Kilkenny City & Environs

Kilkenny City (Cill Chainnigh – “church of Saint Canice“) (pop. 23,000), the only inland city in the Republic of Ireland, and the smallest by both area and population, is one of the most attractive towns in the country. (Photo by Yvette)

Situated on the banks of the River Nore at its junction with the River Bregagh,  the eponymous County capital has  a rich architectural heritage, including beautiful edifices from every era since the arrival of the Normans,  twisting streets with intriguing names, shops, museums, art galleries, craft and design workshops and public gardens. There are also several places to visit nearby.

These factors, together with a number of excellent pubsrestaurants and accommodation options in and around the town are the main reasons for Kilkenny’s popularity as a discerning visitors’ destination or base for touring Ireland.

Kilkenny houses (Photo –

Kilkenny City History

While Kilkenny’s name is usually thought to derive from a church founded by or dedicated to the obscure  Saint Canice, another possible source once suggested was “Coil / Kyle-ken-Ui” / Cileanuigh (“the wooded head / hill by the river”), i.e. the site where that church was built in the C7th AD.  Situated in the ancient territory of Osraighe / Ossory, the religious settlement seems to have had little importance, as it was not mentioned in any of the various Annals before 1085.


Strongbow built a motte and bailey in Kilkenny in 1172 to command the crossing point on the river Nore. His son-in-law William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke replaced it with a stone structure in 1192, established his seat here, and incorporated the town in 1204; thereafter it was effectively run by GeoffreyFitzRobert,Seneschal of Leinster.


Kilkenny grew into a prosperous walled town, an important centre of both secular and religious power.  There were separate  administrations in High Town, around the Castle and Irishtown, around the Cathedral, seat of the medieval diocese of Ossory.


Bishop Richard de Ledrede‘s prosecutions in 1324 of Dame Alice Kyteler, her son and ten others for witchcraft, one of the earliest such trials in Europe, resulted in the burning at the stake of her maid, Petronella de Meath for heresy.


The Black Death / Bubonic Plague hit Kilkenny  very badly  in 1348. Friar John Clyn wrote a famous account of the plague’s progress in such apocolyptic terms that he would seem to have believed the extinction of humanity and the end of the world were nigh.


Kilkenny served no less than 15 times during the C14th as the venue for sessions of the peripatetic Irish Parliament. The notorious  Statutes of Kilkenny were enacted here in 1366.


In 1391 James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond, purchased the castle and manor of Kilkenny. The power of the Butlers brought the city to even greater prominence.


King James I elevated the liberties of Kilkenny to the rank of City by Royal Charter in 1609 ).


From 1641 to 1648 the city was the seat of the Confederate Parliament of Catholics, known as the Kilkenny Confederacy, with a Supreme Council erratically presided by the Royalist Earl / Marquess of Ormonde. The Papal Nuncio, Cardinal Rinuccini, arrived in 1645 with money and weapons. In 1650 Kilkennny was besieged and captured by Oliver Cromwell.


The deposed King James II spent the winter of 1689 in Kilkenny Castle, confiscated from the 2nd Duke of Ormonde for his loyalty to King William III. After their  defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, Jacobite troops retreating through Kilkenny forced the citizens to pay protection money against looting. Kilkenny surrendered without resistance to the Williamite army under General Godert de Ginkel, who made the city his winter headquarters prior to the Siege of Limerick in 1691.


Kilkenny was very well represented in the Irish Parliament until the Act of Union 1800, by which time the city’s period of glory was long over. During the late C18th and C19th the city’s population decreased by two thirds.


The outbreak of the Civil War in June 1922 was preceded by serious fighting between Republicans occupying the city centre and pro-Treaty forces sent to dislodge them, with at least 18 killed. In December of the same year irregulars overran the Free State barracks.


Although the former Corporation of Kilkenny is long gone, and local administration is run by the Mayor and Councillors of an Borough Council, Kilkenny  recalled its 400th official birthday as a city in 2009 with a series of major urban reforms showcasing celebratory quatercentennial events.

The River Nore has been spanned at Kilkenny since c.1200 by two bridges, both replaced after major floods in 1487 and 1763 caused them to collapse, with notable casualties.  The current Green’s Bridge, aka the Great Bridge of Kilkenny, is an elegant Palladian structure constructed in 1766 to a design by George  Smith, while the present John’s Bridge was completed in 1910. Ossory Bridge, linking the ringroad around the city, was erected in 1984. The traditional standard river vessel is a small boat called a cot.

Kilkenny is often called “the Marble City“, but the black and white stone that characterises many of Kilkenny’s fine buildings is actually polished limestone, excavated from the local Black Quarry for centuries, and contains fossils.  “Kilkenny Marble” used to be exported all over the British Empire.

Kilkenny is probably best known internationally as the source of ‘Smithwicks‘ and ‘Kilkenny‘ ales,  brewed in a complex bought in the C20th by the Guinness Ireland Group, which later merged with Grand Metropolitan plc to form Diageo, the world’s largest alcoholic beverage company, and nowadays largely used to produce Budweiser beer under licence.

The city is also home to Glanbia, one of the world’s top cheese and dairy companies, formed from the merging of Avonmore and Waterford Foods.

The Watergate Theatre is Kilkenny’s premiere venue for performing and visual arts, with a constantly varied programme of professional and amateur dramatics, classical and contemporary music, opera and dance, together with regular exhibitions of paintings and photographs.

The Hub at Cillin Hill is a Multi Purpose Venue used for exhibitions, conferences and entertainment events.

Nowlan Park, the city’s GAA stadium, is home to the Kilkenny Cats hurling team and the venue for the annual Source concert, performed in recent years by artists as varies as Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Andrea Bocelli and Dolly Parton.

Kilkenny evenings are renowned for the sound of music and song, with traditional sessions and live gigs in various venues around the town.

The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival, held on the first weekend in May every year in various venues throughout the city, features Americana / Bluegrass / Folk / Rockabilly / AltCountry musicians and singers from all over the world.

The Cat Laughs, a comedy festival is held annnually at the start of June, is the high point of the city’s tourist season.

Kilkenny Arts Week, a fortnight of visual art, painting, sculpture, theatre, film, mime, dance, and music ranging from Classical and traditional through jazz and blues to rock and World Music, takes place every year in the second half of August

The Kilkenny Christmas Market takes place from December 8th – 23rd on the newly renovated Parade near Kilkenny Castle.

The only City to have won the Irish Tidy Town Competition, Kilkenny was named as the Academy of Urbanism European Great Town for 2008, when it was described as “coming to terms with economic growth without losing its wonderful character and humour“.