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If your name is Butler. It's drinks on the house.


KILKENNY, Ireland -- I didn’t come to Ireland to find my roots. They found me.
Upon arriving in this picturesque town of 8,000 inhabitants 75 miles southwest of Dublin, strange, wonderful things began to happen. People were opening doors for me. Pretty ladies smiled. Little kids followed me down the street.

It as a fine summer’s day. I was wearing a white suit and thought perhaps that’s why I was getting so much attention. (White suits conjure up thoughts of grand, faraway places and interesting people: Hong Kong, Bombay, Panama City, Tennessee Williams, Jay Gatsby.) But that wasn’t it at all.

All the attention, I soon discovered, was because word had travelled that my last name was Butler. Kilkenny has been the principal seat of the far-reaching Butler family for more than 600 years, and although the town’s main landmark Kilkenny Castle, overlooking the fabled River Nore, was built by William the Elder in 1172, it became Butler property in 1391 when James Butler, third Earl of Ormonde, purchased it from a financially ailing nobleman. The castle has been the key stronghold of the Butler family, Earls and Dukes of Ormonde, the most powerful family in Ireland, ever since.

So if your name happens to be Butler and you’re in Kilkenny, it’s almost automatically Guinness on the house. Talk about Irish luck.

Along with the Butlers, Kilkenny is famous for its pubs, so many in fact that the Irish refer to Kilkenny as the oasis of the southeast. I visited a few, I’ll admit to that. I stopped in Maggie Holland’s, Caislean Ui Cuain, Fennelly’s, Grogan’s on the Bridge and the Court Arms.

Aftter that, I lost track of their names. My white suit was a shambles and somewhere during a rousing rendition of Danny Boy I lost my notebook.

Pubs (from publics or public houses) are a national institution in Ireland. In Kilkenny, as in most Irish towns, they form the nucleus of social life. They are the common man’s clubhouse, a place to meet his friends or find new ones, match wits with his enemies, and forget the cares and problems of the day by washing them all away with a creamy pint of Guiness stout.

Stout (also called porter and plain) is the national drink of Ireland; the national weakness is having just one more. There’s a saying here that goes: A bird never flew on one wing. Walking, on the other hand, can be challenging after two or three.

There’s another saying: An Irishman is the only man in the world who will climb over the bodies of a dozen naked women in order to get to a bottle of stout.

My father was of Irish stock, of course. His family came from nearby Waterford, where the famous crystal is made. Born in New York City, he often dreamed of visiting Ireland, but never made the journey. Instead, he spent a good portion of his life visiting all the bars and taverns in eastern Connecticut where he lived in search of his mystical past.

Kilkennny Castle, restored in recent years to reflect much of its historical grandeur, is the jewel of the city’s crown. A wing of the former servants’ quarters is now the Butler Art Gallery where, along with changing shows of contemporary art, family portraits abound. The old Castle Kitchen operates as a restaurant during the summer.

Around the castle is a 50-acre park with a children’s play area and lush green lawns. Nowhere in the world are lawns greener and better kept than in Ireland. The castle’s former stables house the Design Workshop, where woolens, sweaters, linens, porcelain, glass kitchenware and Irish handicrafts are sold. The Tourist Information Office is here as well.

Another major point of interest is St. Canice’s Cathedral, dating back to the 13th century. One of Ireland’s mot beautiful, it has a superb round tower, part of which -- 100 feet or so -- is open to visitors. During the 17th century, Cromwell plundered the city, desecrating the church and smashing the stained-glass window and baptismal font. Horses were stabled inside.

Kilkenny is also the site of the St. Francis Abbey Brewery, built around the shell of a 13th-century Greyfriar’s abbey, one of Ireland’s oldest.

Too bad my father, who never had a white suit, couldn’t have joined me in misty, wistful Ireland, with its tall stories and strong drink and fair maidens. Perhaps we could have crossed the edge then, one to the other, to finally view life through the very same eyes.


IF YOU GO

. Getting there: Aer Lingus (800/223-6537) serves Ireland daily from New York. Delta (800/221-1212)services Shannon and Dublin from Atlanta. Kilkenny can be reached by train from Dublin, via the Dublin-Waterford Line.

. For more information: Contact Irish Tourist Board, 345 Park Ave., New York, NY 10154-0037; (800) 223-6470 or (212) 418-0800; www.ireland.travel; For accommodations and other information, www.goireland.com