Unquestionably Ireland’s most atmospheric medieval city, KILKENNY straddles the broad River Nore, doglegging past its imposing castle. Kilkenny’s medieval layout is centred on its hill and extravagant castle. Downhill from here the wide Parade leads down to the High Street, the main shopping district. This wends its way to the city’s other main landmark, the well-preserved, medieval St Canice’s Cathedral with its climbable round tower, en route passing Rothe House, architecturally impressive evidence of the city’s Tudor wealth. North of the city the major attraction is the strange calcite formations of Dunmore Cave.
The first known settlement at Kilkenny is believed to have been a sixth-century monastic community founded by St Canice (Cill Chainnigh means “the church of Canice”). After the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, Strongbow erected a motte and bailey fort, overlooking the Nore, in 1172, which was later replaced with a stone structure by his son-in-law, William, the Earl Marshal. The latter also built a city wall and towers and forced the local population to live outside its boundaries in an area still known as “Irishtown” today. Subsequently, the city’s ownership passed through various hands, before James Butler, the third Earl of Ormonde, purchased the demesne in 1391.
Following the 1641 Rebellion, Kilkenny became the focus for the Catholic Confederation, an unlikely alliance of royalists loyal to Charles I and Irish landowners dispossessed by the Plantation. This established a parliament in Kilkenny, aimed at attaining Irish self-government and, in the process, restoring the rights of Catholics. However, its powers were short-lived, and, after Cromwell’s arrival in 1650, the city’s prosperity began to wane.
Nonetheless, nowadays Kilkenny still possesses an undoubted grandeur, largely untarnished by inappropriate modern building developments and, thanks to its castle and numerous other sights, as well as a lively nightlife and cultural scene, has become an integral part of the Irish tourist trail.