Once the medieval capital of Ireland, the city has rich medieval heritage visible through the narrow streetscapes; its historical buildings and landmarks. The city’s origins predate existing medieval landmarks. Saint Canice (who gives Kilkenny its name) founded a monastic settlement here in the 6th century.
The 9th century round tower beside the wonderful stone cathedral of St. Canice’s, is a remaining monastic landmark. Built in the 13th century and a showcase to ornate stonemasonry skills, St. Canice’s is the second largest Cathedral in Ireland.
Strongbow, the legendary Norman invader, built a fort in the 12th century on the site where Kilkenny Castle stands today. William Marshall (Strongbow’s son-in-law, 4th Earl of Pembroke) fortified the city walls, built a stone castle on the site and consolidated the Norman’s position of power in the city.
Ireland’s only witch trails took place in Kilkenny in 1324 (supposedly Europe’s 1st witchcraft trials). Dame Alice Kyteler (Innkeepr and Moneylender) was accused of using poison and sorcery against
her four husbands, having amassed a fortune from them. Before she could be tried, Alice fled to England, but her maid was flogged and burned at the stake.
The city prides itself on its lively culture and entertainment scene with a range of live music and theatre events available throughout the city’s pubs and music venues. An array of festivals and event programmes are hosted annually, including the renowned Kilkenny Arts Festival (August) which features a variety of classical events, arts exhibitions, literary readings, workshops, jazz and folk sessions. Other festivals include Smithwick’s Kilkenny Roots Festival - Music Festival (May); Kilkenny Cat Laughs - Comedy Festival (June); International Gospel Choir Festival (August/Sept); Greystock Festival - (Sept); Savour Food Festival (Oct) and Kilkenomics Festival (Nov).
Kilkenny is also renowned as a world class craft centre, which has its origins in the Design workshops of the late 1960s, the story of which can be explored in the Castle Yard site.
One of the best and unique features of Kilkenny is its compactness allowing you to explore everything it has to offer on foot, just be sure to allow yourself enough time to experience it all....
A 12th century castle set in extensive parklands, built for William Marshall and remodeled in Victorian times. This was the principal seat of the Butler family, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde. The castle park and gardens are accessible free of charge while daily
tours of the castle are available. Tour App available and an audio tour can be purchased at the attraction.
One of Ireland’s most vibrant contemporary art spaces, the Butler
Gallery is central to Kilkenny’s cultural life. It houses an excellent calendar of exhibitions from renowned Irish and International artists and is free of charge. It offers a year round innovative education programme for all ages. Some of its permanent collection is based in public, civic and hotel venues throughout the city.
Kilkenny Castle Yard
Built in 1790, this unique complex of stone buildings in a courtyard setting was once the stables/coach houses of the Castle. Housing a centre of creativity and design since 1960’s attracting leading designers from Europe, has helped Kilkenny become recognised as a centre of design excellence. Explore the courtyards and visit the National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny Design Craft Centre and some craft
workshops which form part of Kilkenny Craft Trail.
National Craft Gallery
Established in 2000 by Craft Council of Ireland, this is Ireland’s leading centre for contemporary craft and design. The Gallery brings together the best and the brightest of Irish and international designers, artists and makers through exhibitions exploring issues of material culture in interesting and accessible ways. It hosts an
annual programme of talks, performances, children’s activities,
workshops and weekly free tours.
Butler House & Gardens
Butler House (once a dower houses to Kilkenny Castle) was home to the Earls of Ormonde, who built the stables and coach houses. Reinstated to its former glory and operating as a guesthouse, this Georgian residence features sweeping staircases, marble fireplaces
and a walled garden. The garden is free to visitors, accessible through the pedestrian gate at the rear of the castle yard courtyard.
Shee Alms House
Founded in 1582 by Sir Richard Shee, a wealthy city merchant, the purpose of the Alms House institutions was to take care of the poor providing bed and board for work. It is one of the remaining Tudor Alms houses in Ireland. In
1978 Kilkenny Corporation purchased and restored Shee Alms House to its original condition and it houses the tourist information Office.
St. Mary’s Church & Graveyard
St. Mary’s Church & Graveyard is one of the earliest Ecclesiastical buildings in Kilkenny. The church was built circa 1205 by the Bishop of Ossary (1202-1218) and was used for convening the Ecclesiastical Court. The graveyard possess a rare and significant collection of tombs. The final service took place in 1951 before the church was deconsecrated and closed in 1957. It is accessible to visitors to explore the tombs and headstones.
Tholsel Town Hall
The name Tholsel comes form two old English words ‘toll’ meaning tax and ‘sael’ meaning hall and is fondly referred to as the Town Hall. Constructed in 1761 using local limestone, it served as custom house, guildhall, courthouse and today is a seat of local government and tax collection. A favourite sport for busking musicians and street exhibitions!
Hole in the Wall
A 16th Century tavern in Ireland’s oldest surviving townhouse. To gain access from the High Street to the rear of the inner house, a hole was punched in the wall, thus giving it its name. Today this venue hosts an array of cultural events, from literature, to music, dance and other artistic forms. A ‘treasure chest’ of character and
characters - a truly hidden gem!
The Butter Slip
With its arched entry and stone steps, the ‘Butter Slip’, a narrow and dark walkway connecting High Street and St. Kieran’s Street (previously called Low Lane) is the most picturesque of Kilkenny’s many narrow medieval corridors. It as built in 1616 and once
provided a market location for the stalls of butter vendors given its
naturally cool temperature.
First established by Dame Alice de Kyteler in the 13th century, Kyteler’s Inn is one of Ireland’s oldest inns. Alice, daughter of a Norman Banker, married four times amassing a fortune, while each husband died supposedly under suspicious circumstances. Alice
was accused of witchcraft in what’s understood to be Europe’s first witchcraft trial and was sentenced to be burned. Her connection to local gentry ensured her escape to England.
Court House - Grace’s Castle
Kilkenny Courthouse formerly known as Grace’s Castle is used for sittings of the Circuit and
District Courts. Originally the town house of the wealthy Grace family, it was built in 1210 and converted to a prison in 1566. It became a courthouse at the end of the 18th century. It features as part of Kilkenny City Historic Walking Tour.
St. Francis Abbey -
Brewery Ireland’s oldest brewery stands on the site of a Franciscan Abbey
founded in 1231. Monks brewed here for centuries, using the water from St. Francis Abbey Well. The Tower and Chancel from St. Francis Abbey and part of the medieval city wall remain today. In 1710, John Smithwick’s began commercial brewing of Ales here, a tradition now spanning 300 years.
Rothe House & Gardens
Built in 1594 by John Rothe, this 17th century merchant’s townhouse consists of three houses with courtyards. A collection of artefacts
and costumes from Kilkenny’s past are displayed and interpreted here in its museum, while the garden is a reconstruction of a 17th century town garden, with authentic planting schemes. The Museum and Garden are open to visitors throughout the year and the site also houses an archeological library, a gift and book shop, cafe and a Family History / Genealogy service.
St. Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower
A site for Christian worship led by St. Canice in the 6th century, the
Cathedral was erected in the 13th century. One of only two medieval
round towers in Ireland that can be climbed, the 9th century tower offers the best views of the city. Daily tours are available for both attractions, while a small scale model of 1640 Kilkenny is on display in the Cathedral.
The Bishops Palace
In 1350, after the Black Death, construction of the original Bishop’s
Palace began using stone from three demolished churches in Kilkenny.
The works were directed by Bishop Richard Ledred, a controversial figure, who led the first ever witchcraft trials in Europe, including the trial of Dame Alice Kyteler. Headquarters of the Heritage Council, visitors can enjoy the restored walled garden.
The Black Abbey
Founded in 1225 by Sir William Marshall (Earl of Pembroke) for the Dominican Friars, the abbey features a tower and some magnificent windows dating from its original structure. At the Abbey’s entrance, there is a series of monumental slabs and stone coffins dating from the middle ages. In the mid 19th century, it became a place of public Worship.
Black Freren Gate
Black Freren Gate (also known as Black Friars Gate) is located in close proximity to the Black Abbey. This landmark is the sole existing remnant of the entrance gates from the Abbey to the medieval city’s Hightown.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral a tower 186 feet cut-limestone structure was built between 1843 and 1857 by William Dean Butler based on the design of Gloucester Cathedral. The cathedral is accessible from the Black Abbey via Black Mill Street. Highlights, including the massive Gothic facade, are an Italian marble high altar, relics of St.
Cosmos and St. Damian and Benzoni’s statue of Our Lady.
Talbot’s Tower and its adjoining wall are the best preserved section of the city’s medieval defenses. In 1989, a section of the walls collapsed. In 2006, a flagship conservation project to stabilise the building began. The fallen walls were restored and the tower
updated to present as a public amenity. The restored tower and
adjoining archaeological park has been accessible to visitors from 2012.
Dating from 1666 and serving as the offices to the Local Government,
Kilkenny County Council, the building was once referred to as Kilkenny College. Former students included the renowned author Johnathan Swift and the world travelled philosopher George Berkeley (after whom Berkeley University, USA is named).
St. John’s Priory
Built in the 13th Century by the Augustinians who remained there until the mid 15th century when under the rule of Henry VIII it was handed over to the state. The original priory is a ruin, while the Lady’s Chapel which underwent renovations in the 1800s is used today for worhsip. The Chapel features many spectucular windows
and stained glass works.
Magdelen Castle in understood to have been of the three tower houses built by Sir William Marshall in the 13th Centurty. The surviving structure, a 25m high, on Maudlin Street is thought to date post 1500 and formed part of the Hospital of St. Mary Magdalen. The name ‘Maudlin’ or Magdalen’ is associated with spittle hospitals built to house lepers
Whether your passion is heritage, the great outdoors, or buzzing nightlife, Kilkenny has something for everyone. Here are some of our towns and villages that are waiting to be explored:
A beautiful riverside town, Bennettsbridge marks one of the
oldest crossings of the River Nore some 6km south of Kilkenny City. The first bridge was built here in 1285 and dedicated to St Bennett. Today, Bennettsbridge is an internationally renowned centre for craft and design, with both Nicholas Mosse Pottery and Chesneau Leather operating factory stores in the village.
Also in the Nore Valley, Thomastown was founded in the early 13th century and was originally a walled town complete with 14 towers. It was sacked by Cromwell in 1650 although many interesting ruins remain. Jerpoint Abbey, located outside of Thomastown and close to the world-famous Mount Juliet Conrad golf resort, is an outstanding Cistercian abbey and the best preserved of its kind in the country. Thomastown also boasts a number of fine craft shops, restaurants and cafés.
A popular destination for visitors, the beautiful village of Inistioge, set deep in the Nore Valley, is surrounded by mature woodland and rolling hills. Woodstock Estate and Gardens are located south of the village, while the centre of the village is well catered for by a number of cafés and restaurants. An Augustinian priory was founded in Inistioge in 1210. The village was also the location of the Hollywood movie ‘Circle of Friends’ remembered in photo
exhibitions throughout the town.
The scenic riverside town of Graiguenamanagh is situated on the Carlow/Kilkenny border. The town’s name translates as “the village or valley of the monks” relating to Duiske Abbey, founded in 1204. A popular boating, river cruising and fishing destination, the surrounding countryside has many signposted river walks and trails. The Cushendale Woollen Mills and shop in the town features colourful textiles in natural fibres. Also on the River Barrow,
Goresbridge is a picturesque village popular for angling and river cruising. There are good walking trails and the village features as part of the lengthy Barrow Way walking track.
The ancient market town of Callan was founded in 1217 on the King’s River. Once heavily fortified, Callan was the scene of many famous battles dating back to 844. Nearby the ancient village of Kells was also founded on the King’s River and is home to the ruins of the Augustinian Priory founded in 1193.
The village of Gowran is home to one of Ireland’s premier racecourses, Gowran Park. Gowran Park also offers excellent 18- hole golf facilities on one of the finest parkland courses in the
country. Once the seat of the Kings of Ossory, the village of Gowran held the Collegiate Church dating from 1260, which has been incorporated into the 19th century St Mary’s Protestant Church on the village main street.
Mullinavat is a village in the heart of south Kilkenny, popular with anglers and walkers due to its proximity to the rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir and to the picturesque Poulanassy Waterfall.
Knocktopher is another small village just north of Mullinavat and is surrounded by fine countryside, woodland and walkways.
Nestled in the hills of north Kilkenny, Castlecomer is an attractive and lively town. The lakes and walkways of Castlecomer Discovery Park provide angling and walking trails.
Also in north Kilkenny, the village of Freshford was designed around two tree-lined, triangular greens. A 7th century monastery was founded in this village. Freshford hosts the Irish Conker
Championships every year. West of Freshford lies the village of Urlingford which has many fine walks along the Kilkenny/Tipperary border.
For more information on Kilkenny’s towns and villages, visit one of our tourist information office or www.discoverireland.ie