Cill Chainnigh
County Kilkenny - Past and Present
History Index

Historic Kilkenny

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 monk named St. Canice 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 For further historical reference see Ancient Ossory.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 Kilkenny Castle, 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: one.

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.

Jerpoint Abbey which was founded by Donal MacGiolla Phadraig, King of Ossory in 1158.

In 1204, Duiske Abbey was built and still includes the 9th century Celtic crosses of Akylthawn and Ballyogan.

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 in 1730.

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 Geoffrey FitzRobert.

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 twelfth century.

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


Historical Notes

Current Kilkenny

Population(1991) Place Names Schools, Libraries, Newspapers, Reference
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