The History of Kilkenny

The Medieval City

Situated on the River Nore, Kilkenny (often referred to as Marble City due to it’s black marble quarries), is a old Norman settlement which was given the status of a city in 1609 by King James I of England. Between 1642 and 1649 Kilkenny was also the capital of confederate Ireland between 1642 and 1649. Currently Kilkenny is home to the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Ossory and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cashel and Ossory.


Though there is documentation claiming settlements in the area from around the 2nd Century Kilkenny only became of real significance in the 12th century when it was established as the capital of the Norman colony in Ireland. The famous Strongbow who had recently been declared Lord of Leinster built the first castle (from wood) at a major fording point on the Nore in 1173.

In early Norman times, up to the late 12th century, Kilkenny was the capital of the colony in Ireland. By the late thirteenth century Kilkenny was under Norman-Irish control. The Norman presence in the town is still very evident.

Kilkenny Castle

Strongbow’s son in-law William Marshall a prominent Earl with large estates in Ireland, England, Wales and France constructed Kilkenny Castle soon thereafter. It was completed in 1213. The ditch which surrounded the castle can still be seen today on the Parade. The castle was a square-shaped with towers at each corner. 3 of the original 4 towers are still standing to this very day.

Today visitors can view a stunning range of art provided by the National Art Gallery in the castle and walk through the ornamental gardens in the castle grounds. It is a must see attraction to any visitor to Irish shores.

St. Canice’s Cathedral and Tower

Kilkenny’s pre-Norman history still towers above the city in the form of the 9th Century St. Canice’s Christian round tower. Guests are able to climb up the inside of the tower for fantastic panorama views of Kilkenny city and the surrounding countryside. The 13th century Cathedral whose name is derived from St. Canice the saint whom the town is name after is built of limestone in an early Gothic style. Many parts of the Cathedral have been restored to the original specifications. With many historically significant monuments still residing within the Cathedral is a sight to behold.

Kilkenny City Walls

The medieval walls which straddled the old city boundary survive in remnants to this day. The most complete and impressive remains include the Talbot Tower (1207), and the walls on Abbey Street and the Black Freren Gatewhich is the final remaining gate to the High town Circuit.

Rothe House

Having been between 1594-1610, Rothe house is a fully surviving merchant townhouse complex situated on Parliament Street in the city. Made up of three houses, three courtyards and an impressive 17th century style garden it is home to a beautiful collection of Kilkenny artefacts which are maintained by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. The medieval city wall joins the Rothe House complex to form part of the grounds boundary. The house is hugely popular with visitors to the area who come to discover the rich heritage and astonishing splendour of the area.

Jerpoint Abbey

Just a short drive away in Thomastown this Abbey is a must for tourists in the area. Built in the 12th century for Benedictine Monks it currently contains some of the most stunning and complete monastic ruins in Ireland. Sights include the gardens, watermills, infirmary, cemetery, kitchens, granary, stables, cottages, fisheries, a castle and other outbuildings. A true trip into the past beckons.

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