Visitor experience is the heart of great interpretation: The Kilkenny Way

We know that ideally our visitors should experience and discover heritage not just be shown or told it.  Good examples of this are few and far between but ‘The Kilkenny Way‘ shows how well it can be done. It is also one my favorite attractions from 2012.

The Kilkenny Way gives visitors gives a real insight into an important, but often hidden, part of Irish life. It comes wrapped in a fantastic experience that they remember as a highlight of their visit to Ireland.  The reviews of the tour on TripAdvisor are enviable.

I have been to a hurling match!! It was absolutely fantastic! I now feel closer to Ireland (especially Kilkenny). The Kilkenny Way made that possible.

The Kilkenny Way tour experience has been compiled by PJ Lanigan and Jim Croke, two successful local businessmen and passionate hurling fans. Both the passion and the savvy contribute to its success. It looks and feels like a bucketload of fun (for leaders and participants) but The Kilkenny Way is carefully and tightly planned. There is lots here that other more established attractions could learn from – especially the absolute focus on creating a great and special experience.

A French group get an insider’s view of hurling.

The Kilkenny Way mainly explains hurling to foreigners. It would of course also explain hurling to any Irish visitors who, by some quirk of nature, didn’t have hurling in their blood. But, understandably, most of their customers come from overseas.

A family from Texas kitted up and equipped on The Kilkenny Way. Wearing the shirt, and being measured for your own hurl are part of the experience.

The Kilkenny Way is about how sport matters, not in the past, but now and here (and in Kilkenny it matters mightily). It’s about how you can’t really ‘get’ Ireland and the Irish people until you have a handle on hurling – best achieved by literally having your hand on the hurl (that’s the stick, if you’re new to hurling and haven’t, unlike me, been on The Kilkenny Way)

Sport matters partly because it gives identity, it roots us in our place and our tribe. It tells, for good or ill, who we and our people are. Nowhere more so than in Ireland, as I found out at the GAA Museum. Sport therefore can be exclusive. It is hard to just turn up at a hurling match with no knowledge of the game or its codes of behaviour. The Kilkenny Way opens the doors to hurling, a hugely hospitable gesture.

Hospitality is at the heart of great visitor experience. The tour ends with a bowl of stew in Lanigan’s bar, with videos of hurling and the chance to chat about the greatness of hurling, particularly the way Kilkenny do it! What can be more Irish than that?

This is specifically hurling as played by the consistently successful Kilkenny Cats* – hence, the name ‘The Kilkenny Way’.  It does not pretend to be a neutral activity. I think it’s fair to say it is evangelism. As PJ, one of the brains behind the brilliance, said “If I went to the US I would want to see the best, so I’d see the New York Yankees*, so if you come to Ireland the only place to see hurling is Kilkenny‘. He’s a fan, big time. But you don’t have to be to enjoy the Kilkenny Way. – but there is a good chance you will be by the end. Passion is infectious.

After a spot of coaching, father and son practice hurling skills at Nowlan Park, home of the Cats, on the Kilkenny Way.

The Kilkenny Way takes a vital piece of contemporary culture and makes it into a warm, shared activity. It is fun, human, real and revealing. It is everything that interpretation should be. It delivers the experience, the contact with people and way of life, and the opportunity for engagement and discovery that tourists want. I wish there were more heritage attractions that did the same.

* Other baseball teams are also available as , allegedly, are other hurling teams (although after all the time I have spent in Kilkenny, I am a bit uncertain about the latter).

Photos in this blog are by PJ Lanigan or Peter Phillipson of TellTale. Follow Peter @ TellTalePeter on Twitter.

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About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
This entry was posted in Attractions, Culture, Good places to visit, Heritage attractions, Interpretation, Ireland, Tourism, Visit experience, Visitors and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Visitor experience is the heart of great interpretation: The Kilkenny Way

  1. Regan says:

    It’s interesting, isn’t it – how often sports are seemingly ignored by the traditional “heritage” industry, even though sport is a massive part of our cultural identity. It’s that high culture / low culture thing I suspect (and as I’ve written about before: http://reganforrest.com/2012/07/why-is-sport-easy-but-art-hard/ )

    I’m not sure if Melbourne has anything for Aussie Rules Football that’s analogous to the Kilkenny Way and Hurling. A gap in the market if there isn’t . . . .

  2. I completely agree, Regan, and thanks for reminding me about your post, it makes a good read alongside this. I completely agree about high and low culture and the shedload of assumptions around that. Also, that both sports and the arts can be pretty exclusive inaccessible. This year as well as going to my first hurling match, I also went to my first jazz club (Ronnie Scott’s in London). In both cases, I am sure I only did it because I was with someone who knew the ropes. They were both things I was keen to do but not keen enough to turn up at the door and say ‘I’ve never done this before, where do I go, what do I do?’. I learned loads. Hurling for instance is not like football, you yell like mad for your team (of course) but you sit next to opposing fans (and do not beat them up or verbally abuse them). And jazz is not like classical music, you clap and stamp while people are playing, whereas I still bear the scars of clapping (only once, to be sure) between movements of a symphony. There are understood and unspoken codes of conduct everywhere, it seems. I think, they, or maybe more accurately fear of them, is a very significant barrier to first-timers. This applies to museums and other heritage attractions.

    These experiences also suggest to me that people who take a novice friend are hugely important. I am wondering how we could encourage that behaviour?

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