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Celtic Jewelry

Ancient Ireland
Irish Castles
Irish Landscapes

Kilkenny City

Kilkenny (Cill Chainnigh, or Canice's Church) is one of Ireland's finest medieval cities.
Originating in the fifth or sixth century in the territory of the Osraige (Irish for "Deer People", later anglicised as Ossory), Kilkenny was first an early Christian settlement, centred on the area near St. Canice's Church. In the 9th century King Cerball Mac Dunglainge's ability to trade or negotiate with or defeat the invading Vikings, as required, made him the most powerful king in Leinster, and Kilkenny became a major power centre in south-east Ireland.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle
West wing

Kilkenny maintained its position after the 1169 Norman invasion of Ireland, led by Richard FitzGilbert De Clare, or Strongbow. The Anglo-Norman King of England and France, Henry the Second, afraid that Strongbow would establish too strong a power-base in Ireland, had retained control of the port towns of Dublin, Wexford and Waterford. So Strongbow's successor, William Marshall, built a new port, New Ross, 20 miles away on the River Barrow and developed Kilkenny as one of his regional trade capitals. Although the first earthwork and wood castle built by the Normans at Kilkenny was burnt down by Donal Mor O'Brien, King of Limerick, in 1173, Marshall began work on the present Kikenny Castle in 1207, and it became the focus of the new Hightown or Englishtown. The annual rent for a plot of land on which to build a house and garden was 1 shilling (about 6 or 7 cents, although cents had not been invented then!), equivalent to about 1,000 today. St. Canice's remained the focus of the adjoining old town, or Irishtown, and the constant quarrelling between the two parts of the town resulted in the nickname of "The Kilkenny Cats". The town population in the thirteenth century was 2,500 - 4,000.

The south side of the castle was badly damaged during the 1650 assault by Cromwell, and the remains were cleared away completely during remodelling in the 1820's. The present battlements and parapets date from that period.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle
part of east wing

St. Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny

St. Canice's Cathedral
and Round Tower
Both the cathedral and round tower are open to the public - see below.

St. Canice's has been a Christian site since the sixth century. The round tower dates from around 1100, and is the oldest surviving building in Kilkenny. The present cathedral buildings date from the thirteenth century, although some traces of an older church remain.

View from top of round tower

View of main building
from top of round tower

As far as I know, this is the only round tower in Ireland that is fully open to the public, all the way to the top (during tourist season, weather permitting, entry fee 1, children under 12 not allowed). It's something I'd recommend - you reach the small 4' high door by a 8' steel ladder. Inside, you climb a series of 7 steep, zig-zagging wooden stairs, each leading to a small platform, where you can rest or leave other people pass by. You can only see down to the preceding platform - there isn't a central stairwell, where you could see all the way to the bottom (or you'd never get me near the place). Eventually you climb a half dozen stone steps, and through a small opening in the ceiling out onto the roof, and suddenly go from being completely enclosed to being almost completely exposed to a spectacular panorama of the city and surrounding countryside. There is, of course, a high steel railing all around the roof for safety. It helps if you're not too unfit, not claustrophobic or agorophobic, have a reasonable head for heights, and don't bring heavy/awkward baggage with you. Avoid it if thunder threatens. My own knees are still knocking. But it was worth it.

The tower is 100' high, but its foundations are only 2' deep, and the tower leans a bit towards the main building (Try not to think of this when you're on the top).

We were taught at school that round towers were a place of refuge for Irish monks from Viking raids, but apparently this is all wrong. The Irish for round tower is "cloigtheach" (meaning "bellhouse") , so this is taken as proof that they were built as belfries. Although, if I were a medieval monk being charged by a mob of murderous Vikings, I think I'd scoot up into a round tower no matter how many experts told me it was only to be used as a belfry.

Kilkenny Design Centre
(Formerly the castle stables)
Built about 1780.
Now houses shops full of Irish crafts.

St Mary's Cathedral
Completed 1857

St. John's Church/Abbey
The original abbey (on right of picture)
was built around 1280.

Black Abbey
Dates from about 1225.

St. Francis's Abbey
Founded in early 1230's.

Rothe House
Tudor merchant's house
Built 1594.

River Nore
from St. John's Bridge.

Shee Almshouse
Built 1582

Parliament Street/High Street

Street artist

Street musicians
(Name of group is "Kauzay").

Kilkenny Castle main entrance

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle
East wing

Kilkenny Castle courtyard

Kilkenny Castle gardens

Kilkenny Castle courtyard windows

St. Canice's

St. Canice's

St. Canice's Steps

St. Canice's
from Parliament Street

Kilkenny is about 30 miles north of Waterford City .
Last updated July 26th 2000.

Most of the above information was found in tourist brochures,
or in "Discover Kilkenny", by John Bradley.

All images are copyright and may not
be reproduced without written permission.

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