At the end of June 2021, after one of my husband’s coworker recommendation, we decided to spend a weekend visiting Kilkenny city and county. We really love Ireland, and we get every chance we have to explore a new Irish place.
Thus, we rented a car, and on a Saturday morning, we set off for a new adventure through the lovely Irish countryside.
Buckle up and come with me to “A lovely weekend in Kilkenny”!
Upon the advice of the manager of our B&B, we parked our rental car in the Dean Street parking for 2€ a day (free on Sundays). From there, we started our tour of pretty Kilkenny city.
1. Cathedral Church of St Canice & Round Tower
St Canice’s Cathedral, located in Kilkenny’s Irishtown neighbourhood, is Ireland’s second-largest medieval cathedral (after St Patrick’s in Dublin), with a long and interesting history. St Canice, Kilkenny’s patron saint, founded the first monastery here in the 6th century. Before that, it was renowned as the last stronghold of the druids.
The current structure dates from the 13th to 16th centuries, with major 19th-century reconstruction, and has old gravestones and the tombs of the Butler dynasty of Kilkenny Castle. A 9th-century 30m-high circular tower stands outside, one of only two in Ireland that you can climb.
Despite arriving far before the closing hour, we were disappointed to find it closed.
Cathedral: 4.5€/ 5.34$;
Round Tower: 4€/ 4.74$ (currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions);
Cathedral & Tower: 7€/ 8.3$.
2. St. Francis Abbey
St. Francis Abbey, commonly known as Kilkenny Grey Friary, is a medieval Franciscan abbey and National Monument currently closed in the historic Hightown district.
Although it was founded about 1232, the friars were expelled and managed to return a few times until 1829 when the last friar died.
It went through several transformations over time, eventually settling into the decrepit state we see now. The site has long been linked with brewing and distilling. It is presently located on Smithwick’s brewery grounds.
Unfortunately, it is not open to the public so you could admire it only from the distance and beyond a gate. Very sad!
3. Dominican Black Abbey
In 1225 the Dominicans founded the Black Abbey where the River Bregach split the town of Kilkenny in two: the indigenous Irish occupied one half (Irishtown), while English settlers occupied the other (Norman). Because they wanted to emphasize their independence from either side, they built the monastery between the two towns and outside the city walls.
The abbey was repaired and opened as a public place of worship in the 1800s, after many difficult years. The medieval nave, transept, and tower of the church were rebuilt for worship in the 19th century and are still in use today.
It is thought to have gotten its name from the black cloak that Dominican friars (also known as “Black Friars”) wore over their white habits in the Middle Ages.
The “Rosary Window,” constructed of five “lights” or enormous vertical panels, is the biggest stained glass window in Ireland, is located immediately behind the altar. Mayers of Munich designed this window in 1892, depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary.
4. Rothe House & Garden
On Parliament Street, you can find Rothe House & Garden. Built on a burgage plot, a property owned by a burgess in a medieval town, Rothe House is the only one of its type open to the public in Ireland.
It was previously the residence of John Rothe Fitzpiers, a wealthy merchant and politician that erected the three-house complex between 1594 and 1610 for his wife Rose Archer and their eleven children.
The original building, finished in 1594, was where he ran his merchant company and lived upstairs with his wife, Rose Archer, and their family. He erected a second residence in 1604 as the family grew. The third home, built in 1610, had a ground-floor kitchen with a big hearth and bake oven, as well as rooms on the first and second storeys.
The gardens behind the third home included an orchard, herb and vegetable gardens, a dovecote, a well, and a summer house, and they went all the way to the city walls.
Kilkenny Archaeological Society now owns the property, which houses their extensive assortment of relics linked to Kilkenny city and county. The Garden, open since 2008 and is a replica of an early 17th-century urban garden, has become one of the most in vogue gardens to visit in Ireland.
Admission fee: 7.5€/ 8.9$.
5. Grace's Old Castle
Grace’s Old Castle is a historic castle building on Parliament Street built sometime before 1210. It remained a private residence until leased to the state in 1566.
It has been part of the justice system ever since, with its exact function changing over the years. For about 200 years, it was used by the state as a jail. It first became a courthouse in 1792.
6. Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral
St Mary’s Cathedral, inaugurated in 1857, is made from local cut limestone, has a cruciform plan, and its style is described as “Early English Gothic”.
Before the arrival of Cromwell in 1650, the Catholic congregation of Kilkenny celebrated mass in the ancient church of St. Canice’s. After this, St. Canice’s reverted to Protestant hands, and the Catholics were left without a cathedral, so they began construction on this one.
Built in the highest point in the city, this church has 3 “official” names: St Mary’s, The Church of St Kieran, and, The Cathedral of the Assumption.
7. Butter Slip Lane
Butter Slip Lane, not to be confused with “Butterslip gift shop”, is a narrow walkway erected in 1616 that used to be flanked by butter vendor stalls on market days and ran beneath two houses, linking High Street and St. Kieran’s street with its arched gateway and stone steps.
It is the most beautiful of the many narrow medieval hallways in Kilkenny town, and gobs of people compare it to the entrance to Diagon Alley, the cobblestone wizarding shopping paradise from the Harry Potter series.
Find the Butter Slip for a hidden IG-worthy spot that seems like it belongs in a Harry Potter scene.
8. The Tholsel
The Tholsel on High Street was constructed in 1761 as a tollhouse, although it has also served as a customs house, a courthouse, and a guildhall. It is still utilized as the city hall, and many people in the area recognize it by that name.
The open arcade on the ground floor, which traverses the pavement; the copper-clad octagonal tower jutting from the hipped slate roof; the clock; and the tower’s viewing platform are all notable aspects of the structure. A relief sculpture of the town coat of arms may be found on the southern façade.
The Tholsel’s arcade is a typical meeting area, operating as a covered piazza, and is a good site for carol singers or buskers to perform.
9. Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle, built in the 12th century, was the primary residence of the Butlers, Earls, Marquesses, and Dukes of Ormond for about 600 years.
The castle, surrounded by immense parkland, was renovated in the Victorian era. It was formally taken over by the Irish government in 1969 and has undergone extensive renovation since then. It currently attracts tens of thousands of people every year.
A library, drawing room, nursery, and bedrooms adorned in 1830s splendour make up the middle building. In the east wing, you will find the spectacular Picture Gallery. The Butler Family’s great collection of paintings was housed in this magnificent room, which originated from the 19th century.
Free admission, online pre-booking in advance is essential (no “walk-in tickets”).
On the second day, we took the car heading south first and then north, to later come back home.
10. Kells Priory
Kells’ Augustine Priory is one of the most extensive and remarkable medieval monuments in Ireland.
Its ruins are located by the King’s River, near the village of Kells, about 15 km (9.3 mi) south of Kilkenny. A group of medieval tower houses located at intervals along and behind walls that enclose a site of just over 3 acres is one of its most distinctive characteristics. These give the priory the appearance of a castle rather than a place of worship, and the name “Seven Castles of Kells” comes from them.
Geoffrey FitzRobert established it in 1193. The priory was assaulted and burned three times within its first century and a half. The walls and defences appear to have been built during this period of instability.
Kells Priory was finally disbanded in March 1540, and it was handed up to James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormonde.
The majority of the remaining ruin dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. It comprises a church, a chapel, a prior’s home or sacristy, and other domestic structures, all of which are situated on a 4-acre fenced property.
11. Jerpoint Abbey
Jerpoint Abbey, near Thomastown, was founded in the 12th century by the King of Ossory (or Osraige) on the site of an earlier Benedictine monastery. It is one of the best examples of a medieval Cistercian Abbey in Ireland. The architectural styles within the church, constructed in the late 12th century, reflect the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture. The tower and cloister date to the 15th century.
Jerpoint is known for its intricate stone sculptures that can be found all over the monastery. Mensa tombs from the O’Tunney school, a magnificent engraved portrayal of two 13th century knights, the carved cloister arcades, and numerous effigies and memorials dating from the 13th to the 16th centuries.
Jerpoint was entrusted to the 9th Earl of Ormond during the Dissolution of Monasteries, when the final abbot, Oliver Grace, abandoned the abbey during King Henry VIII’s reign and became predominantly a site of internment.
12. Jenkinstown Wood And Walled Garden Walk
Jenkinstown Wood, located about 10 minutes from Kilkenny City, was once part of the Bryan Bellew Estate. The original home is no longer standing, but remains of the grounds from the 1870s have been preserved, including rare Chinese Necklace Poplars. A picnic area, forest walks, a deer park, and a craft centre are all available.
The Walled Garden Loop (2.5kms, 1 hr, easy) is a nice little walk through the forest that takes in St. Colman’s well and starts and finishes through “doors-in-the-walls”; and the Jenkinstown Loop (4kms, 1 ½ hr, easy) loops around the perimeter of Jekinstown park wood and takes in a few viewing points.
The principal tree species in the park include beech, ash, oak, and Norway spruce; other flora includes bluebells, which bloom in mid-to-late April and make a purple carpet among beech trees. An enclosure houses foxes, badgers, stoats, red and grey squirrels, and deer. This wood is also home to an array of birds, including pheasants, ravens, and long-eared owls.
13. Dunmore Cave
Dunmore Cave is a network of limestone chambers that have developed over millions of years. It has about a quarter-mile of tunnels and is 150 feet below the surface at its deepest point. It contains some of the most spectacular calcite formations of any underground structure in Ireland.
The cave has been known for generations, and it first appears in the 9th-century Triads of Ireland, when it is described as one of the “darkest locations” in Ireland. The most terrible description, though, comes from the Annals of the Four Masters, a 17th-century chronicle that describes how Guthfrith of Ivar, a Viking leader, killed a thousand people there in AD 928. Although archaeologists have not been able to conclusively prove that such a massacre occurred, evidence of Viking activity (gold, silver, and human remains) has been discovered within the cave.
The cave has been available to the public as a show cave since the 1960s. A modest amount of safety equipment was put in place, including a roof over the cave mouth to keep debris from raining down on visitors.
Because of the lack of sunshine, plant and animal life in and around the cave is limited. Bat skeletons can be discovered encrusted in the calcite limestone, indicating that the cave once housed a bat colony.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, they were closed, and we could not visit them.
Admission fee: 5€/ 6$.
14. Duckett's Grove House (Co. Carlow)
We decided to stop near Rainstown, County Carlow, on our way back home to see Duckett’s Grove House.
It was the Duckett family’s residence in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, and it was formerly at the heart of a 20,000-acre (8,093-hectare) estate that has dominated the Carlow landscape for almost 300 years. The surviving towers and turrets of Duckett’s Grove Walled Gardens and Pleasure Grounds present a lovely profile even in ruin, making it one of the most photogenic historic buildings and a castle to visit in Ireland.
The upper walled garden is surrounded by boxwood and features historical shrub rose varieties as well as a collection of Chinese and Japanese peonies. A wide range of hardy and fragile perennials, as well as blooming shrubs such as echium, watsonia, acanthus, Javellana, daphniphyllum, iris, eryngium, beschorneria, euphorbia, and several decorative bananas, putting the gardens’ microclimate to the test.
The lower walled garden, which was previously the site of the old orchard, now houses a variety of fruits including figs and historical Irish apple varieties. The borders also include a variety of shrubs and perennials, many of which recall the history of Duckett’s Grove’s gardens. The repair of paths and the sunken stone bridge, as well as oak, lime, hazel, spindle, and laurel plantings, have all helped to revive the spirit of these wonderful Georgian pleasure gardens.
The house was originally intended to be a normal two-story over-basement Georgian country house. It was renovated in the mid-1820s by English architect Thomas Cobden in a castellated Gothic revival style.
The house’s interior was completely devastated by fire in the 1930s and is now inaccessible.
The great house at Duckett’s Grove has a plethora of round, square, and octagonal towers and turrets. From the structure, one tall octagonal tower rises, ornately adorned with oriels and niches containing statuary.
Free guided tours available between November to March on Thursdays and Fridays at 12:00, 14:00 and 15:00. On Sundays 14:00 and 15:30. Between April and October, on Thursday and Friday at 12:30, 14:30 and 16:00. On Saturdays and Sundays, the times are 14:30 and 16:00.
Ireland managed to amaze us with its magnificent and verdant scenery once more.
Kilkenny is a true jewel that is well worth a visit, but as is customary in Ireland, the element that I enjoyed the most was its incredibly delightful greenery and natural beauty. After all, it goes without saying that if you love mother nature, you cannot possibly adore Ireland as well!
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