One of the most popular towns to visit in Ireland, Kilkenny has all the charm, conveniences and history you can imagine. Located in the southeast, below Dublin and on the lovely River Nore, it is perfectly situated, with a looming Anglo-Norman castle, several churches of note and a myriad of shops and eateries. The town was granted city status in 1609, but has a town feel and size, that’s why you’ll see it referred to as a town a lot. It just doesn’t fit the image of a city. Kilkenny is sometimes referred to as the Marble City for its distinct marble buildings, known as Kilkenny or Black Marble, it has been exported around the British Empire. The Black Quarry supplied Kilkenny with black stone that is seen on many an old house.
There are arts and music festivals throughout the year, as well as craft centers, antique shops and boutiques, many of which are located near Kilkenny Castle. It is within driving distance of Limerick, Waterford and Dublin, and often serves as a base for touring the southeast. Today the town borough has a population under 10,000 and the sprawling area around it has an additional 14,000.
Civilization in the area is believed to have begun in the Mesolithic and Bronze Age. The kingdom of Osraige included County Kilkenny and the Kings of Ossory inhabited the area around Kilkenny city from about the first century to the Norman Invasion in the 12th century. In the early part of the sixth century, a church was built that drew people to the area. Later, in thirteenth century, St. Canice’s Cathedral was built to replace the order church building. It was originally known as the Diocese of Ossory.
After the successful invasion by the Anglo-Normans, Richard de Clare, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke started building a castle around 1173. William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke, de Clare’s son-in-law, built the castle seen today. It was completed in 1213. The town was sectioned off into Irishtown, the area around the cathedral and Hightown, the area around the castle.
The Black Death gripped the town in 1348 and the Statues of Kilkenny were introduced about twenty years later to stop the decline of Norman rule.
The castle changed hands in 1391 when it was purchased by James Butler the 3rd Earl of Ormond or Ormonde. The Butlers, who were originally the FitzWalters, until 1185, came with the Norman Invasion and resided in the castle until its sale in 1967 by Arthur, 6th Marquess of Ormonde (1893-1971).
A royal charter, giving city status, was granted to Kilkenny in 1609 by King James I of England. A rebellion known as the Rebellion of 1642 put the town under the Confederation of Kilkenny by the Irish Catholic Confederation. It only lasted until 1649 when Cromwell conquered Ireland. James II of England, who fled to Ireland, stayed in the castle during the winter of 1689-1690.
Places to visit in Kilkenny:
- Kilkenny Castle
- St. Canice’s Cathedral
- Butler House
- Kilkenny Medieval city walls
- St. Mary’s Cathedral
- Kilkenny Town Hall
- Old Woolen Mills
- St. Francis Abbey Brewery
- Black Abbey
- Grace’s Castle
- St. John’s Priory
- Black Abbey
- Rothe House
- Medieval Mile Museum
- National Craft Gallery
- Shee Alms House (tourist office)