Kilkenny City and its Medieval Castle

The sixth entry in a series of installments from the travel diary of my journey through the Emerald Isle.

Kilkenny Castle

After we had spent the morning retracing the footsteps of the Neolithic farmers through Ireland’s rain soaked fields, we stepped through the veil of fog, drove two hours south and ended up centuries ahead in Kilkenny, Ireland’s Medieval City.

It was grey and overcast when Joanna and I arrived in Kilkenny, however, the rain had at least passed. We easily found our hotel, the Kilkenny Hibernian, and once Joanna parked our car we hauled all of our luggage (no easy feat) up the cobble-stones of Ormonde Street and inside to the check-in desk.

The hotel had originally been built in 1817 as a house for the Hackett family and was then re-built in 1865 to the designs prepared by John Sterling Butler. In 1901 the property was leased to the Hibernian Bank, who rebuilt and extended the structure over the next four years. The current owner purchased the property in 1998 and following an extensive renovation, this Georgian building was restored to its former glory and opened its doors in May 2000 as the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel. While checking-in we noted the simple, yet elegant luxury of late-Georgian design, made up mostly of dark chocolaty woods, walls painted with rich hues, ornate crown moulding and the added charm of its creaky floors.

Staying with the theme of late-Georgian décor, the lobby area was furnished with winged armchairs, chaise-lounges, roll-top desks and walls graced with gilded framed mirrors. Once we reached our room we put away our belongings, quickly freshened up and then set out for the streets of Kilkenny City.

Entrance Gateway

We decided to head northeast down Rose Inn Street, where we passed shops selling Kilkenny Crystal, an antique looking apothecary, an old-fashioned family butcher shop, a medieval stone building which housed the Kilkenny Tourist Information Office and of course a bounty of pubs with Irish names such as O’Lanaga’in’s and Morrisey’s. The whole street was painted a spectrum of vibrant blues, yellows, reds and greens and it certainly brightened up the overcast day.Walking further we ended up at John’s Bridge which links Rose Inn Street to John Street. The bridge was originally built in the twelfth century, however, due to constant flooding it had been rebuilt many times over and the present-day bridge was completed in 1910, spanning 140 feet across the River Nore. We walked over to Canal Square, the perfect place to sit and relax a moment while the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life in Kilkenny passed us by. The placid waters of the river Nore made a gentle lapping sound against the heavily wooded riverbank. A medieval tower stood sentinel next to the river, while large urns in the square bore the cheerful yellows and pinks of blossoming plants.

And it was here, amidst the picturesque view of forests and protective stone walls that our next stop loomed in the distance.Kilkenny Castle majestically stood before us atop a rolling 50 acre expanse of manicured emerald green lawns, with the River Nore winding at its side. The original structure on the site was a wooden tower built in 1172 by the Anglo-Norman conqueror Richard de Clare, better known as Strongbow. In 1195, Strongbow’s son-in-law, William Marshal 4th Earl of Pembroke, erected Kilkenny Castle which in 1391 was purchased by the Butler family; the Earls, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde. The Butlers lived in the castle until 1935, when James Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, generously presented it to the people of Kilkenny in return for a token payment of £50.

Kilkenny Castle

We approached the sprawling grounds and our attention was instantly commanded by the dramatic castle laid out before us, which with its round towers, stone façade and wrought ironwork evoked images of damsels in distress and knights in shining armour. We entered by way of the extraordinarily intricate gateway to the courtyard and meandered the seemingly endless grounds as we snapped away on our cameras. Here we came across the lush Rose Garden set out in a Celtic cross pattern, a marvelous fountain that flowed at the heart of it, crumbling statues that flanked the castle walls and an ornamental lake occupied by swans and ducks.

We continued on into the castle through the spacious entrance corridor and headed for the Medieval Room where we watched a short audio visual presentation which gave us a general historical overview of Kilkenny Castle. After the video our self-guided tour began as we followed our guidebooks and the signs posted throughout the castle on a
room by room tour. The books provided us with information on: the architecture, decor, furniture and paintings of the castle while informed guides could be found in each of the rooms to provide additional information about the areas we visited.

Although we were not permitted to take any photographs whilst inside the castle, visions of the fine details and opulence we found within its walls had left lasting images etched in my mind. There was the peeling remnants of delicately hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in the withdrawing room that the women had customarily retired to after dinner; the gleaming mahogany of the Gothic designed grand staircase; the elaborately detailed ceilings found throughout the castle; ornate tapestries which had begun to fray at the ends; and the long gallery with its floor to ceiling paintings and high, sky-lit ceilings vividly painted with Celtic and Pre-Raphaelite motifs. Every room in the castle was grandly designed, luxuriously decorated and so obviously steeped in centuries of history that it seemed to emanate from everything we set our eyes on.

The Rose Garden

With our tour drawing to a close we wound up down the kitchen corridor, which now houses the Butler Gallery, one of Ireland’s most significant galleries outside of Dublin. Here we spent some time perusing the contemporary art which was on display and before heading outdoors stopped in at the Castle Tea-Room, which is situated within the old Victorian kitchen and showcases the antique cooking range and rows of gleaming copper pots and pans. We then wandered back out to the grounds getting in any last minute photographs before we reluctantly left Kilkenny Castle, all of its gilded extravagance and our fanciful dreams of lavish Victorian balls and the Lord’s and Lady’s who frequented them. Instead, we set off down The Parade towards the city in search of a warm pub and whatever else besides a rich history Kilkenny would have to offer.


History – The Beginning. Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel (2011)

“Kilkenny.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation (2012)

Kilkenny Castle – A Tour of the Castle. The Office of Public Works (2012)

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