Discover medieval Kilkenny the old capital of Ireland


Kilkenny and eastern Ireland is a characterful corner of Ireland with an engaging charm and a long history. It provides a perfect mix of rural towns and villages, seascapes along the Wicklow coast, and rugged mountains to a rich green farming country. 

One of the principal towns of this area is Kilkenny, a charming little medieval settlement complete with a substantial castle, a beautiful Cathedral, and a host of ancient buildings lining its' streets and alleys. It's a town that once challenged Dublin for importance with many Irish parliament meetings held here.

Make Kilkenny a stop on your tailor-made private tour of Ireland and stay at the nearby Mount Juliet Hotel and Estate.

Ireland's Old Capital

A brief history of Kilkenny

A visit from St Kieran early in the 6th century persuaded the chieftains of Osraighe (today called Ossory)  to follow the Christian faith. Subsequently, St Canice established a monastery here. By the 8th century, it had become an important religious centre, with St Canice's Round Tower built around 1100 AD - It is now the oldest building in Kilkenny.

William Marshall
William Marshall*, Earl of Pembroke, led the Norman arrival in Kilkenny in 1170. Around 40 years later, the town was granted a charter, a document allowing them certain rights and privileges, which attracted settlers and trade. William Marshall oversaw the construction of several notable buildings: the Black Abbey, St Johns Cathedral, and the spectacular Kilkenny castle and the city walls. The Castle was built in 1260 on the site of the counties first Norman church.

A divided town
By the late 1200s, Kilkenny had developed into two townships separated by the river Nore; Irishtown, which had a charter from the bishops of Ossory, and Englishtown, which the Normans controlled. As the Norman settlers became integrated, they became known as Hibero-Normans, and tensions developed. This led to the famous 1336 Statute of Kilkenny, which forbade the Anglo-Irish population from integrating, marrying, or speaking the Gaelic language. The intention was to prevent the Anglo-Norman landowners from adopting Gaelic culture.

From town to city
A Royal Charter in 1609 was granted to Kilkenny by King James I (6th in Scotland) Scotland and England, giving it the settlement the status of a city. The Irish Rebellion of 1641, an uprising by the Catholic Irish seeking an end to discrimination. The result was establishing the Irish Catholic Confederation (Irish Catholic self-government) based in Kilkenny, which lasted until the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649.

Castle to Victorian stately home
The powerful Butler family owned the Castle for over 600 years. James 3rd Earl of Ormond purchased it in around 1391. It remained in the family until 1967 when the 24th Earl of Ormonde presented it to Kilkenny's people. The Ormonde family had arrived with the Norman invasion and became extremely powerful. Throughout their ownership, the Castle evolved, becoming the Victorian country house we see today.

Dame Alice
Dame Alice, the moneylender, was one of Kilkenny's most infamous residents and lived at Kytelers Inn, which still stands today. Born in 1284, she was charged by Bishop Ledrede with witchcraft and consorting with demons. She was also accused of poisoning her four husbands, who had died in suspiciously rapid succession. Sentenced to burn at-the-stake, she escaped to Scotland leaving her maid to burn instead. It is said that the poor girl still haunts the inn to this day.

During the 17th century, a brewery was established in the town, and it became well known as a brewing centre. Today, Kilkenny still houses several breweries.

Highlights of Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a fascinating, historical town and a much-favoured destination for tourists. Among its most prominent buildings are; 

Kilkenny Castle
With its creeper-clad walls and drum towers, it has a French Chateau's appearance. It houses an impressive art collection in the long gallery with portraits by Kneller, Van Dyke, and the pre-Raphaelites, and others. 

St Canice's Cathedral 
St Canice's Cathedral is the third to stand on this site, was built in the mid-1800s in a Gothic style. It has an impressive stained glass East window, a magnificent ceiling, and some of Ireland's most remarkable monuments. The ancient stone of enthronement in the north transept is still in use to enthrone the Bishops of Ossory. 

Rothe House
Rothe House is a merchants house built by John Rothe in 1594 to accommodate his 12 children. 

Shee Alms House
Shee Alms House, a Tudor period property built-in 1582 to accommodate '12 poor persons from the city of Kilkenny', is today the Tourist Information Centre.  
The Tholsel; dominates the High Street and has been a toll house, customs house, courthouse, and guildhall among its uses over time. Close by is the Hole-in-the-Wall Inn, which claimed its customers could get 'dead drunk for a penny or tipsy for nothing at all.'

Touring and accommodation
Kilkenny is featured in our Classic Ireland Tour. However, we can always customise our journeys to reflect any specific interests or requirements you may have. Kilkenny is a good base to tour the ancient east of Ireland. The famous Royal and religious ruins of the Rock of Cashel is an hour away. The City of Waterford is under an hours drive, and our next suggested overnight stop on a private tour of Ireland would be Cork or Killarney. You can stop at the Rock of Cashel en-route to either destination. 

Stay at the beautiful country hotel and estate of Mount Juliet. The world-renowned hotel and golfing resort boast 270 years of history, 500 acres of glorious countryside, a Georgian manor house, a world-renowned modern golf complex. 

Medieval Charm of Kilkenny

Once Rival Capital to Dublin

  • Private Walking Tour
  • Markets
  • Music Venues
  • Castle
  • Cathedral

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