Kilkenny Castle has been the centrepiece of Kilkenny City for over 800 years. Occupying a strategic vantage point along the River Nore, this imposing fortress first started out as a tower house built by the Anglo-Norman invader Strongbow (aka Richard de Clare).
The castle is more synonymous with the Butler family, the Earls of Ormonde, whose dynasty ruled over the castle and held sway over much of the county and it’s surrounds all the way up to 1935. During that time the castle has played host to numerous members of the English monarchy and a small band of Irish Republicans, who beseiged the castle in 1922 during the Irish Civil War (with the Butlers holed up in their bedroom as well).
But the castle’s most famous visitor was Oliver Cromwell, who saw Kilkenny as the heart of the Catholic rebel movement in Ireland at the time, and sieged the town in 1650. The castle was saved but not before both the east wall (which opens on the park now) and the northeast town were destroyed beyond repair. The current entrance to the castle was built around 1661 after Cromwell’s exploits in blowing up the original entrance.
After falling into ruin during the 20th century, the castle has been restored to resemble the modern chateau vision of the 17th and 18th centuries- in 1967, Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess and 24th Earl of Ormonde, sold the castle to the Office of Public Works for the princely sum of £50!
The castle is arguably one of the best kept castles in the country. There are (compulsory) guided tours of the castle, although, because much of the castle’s original contents were sold off at auction in 1935, the interior of the castle has an almost artificial feel about it .
The castle is best viewed from afar – some great vantage points to take in the castle are in the grounds of the castle itself or a short walk down John Street to the bridge crossing. Looking back at the castle with the Nore straddling it’s banks, the viewpoint on John Street gives you a true understanding of the castle’s size and it’s strategic significance. As just mentioned, the castle has two sets of gardens – on the city side of the castle a lovely ornamental garden can be wandered around; the castle’s main attraction is its extensive park and gardens at the front of the castle. On a warm sunny day (when there is one), the castle’s park is filled with all walks of life, adding to the castle’s tradition of being the focal point of the “Marble City”.