County Kilkenny - Past and Present
The name of Kilkenny is derived from the Gaelic 'Cill Chainnigh', or Cill
Cannaigh, meaning the "Church of Canice". In the 6th century a learned
founded a monastery at Aghaboe, which later became the seat of the diocese
of Ossory around the year 1118. He is said to have founded a monastery near
the present site of St. Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny. By 1178, the
"See of Ossory" was removed from Aghaboe to the city of Kilkenny, where
Felix O'Dullany laid the foundation of the cathedral church of St. Canice.
St. Canice Cathedral was continued at great expense by Hugh Mapleton and
completed by Goeffrey St. Leger about the year 1270. The Round Tower next
to St. Canice pre-dates the cathedral. The modern diocese of Ossory with
its see at Kilkenny indicates the extent of
the ancient state of Ossory.
Ossory, also spelled OSRAIGE, was an ancient kingdom of
Ireland that won for itself a semi-independent position as a state within
the kingdom of Leinster, probably in the 1st century AD. In the 9th century
it was ruled by an able king, Cerball, who allied himself with the Norse
invaders and figured in later centuries as an ancestor of some important
families in Iceland. When surnames were introduced, the dynasts descended
from him in Ireland were known as Mac Gillápadraig, a name transformed under
Norman influence into Fitzpatrick. For further
historical reference see Ancient Ossory.
In the 11th century they contended for the kingship of Leinster but were soon overwhelmed by the south Leinster
family of MacMurrough. In feudal times the Butlers became the most
powerful lords in that area. For further reference see
Medieval County Kilkenny.
In ancient times the portion of the County Kilkenny between the Nore and
Barrow rivers is sometimes excluded from the kingdom of Ossory, and is styled
Hy Creoghain Gabhran. The southern part of the county was sometimes
called Comor na tri uisge, 'the district of the three waters."
The countries of Ely O'Carroll and Hy Carthin comprised some of the northwestern
portion of the county. This kingdom was sometimes tributary to the province
of Leinster, and sometimes to Munster. After the arrival of the Anglo-Normans,
it formed one of the counties into which King John divided the portion of Ireland
that acknowledged his sovereignty. Kilkenny became one of the counties of
Leinster about 1210. At the commencement of the reign of James I, the county
was chiefly occupied by the Graces, the O'Brenans, the Wandefords, the
Butlers, the O'Sheas, the Rooths, the Harpurs, the Walshes of the mountains,
and the Shortals.
For further historical reference see Old English Families.
In Norman times, the city of Kilkenny had two townships: Irishtown, which
had its charter from the bishops of Ossory; and Englishtown, established by
William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and raised to the status of a city
in 1609. The two were united in 1843. Anglo-Norman parliaments were held
there from 1293 to 1408, and from 1642 to 1648 (during the English Civil
War) Kilkenny was the capital of the Roman Catholic confederacy. It
surrendered to Oliver Cromwell in 1651.
For further historical reference see New English Families.
At the time of the Norman Invasion, in 1172, a wooden fortress was
built by Strongbow (Richard de Clare) in what became known for a time as
Englishtown. This structure, as well as much of the town was laid waste by
Donald O'Brien, King of Thomond, who forced the Anglo-Norman invaders under
Strongbow to retreat to Waterford. In 1195, William Marshal, who succeeded
Strongbow, rebuilt the castle on a larger scale, and restored the town.
The structure he built became known as
which was later erected as a stone castle in the thirteenth century. From the
fourteenth century Kilkenny Castle was the main seat of the Butlers, the
Earls and Dukes of Ormonde, who play a large part in Irish history.
Further reference: Maps of Kilkenny City:
Historical sites in County Kilkenny include...
There are five ancient round towers in County Kilkenny, one adjacent to the
Cathedral of St. Canice. Thomastown, founded in the 13th century, has many
historic remains, and at Jerpoint Abbey are some of the
finest Cistercian ruins in Ireland. There are also remains of Augustinian
priories at Inistioge, Callan, and Kells.
Abbey which was founded by Donal MacGiolla Phadraig, King of Ossory
was built and still includes the 9th century Celtic crosses of Akylthawn
The city of Thomastown was founded in the 13th century by
Thomas FitzAnthony, a Welsh mercenary of the 1169 Norman landings.
Thomas FitzAnthony was the Governor of Leinster in the 13th century.
He built the fortifications at Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, fragments of which
can still be seen today, together with nearby Grenan Castle,
now in ruins.
Tullaherin Round Tower dates from the end of the 9th century.
The ancient church of St Lachtain, founded in 622 near
Freshford, was destroyed by the Vikings but a new church was
built around 1100. The beautiful Hiberno-Romanesque doorway is all that
remain from this period. The church was rebuilt for Protestant worship
The ruins of an old Church built in 1177 and founded by St. Patrick
can be found at Donoughmore Cemetery.
The Augustinian Kells Priory was built in 1193 by
In 1225, the Black Abbey was contructed in Kilkenny city by the
Dominican Order which still has a presence there. It was founded by
William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke.
The Episcopal Palace at Uppercourt was built in 1251 by Hugh
Mapleton, Bishop of Ossory.
Ballylarkin Abbey is believed to have been built around the middle
of the 14th century by the principal branch of the Shortall family.
St. Mullin's Church
in Co. Carlow, just across the Kilkenny border, dates from the 7th century.
The medieval parish church at Kilfane preserves a syperb
effigy of a Norman knight, nearly eight feet (2.4m) in length. The shield
which he holds bears the arms of the Cantwell family, who came with
Theobald Walter (Butler) when the Normans came to Ireland in the later
Kilcooley was a Cisternian monastery near Urlingford founded
by Donal Mor O'Brien, King of Thomond, in 1884. It underwent considerable
rebuilding in the fifteenth century. The effigy tomb of Pierce fitz Oge
Butler, died 1526, sits in the chancel.
Also see: Historic Site Map of Kilkenny
- Of the so-called Ten Tribes of Kilkenny the Shees (the only ones of
Milesian blood), were the most influential; the Rothes and the Archers were
next in importance (the others were Archdekin, Cowley, Knaresborough,
Langton, Lawless, Ley and Ragget).
- The Statutes of Kilkenny (1366/7) - an unsuccessful attempt
to arrest the process of Anglo-Normans intermarrying with the Gaelic
population and adopting the Gaelic language and customs. The text is on-line
- Kilkenny became virtually the capital of Ireland, with the founding of
a parliament in 1641 known as the Confederation of Kilkenny. This
attempt to unite the resistance to English persecution of Catholicism,
though powerful for a while, had greatly diminished by the time Cromwell's
wreckers arrived in 1650.
- The 'Tithe War' was fought between 1830 and 1838.
According to Lord Gort, speaking in the House of Lords in 1832, 242
homicides, 1,179 robberies, 401 burglaries, 568 burnings, 280 cases of
cattle-maiming, 161 assaults, 203 riots and 723 attacks on houses were
directly attributed to tithe-enforcement. The Chief Secretary, Lord Edward
Stanley . . . fought against the evasion of tithe payment. The war started in
Graiguenamanagh on the Carlow-Kilkenny border when the tithe proctor
distrained the cattle of a Catholic priest, Fr Martin Doyle, who organised
resistance with the approval of his bishop, James Doyle. The resistance soon
spread to the midlands.
- Timeline of County Kilkenny History.
- Historic Photos of County Kilkenny.
- Historic Castles of County Kilkenny.
- Surname Histories of selected Co. Kilkenny Families.
- Knights' Fees in Co. Kilkenny - 13th & 14th Century.
- Description of County Kilkenny from Samuel Lewis'
"Topographical Dictionary of Ireland", published
- The Famine in County Kilkenny.
- Kilkenny County Townlands.
- Kilkenny County Placenames
- from the Carigeen Primary School.
- Local Placenames of Carigeen
- from the Carigeen Primary School.
- View an image of a County Kilkenny Tartan
Schools, Libraries, Newspapers, Reference
- Kilkenny County (73,635) (75,155 in 1996)
- Kilkenny City (17,669) (18,696 in 1996)
- Thomastown (1,487)
- Castlecomer (1,396)
- Callan (1,246)
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