Now in its fourth year, Yulefest has been serving up some festive family fun to the people of Kilkenny since its arrival on November 22nd.
Running until January 6th, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the atmosphere.
Aiming to bring people closer – to fill their hearts and not empty their pockets, the festival aspires to be as inclusive as possible. Now that’s something we can get on board with.
This year’s itinerary puts the focus firmly on sustainability addressing accessibility and affordability too.
While most events are free, people are encouraged to support local businesses in any way they can this Christmas. Be that by buying gifts in local stores or grabbing a cup of coffee and a slice of cake while you’re out and about.
Organisers have compiled a list of the top 10 ways to enjoy the festival, comprising mostly of free events along with two paid events – one of which goes to a local charity, the other that supports upwards of 75 musical professionals.
1. Window Wonderland
Part of the sustainability trail, the city boasts five windows that have been transformed into magical storyboards. Decorated with Christmas baubles designed by local schoolchildren, each one is made from recycled material.
Aiming to teach visitors about the city and sustainability in a fun and engaging way, the 20-minute stroll starts at Kilkenny County Council Arts Office in Dean Street and finishes up in MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre.
2. Kilkenny Castle Park & Gardens
Described as ‘the green lungs of Kilkenny City’, the castle grounds encompass 21 hectares of beautiful parkland. Easily accessed by buggy-friendly pathways, the trails also feature picnic tables so bring some snacks for a stop off along the way. Entry to the castle park and gardens is free from 9am to 4pm. With 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the castle’s care of the Office of Public Works, there promises to be “an extra special Yulefest programme this year”.
3. Butler House Christmas Garden
A 4-star hotel in Kilkenny, it has its own private gardens right by Kilkenny Castle. Only a short walk from the city, it has been given a seasonal upgrade, transforming into a winter wonderland for the duration of the festival. Popular attractions include the toy soldiers, reindeer and the addition of a frosty winter pond. Evening light installations bring the place to life, leading the way to the Christmas Post Office where Santa has deposited a magic post-box for letters to the North Pole.
4. Sensory Sensitive Quiet Time
Knowing that the noise, music and bright lights can be too much for some, the festival features scheduled periods when both the lights and music are turned low to allow the sensory sensitive person to experience the magic at their own pace. Castlecomer Discovery Park is also offering an autism-friendly Santa experience this year while ReCreate Ireland will help to deliver free sensory sensitive workshops to ensure all visitors feel comfortable in their surroundings.
5. James Stephens Army Barracks Christmas Experience
A popular event each year, the James Stephens Army Barracks welcomes guests in to explore our country’s military history. Things kick off with a tour of the barracks. First stop is the museum where you’ll learn about Christmas stories from times gone by, next up is the Detention Barracks where you’ll be treated to more historical facts on your way through the cells. Possibly the best part though is a meeting with Santa Paws, namely Fionn the friendly Irish Wolfhound and mascot for the 3rd Infantry Battalion. Last up is the Officer’s Mess where you’ll get a hot drink and some refreshments while watching last year’s ‘Silent Night-Christmas Day 1914’ performance. Tours run on December 14th and 15th . Tickets cost €5 with all proceeds going to the Good Shepherd Centre for homeless men in Kilkenny.
6. Star Wars Events
The 501st Legion Ireland Garrison will return once again this year with the following characters amongst their midst – an executioner Stormtrooper, Boba Fett, Jawa, Biker Scout, Shadow Scout, Shadow Trooper, Old Ben Kenobi, Tie Pilots, Snow Trooper, Stormtroopers and a Sandtrooper. Visiting MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre on Saturday, December 14th, they’ll also be there on Sunday, December 15th after an appearance that morning at the annual Santa Run. An all-volunteer organisation, the 501st Legion Ireland Garrison is about all things Star Wars attending various events in costume.
7. Vladimir’s Viennese Christmas Gala
Try saying that quickly! Vladimir and the Jablokov family (plus special guests) will be joined by a 25-piece orchestra and 50-piece choir for a Christmas concert for the ages. Together with Sean Costello and soprano Margaret Keys, they’ll liven up Lyrath Hotel with their sweet musical melodies. Taking place Thursday December 12th at 8pm, tickets cost €35.
8. Festive Food Demonstrations with Anne Neary
Free food? We’re in. Celebrity chef Anne Neary will be on hand for some festive food demos to make sure you have a cracking Christmas dinner. She’ll share her insider secrets on how to cook the perfect meal – from turkey to gravy and all the seasonal sides.
She’ll also inspire you with some clever recipes to help you use up your leftovers. The event promises free mulled wine, mince pies, teas and coffees plus the chance to win your own dinner. Winner Winner Christmas Turkey and Ham dinner.
9. Yulefest Kilkenny ReCreate Craft Sessions
Bound to keep creative minds busy, the craft sessions teach participants how to make decorations out of reusable materials. Christmas hats, stockings or decorations – whatever tickles your fancy.
Facilitated by local artists, the goal is to encourage conversations on how to have a more sustainable Christmas. Finish up by hanging your creations on the Tree of Hope, with all donations in aid of The Good Shepherd Centre.
10. Yulefest Kilkenny Free Festive Train
The Yulefest festive train would give even the Polar Express a run for its money. Decked out with twinkling fairy lights, the train will run every weekend until January 5th. One of the best ways to take in the seasonal sights and sounds of the city
Quite a comprehensive guide to Yulefest theree but if you fancy making your own itinerary, log onto the website where you can pick your own top 10 experiences.
Special mention to this bring your pet to see Santa event today. Adorable.