Dark and Gothic themes: Unlocking Kilkenny’s off-season potential

By Luisa Golz

Without a shadow of a doubt, Kilkenny is a great spot for visitors. Take a walk along the Parade any time of the year, and you will likely hear plenty of different accents or even various languages spoken.

During the summer months, areas around Kilkenny’s main attractions are usually teeming with life. However, during the winter months, it is quite a different picture: Kilkenny’s visitor numbers are much lower between November and March. The Saint Patrick’s Day festivities in Kilkenny mark the beginning of the tourism season, before winding down again in October.

But what if there was a missed opportunity for Kilkenny to increase visitor numbers during the off-season? The business that international and domestic visitors bring to Kilkenny’s economy is vital. Perhaps we should try to attract more tourism business into our Medieval City in the off-season, supporting Kilkenny businesses during the quieter months, when they need it most.

Ireland’s tourism governing bodies have already recognised one significant opportunity: more could be done to bring Ireland as ‘the home of Hallowe’en’ to the forefront of visitor’s minds. In recent years, significant investments have been made by Fáilte Ireland, supporting tourism stakeholders in presenting Ireland as the authentic birthplace of Hallowe’en.

The aim is to motivate international visitors to come to Ireland not just over the Hallowe’en bank holiday but also during the darker winter months. This would help generate economic benefits for cities such as Kilkenny, creating year-round sustainable employment for Kilkenny’s tourism workforce.

Staging festivals in towns and villages is a great way to encourage additional visitors during the winter months. While some may argue that Kilkenny already has its fair share of festivals, there is another type of festival that should be considered, a type of festival that our Medieval City has yet to celebrate.

Festivals with dark and Gothic themes are staged in other locations all over Ireland: think of the various Hallowe’en festivals that take place; the Dublin Bram Stoker Festival, celebrating the author of ‘Dracula’; or the new Púca Festival in County Meath, celebrating the old mythical creatures of Samhain, Ireland’s ancient Hallowe’en tradition. Originally believed to be festivals for small, niche audiences, these events are now a growing cultural phenomenon, attracting visitors from diverse backgrounds. From families looking to entertain their children over the Hallowe’en weekend; to people with an interest in dark and macabre histories; to Gothic fiction enthusiasts – festivals with dark and Gothic themes show significant potential.

For Kilkenny, perhaps there is currently a missed opportunity to explore more of its gloomy medieval past, celebrating ancient dark histories. A new festival taking place during the winter months may be the answer.

While Kilkenny’s visitors can already embrace ancient witchcraft history through guided tours or by visiting of the atmospheric Kyteler’s Inn, there is plenty of scope to develop festivals with dark and Gothic themes.

These festivals would celebrate Kilkenny’s rich history, attracting visitors during the off-season, at a time when Kilkenny’s tourism businesses would surely appreciate the additional influx of visitors.

* Luisa Golz is a final year PhD candidate and a Kilkenny tourism business owner of Desmond Tours.

As part of her PhD Luisa is studying niche festivals that have dark and Gothic themes  (ie. Halloween festivals, the Bram Stoker Dracula Festival, Derry Halloween Festival).

She has published in academic outlets and in online magazines such as The Conversation.

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