Once the medieval capital of Ireland, Kilkenny 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 longest 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 trials 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.
Kilkenny medieval mile attractions
A 12th century castle set in extensive parklands, built for William Marshal 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. Kilkenny Castle Mobile Tour App available.
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.
Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny is a sensory, tactile visitor experience that immerses you in Ireland’s oldest beer brand; the history, the brewing craft and ultimately, tasting the pint. Visitors will be able to experience the medieval origins of brewing on the site to the arrival of the amazing John Smithwick. You will discover the Kilkenny-Smithwicks connections through the years with interactive installations bringing the story right up to date. Smithwicks Experience Kilkenny is open daily from 10am – 5pm, with the Smithwicks retail store open until 6pm.
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
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.
the bishop's 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.
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.
butler house & gardens
Butler House (once a dower house 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 solicitor, 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.
thosel town house
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!
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.
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.
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 medieval mile museum
Ireland’s finest example of a medieval church, the site has been lovingly restored in recent years. Archaeological excavations unearthed artefacts hidden for centuries that are now on display in world-class exhibitions. Visitors to the museum will marvel at a treasure trove of objects encompassing the work and lives of Ireland and its people across centuries. The museum contains some of Ireland’s finest examples of medieval sculpture and one of the country’s largest collection of Renaissance tombs. An exclusive LEGO(r) Minifigure Hunt has recently been added to the museum, This experience is available to children of all ages at no additional charge. Whether by means of an entertaining guided tour or an engaging audio tour (available in 6 languages with child-friendly options)
Ballykeefe Distillery is an artisan family-farm Irish Whiskey distillery located in picturesque countryside, just 15 minutes outside the Medieval city of Kilkenny. A tour of Ballykeefe Distillery is a must for anyone with an interest in Kilkenny’s historical association with Irish Whiskey. Our guided tour enables guests to explore our distillery and discover the ancient art of Irish Whiskey making and the craftmanship that goes into each of our casks. Experience first-hand the sound, smell and feel of a fully operational distillery with a behind-the-scenes tour learning about the fine art of distilling and of course a tasting of our signature spirits (Ballykeefe Gin, Vodka & Poitín). After the tour enjoy a Ballykeefe ‘Signature Serve’ Gin & Tonic in our repurposed stable which has a rustic elegance offering a warmth and intimacy and now serves as our tasting room with its high ceilings, exposed brick and reclaimed wood tables and bar. Distillery Tours available daily, book online at www.ballykeefedistillery.ie
kilkenny towns & villages
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 Moth To A Flame operating 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, and all the wonderful festivals Kilkenny has to offer visit one of our tourist information centres dotted throughout the country or