts. It’s all about balance.

Ed Rating: 7/10

Value is reasonable, a lower priced self-guide option would be nice. The castle is impressive and immaculately restored. A visit to Kilkenny is not complete without a visit to the Castle.