Situated inland in the sunny south-east' of Ireland, Kilkenny is known as the medieval capital of Ireland. It is a county of gentle hills and fertile agricultural land, bordered by the Barrow and Suir rivers; Kilkenny city itself sits on the River Nore. The county covers an area of roughly 2000 square kilometres and has a population of about 75,000; 18,000 of whom are based in Kilkenny city.
Kilkenny city has been a market town since at least the fourth century, and was for a while the ecclesiastical and political centre of the country. The infamous Statute of Kilkenny that attempted to prevent the assimilation of Anglo-Normans and the local Irish was passed in 1366.
Like the rest of the county, Kilkenny city is steeped in history and bears the marks of Celtic, Viking, Norman and English invaders. Today, it combines the intimacy of a large village with the attractions of a bustling entertainment and craft-orientated city. Winding cobbled streets and carefully restored or tastefully adapted shop-fronts and buildings give Kilkenny city a unique atmosphere that is worth savouring. Ancient sites, castles, abbeys and the countys ubiquitous old stone edifices ensure that many of the outlying towns also amply repay a visit. The area boasts lively pub-life, quality restaurants, a number of interesting festivals, and an array of sporting events and activities, most notably the ancient Gaelic game of hurling, at which the county traditionally excels.
The name Kilkenny is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic Cill Cheannaigh, which literally translates as the Church of Canice. St. Canice established a monastery in the area during the sixth century, and the splendid thirteenth century St. Canices Cathedral is the second largest in Ireland. It is situated on Dean Street, at the northern end of the town, and was infamously used by Oliver Cromwell to house his horses in 1650. Cromwells army brought to a close what was arguably the most distinguished period in the countys history, when the Confederation of Kilkenny (1642-1648) came into effect. This was effectively an independent Irish parliament formed through a brittle union of Anglo-Irish Catholics and the Old Irish in opposition to English rule. The arrival in 1645 of Papal Nuncio Archbishop Rinuccini with troops and financial support must have seemed auspicious to the confederates, but their hopes were to be shattered. The Confederation fell apart when a treaty between the Anglo-Irish and the English Viceroy was compounded by the untimely death of the legendary Old Irish leader Owen Roe O'Neill. The Irish army surrendered (albeit with honour), after several days of a Cromwellian siege, and the areas political influence dissipated.
Incidentally Rinuccinis contribution is commemorated through the well-known Italian Rinuccini Restaurant on The Parade. Admission to both St. Canices Cathedral and the adjoining library, which houses thousands of sixteenth and seventeenth-century manuscripts, is free.
The Tudor style Rothe House on Parliament Street dates from the 1590s and was a meeting place for the leaders of the Confederation. It is now a museum and the home of the admirable Kilkenny Archaeological Society. Seventeenth-century Kilkenny is celebrated in the Cityscope display in the Shee Almhouse, which is also where the Tourist Information Office is situated. Not far from here is the Dominican Black Abbey, which was first built in 1225. This building has had a turbulent history and suffered greatly during the Cromwellian campaign, but it has been restored to its former glory and contains a beautiful example of stained glass work. The Black Freyre gate is an interesting remnant from Kilkennys days as a walled city. Another abbey, St. Francis' Abbey (1234), is now the site of St. Francis' Brewery and offers tours and quality ales.
On John Street the County Council offices are notable as they are situated in what was once Kilkenny College. Notables who attended this establishment include the dramatist William Congreve, the philosopher George Berkeley and the incomparable satirist Jonathan Swift.
For historical interest, nightlife, and relaxed often-beautiful surroundings, Kilkenny town and the surrounding district are worthy of inclusion in any tour of Ireland.
History of KilkennyOrigins
The name for Kilkenny derives from the Irish 'Cill Chainnigh', meaning the Church of Cainneach, a site of Catholic worship that was first established by St. Canice in the sixth century. St. Canice was a learned monk who founded a monastery at Aghavoe, and which later became the seat of the diocese of Ossory around the year 1052. Ossory was an ancient kingdom of Ireland that held a semi-independent position as a state within the kingdom of Leinster. In the ninth century, the kingdom was ruled by King Cerball, who allied himself with the Norse invaders and was an ancestor of some the important historical families in Iceland.
The Norman Invasion
In 1541, Henry VIII became the first monarch to declare himself king (as opposed to feudal lord) of Ireland. Gaelic rebellion throughout the 16th century intensified, not least because the Catholic bishops in Kilkenny began to find their position increasingly under threat.
The Tudor Period
The borough of Kilkenny was raised to the status of a city in 1609. By 1641, the Catholic Confederation of Kilkenny established a provisional government in Ireland, seeking to resist the English persecution of Catholicism. The confederation sat for six years and many historians view this period as the citys golden age. The confederation represented both the Gaelic Irish and the Anglo-Irish Catholics, and functioned as an independent Irish Parliament. In 1645, however, the confederation split into two camps, and the Anglo-Irish Party signed a treaty with the English Viceroy, bringing disunity and rebellion to the county.
Oliver Cromwell arrived in Kilkenny in 1650, with the aim of suppressing nationalist extremism. Kilkenny city was besieged by Cromwell in 1650, and former Gaelic landowners were transplanted from the district to barren areas of the western province of Connacht. (Cromwells famous choice to landowners - "To Hell or Connacht" - is remembered to this day.) Catholics found themselves denied the political rights they had been promised, and with the passing of the Banishment Act in 1697, all those holding ecclesiastical jurisdiction were forced to leave the county by May 1698. The proportion of land held by Gaelic and Anglo-Norman Catholic proprietors fell from about 49% in 1641 to nearly 10% in 1703.
A brief respite occurred during 1685 when the Catholic King James II came to the throne, causing severe division in English political forces and leading to the Williamite Wars in Ireland. Jamess supporters, who were known as Jacobites, were defeated at the Siege of Derry in 1689 and again at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and in that same year, the supporters of the new Protestant king of England and Scotland, William of Orange, had again occupied Kilkenny city. Many members of the former Irish army (Jacobites) were forced to leave Ireland, and instead chose to serve in the armies of France, Spain, and other European countries. They became known as "The Wild Geese."
The Eighteenth Century
The Nineteenth Century
With the formation of an independent Irish republic in 1949, Kilkenny, like the rest of the country, suffered from the effects of a depressed economy and high emigration. With the establishment of the Kilkenny Design Workshops in the late 1960s, however, the city gradually adopted its status as Irelands craft industry capital. In 1967, the Sixth Marquees of Ormonde presented Kilkenny Castle and part of the grounds to the people of Kilkenny - a landmark event which formally acknowledged the citys feudal legacy, and its role in the emergence of Irish independence.
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