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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Kilkenny

Kilkenny (Cill Chainnigh, "Canice's Church"), is situated in southeastern Ireland on the banks of the River Nore.
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From time immemorial Kilkenny has been divided into three districts of wards - Irishtown, with the cathedral as its central landmark; High Town to the south, dominated by Kilkenny Castle; and on the other bank of the River Nore the eastern district, with St John's Priory.

St Canice's Cathedral

Round Tower circa 700-1000 beside St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny.
At the north end of the town of Kilkenny, just off Vicar Street, stands St Canice's Cathedral, one of Ireland's finest cathedrals. Built on the site of an earlier church, it was begun about 1251 and completed in 1820. The massive squat tower (14th C.) and the walls of the aisles, transepts and clerestory are all topped by crenellations. In spite of much restoration (most recently in 1863-1864) the interior has preserved its spacious character. It contains many fine monuments, including the tombs of the son of Henry de Ponto (1285: the oldest) and of Edmund Purcell (1549), both in the north aisle. The Purcell tomb has a carving of a theme frequently found in Irish sculpture - a cock crowing on the edge of a cooking pot. This is a representation of the old Irish legend that after Christ's Resurrection a servant carried the news to the High Priest's kitchen. The cook scoffed at the story - as unlikely, he said, as that the cock cooking in the pot would come to life again: whereupon the cock jumped out of the pot and crowed.
In the choir can be seen the tombs of Bishop de Ledrede (d. 1360) and Bishop Rothe; in the south transept the tomb of the eighth Earl of Ormond and his wife (1539); and in the south aisle the tombs of Viscount Mountgarret, in armour, Bishop Walsh (1585) and a lady in old Irish dress. In the north transept is St Ciarán's Chair, of black marble, and in the nave a 12th C. font.
By the south transept stands a 100ft/30m high round tower with numerous windows; the roof is not original. From the top (admission charge) there are fine views of the city and surrounding area.

St Canice's Steps

From St Canice's Cathedral, St Canice's Steps (1614) lead down to Dean Street.

High Town

From time immemorial Kilkenny has been divided into three districts of wards - High Town to the south, dominated by Kilkenny Castle; Irishtown, with the cathedral as its central landmark; and on the other bank of the River Nore the eastern district, with St John's Priory.

Black Abbey Church

Parliament Street, running south from the Cathedral, crosses the little River Bregagh, the boundary between Kilkenny's Irishtown and High Town. On the right, in Abbey Street, are the Black Freren Gate (one of the old town gates) and beyond this Black Abbey Church, once the church of a Dominican friary, Black Abbey (c. 1230). Of the original church there remain only the nave, south transept (14th C) and tower (15th C). Notable features of the interior are a medieval alabaster carving of the Trinity and a crudely carved oak figure of St Dominic.
Address: Abbey Street, Ireland

St Francis's Friary

Off Kilkenney's Parliament Street to the left of Black Abbey Church can be seen the ruins of St Francis's Friary (National Monument), a Franciscan house founded about 1232 and extended in 1321, when the beautiful seven-light east window was inserted. The slender tower has fine sculpture.

Rothe House

On Parliament Street in Kilkenny going southwards from St Francis's Friary, Rothe House is worth visiting, an Elizabethan merchant's house built in 1594 around two courtyards (restored 1966). It is now the headquarters of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, with their library and museum. On the opposite side of the street is the Court House (1794).
The house consists of museum exhibits, a period costume collection and a genealogical study center.
Address: Parliament Street, Ireland

St Mary's Cathedral

To the right of Kilkenny's Rothe House on Parliament Street, higher up, can be seen St Mary's Cathedral (1843), with a tower 200ft/60m high.

Kyteler's Inn

Not far from the Kilkenny's Town Hall on Market Yards is the oldest building in the town, Kyteler's Inn, today restored with an old style interior. It is still an inn. It is said that in the 14th C. a certain Alice Kyteler lived here. She aroused suspicion, as she survived four husbands. Condemned as a witch, she could have escaped by fleeing; but a scapegoat was used and her old servant ended on the scaffold.

Kilkenny Town Hall

In High Street, the continuation southwards of Parliament Street, we come to the Tholsel (1761), now the Town Hall of Kilkenny, in which the civic insignia and muniments (dating back to 1230) are preserved.

St Mary's Hall

Southeast of the Kilkenny Town Hall is St Mary's Hall, originally built as a parish church (13th C.?) and now a community house. It has a number of monuments from the old church, notably the tomb of Richard Rothe (d. 1637) and, in the churchyard, a monument with figures of Faith, Hope and Charity and the Twelve Apostles.

Shee's Almshouse

Adjoining St Mary's Hall, southeast of the Kilkenny Town Hall, is Shee's Almshouse, founded in 1582 by Sir Richard Shee, which remained in use as an almshouse until 1895. After a complete restoration the building now houses both the Tourist Information Office and the City Scope Exhibition which illustrates in miniature Kilkenny in the 17th C.
The 22 minutes presentation used the computer to control battery of lights which gives one of the most exciting and imaginative portrayals of Ireland's colorful past.

Kilkenny Castle

An entrance of the Kilkenny Castle.
In the Parade in Kilkenny rises Kilkenny Castle, begun by William de Marshal in the 13th C. From 1391 to 1931 the castle - in the course of the centuries much altered and enlarged, particularly in the 17th C. by the first Duke of Ormonde and in the 19th C. (picture gallery wing) - was the principal seat of the Butler family. Finely situated on the high river bank and surrounded by gardens, the castle is now open to the public. Some of the rooms have been restored; particularly charming is the Victorian Great Hall.
The Butler Art Gallery has changed into the exhibitions of contemporary art.
Address: National Historic Park, Ireland

Kilkenny Design Centre

Across the street from Kilkenny Castle in the Parade are the old stables, now housing the Kilkenny Design Centre. Here can be found a variety of Irish products (textiles, jewellery, glass, ceramics, etc.) And craftsmen can be seen at work. Their designs are used throughout Ireland. It is impressive that many artists make use of Celtic designs, for example, illumination from the Book of Kells.
The Kilkenny Design Workshops, located at Setanta Centre near Nassau Street, is the leader in presenting the best of Irish workmanship and design. Key features include Graphics, Simon Pearce's hand-blown glass, ceramics, Luma rugs, home boutique, and more.

Eastern District

From time immemorial Kilkenny has been divided into three districts of wards - High Town to the south, Irishtown, and on the other bank of the River Nore the eastern district, with St John's Priory.
The western and eastern districts of Kilkenny are linked by two bridges spanning the River Nore, John's Bridge and Green Bridge, rebuilt after a disastrous flood in 1763.

Kilkenny College

From the important street intersection at Shee's Almshouse John's Bridge leads into Lower John Street. In this street is Kilkenny College, a handsome Georgian building of 1782, successor to St John's College (founded 1666), which counted Jonathan Swift and George Berkeley among its pupils.
Address: Castlecomer Road, Ireland

St John's Priory

Across the street from Kilkenny College on Lower John Street is St John's Priory (13th C., National Monument). Of the church there survives only the chancel, with beautiful windows and capitals; the Lady Chapel (rebuilt 1817) is still used for worship.

Kilkenny Arts Festival

This annual festival takes place in mid-August, offering a wide variety of events. Events include classical music performances, as well as visual arts exhibitions, poetry readings, theatrical productions, and more modern rock, jazz and country concerts. The main events are held in Kilkenny Castle and St Canice's Cathedral, while fringe events are held in venues throughout the town.
Address: 92 High Street, Ireland


Dunmore Cave

Dunmore Cave (National Monument), 6mi/10km north of Kilkenny, is reached by taking a side road from the N78. (Note: on many maps the cave is incorrectly shown further south near the N77).
Above the entrance to the cave a Visitor Centre has been constructed (opening times given). Here can be seen items excavated from the cave (bones, coins, simple tools). Many of the items date from the 10th C. In 928, 40 people took refuge in the cave from the Vikings but were discoverd and cruelly slaughtered. Among the most impressive dripstone formations in the cave is a stalagmite over 19ft/6m high called the "Market Cross".
The coin found in the cave date from 897 to 926.
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Clara Castle

4.5mi/7km east of Kilkenny, reached on a minor road which branches left off the N10, stands Clara Castle (15th C., National Monument), an unusually well-preserved six-story tower house which still has the original oak beams, giving an excellent impression of the character of a fortified dwelling of the period. Among features of particular interest are the forecourt, a passage with a "murder hole" (a hole in the roof through which intruders could be pelted with missiles), a fine fireplace and a secret room.

St. Mary's Church, Gowran, Ireland

Over 1mi/2km from Clara Castle, east of Kilkenny, the R702 goes off on the right to Gowran, with a fine old parish church (c. 1275; National Monument) whose tower (14th or 15th C.), on the site of the original choir, has been incorporated in the present 19th C. church. The interior has fine pointed arches and columns of black marble; good sculpture and monuments (14th-17th C).

Thomastown, Ireland

11mi/18km south of Kilkenny, reached on the N9 from Gowran or the R700 direct from Kilkenny, lies Thomastown, with a ruined 13th C. church (National Monument) and, in the Roman Catholic parish church, a High Altar from Jerpoint Abbey.

Mount Juliet

The spectacular 1,400 acre estate of Mount Juliet near Thomastown features a variety of sporting facilities, including archery, trekking and clay target shooting. The house was built around 1780 and is now a hotel, open only to overnight guests. Jack Nicklaus designed the golf course on the estate.

Kilfane, Ireland

North of Thomastown (which lies to the south of Kilkenny) on the N9 it is well worth stopping in the village of Kilfane to see the over life-size effigy of Sir Thomas de Cantwell on his tomb (13th C., National Monument) in the church.

Graiguenamanagh, Ireland

From Kilfane, south of Kilkenny, a minor road runs east to join the R703, which leads to Graiguenamanagh, on the River Barrow (fishing). In this little town is Duiske Abbey (National Monument), a Cistercian house. In the churchyard, on the south side of the chancel, are two small granite high crosses with carvings of Biblical scenes and abstract ornament.

Inistioge, Ireland

5mi/8km southeast of Thomastown on the wooded banks of the River Nore, here spanned by a graceful 18th C. bridge, lies Inistioge, with the remains of an Augustinian abbey founded in 1210. The nave, Lady Chapel and tower of the church still survive. The tower, of which the lower part is square and the upper part octagonal, is now a mausoleum.

Jerpoint Abbey

1.5mi/2.5km southwest of Thomastown stands Jerpoint Abbey (National Monument), one of Ireland's most beautiful monastic ruins. The abbey, founded in 1158, was occupied by the Cistercians from 1180 until its forced dissolution in 1540.
The layout shows Cistercian influence. The church, with aisles, transepts and a projecting rectangular east end, is flanked on the south by the cloister (restored), round which are the conventual buildings. Of these only the sacristy, chapter house and day rooms on the east side have been preserved. Over the crossing, as the rule of the Order required, rises the handsome 15th C. tower (fine views from the top). The nave is divided into two parts, the monks' choir and the lay brothers' choir. The church has many fine monuments, including the tombs of Bishop O'Dulany of Ossory (d. 1202), Katerine Poher and Robert Walsh (d. 1501; by Rory O'Tunney) and two 13th C. knights. Note the rows of figures, known as the "weepers" on the tombs. In the cloister are a fine series of carved figures, which have been called "a Late Gothic picture book," between the twin columns in the arcading. They were the work of Rory O'Tunney, of whom nothing is known except that he came from a great family of sculptors and is believed to have been active between 1501 and 1552.
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Kells, Ireland

6mi/10km west of Thomastown, at Kells (not to be confused with the better known Kells in the north of the Republic), are the extensive remains of a fortified Augustinian priory (National Monument) founded in 1193. The surviving buildings date from the 14th and 15th C. The church, with nave, transepts, chancel and Lady Chapel, has a tower over the crossing and two other towers, one of which was probably the prior's lodging. On the south side of the church are remains of the conventual buildings, laid out around an inner court surrounded by a wall with two towers, to the south of which is a spacious outer court enclosed by a wall with five towers.


2mi/3km south of Kells on a narrow byroad lies Kilree, with the remains of a monastery (National Monument): a roofless round tower 95ft/29m high, a ruined church (good 17th C. monument in choir) and a badly weathered high cross (ninth century?) with representations of Biblical scenes and geometric ornament.

Callan, Ireland

6mi/10km southwest of Kilkenny on the N76 is Callan, a busy little market town which was strongly fortified in medieval times and has preserved a number of old buildings. Of the 15th C. Augustinian priory (National Monument) only the church, a long rectangular building with a central tower, survives; fine carved choir stalls.
In the town center are the ruins of St Mary's Church (16th C.: National Monument), with good details. The choir (restored), which is still used for worship, contains an old font. In the nave are a number of good monuments (16th and 17th C.), including that of John Tobyn, by Rory O'Tunney.
Outside the town is a large motte (13th C., National Monument), 40ft/12m high and 150ft/46m long.

Freshford, Ireland

Northwest of Kilkenny on the R693 is Freshford, with a church of 1730 (National Monument) which has a beautiful Romanesque doorway from an earlier church incorporated in its west front.

Kilcooly Abbey

From Urlingford the R689 runs south to the ruins of Kilcooly Abbey (National Monument), in Tipperary county, a daughter house of Jerpoint founded in 1182. The entrance is on the west side of the property. The church, built in 1445-70 on the site of an earlier church, contains a wealth of sculpture. The screen between the south transept and the sacristy has a whole series of reliefs - the Crucifixion, St Christopher, a bishop, a mermaid with a mirror followed by two fish, coasts of arms of the Butler family. Notable among the monuments in the choir is the tomb of Piers Fitzjames Og Butler, with his reclining effigy as a knight and panels of saints and Fathers of the Church as weepers. Rory O'Tunney, who carved this tomb about 1526, was also responsible for the monument of William Cantwell and Margaret Butler and that of John Cantwell and Elicia Stouk. In front of that altar is the gravestone of Abbot Philip (d. 1463). An unusual feature is the pair of stone seats against the piers at the end of the nave.
Among the remains of the conventual buildings is a corbel-vaulted circular dovecot.

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