Kilkenny Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Kilkenny Castle

County Kilkenny, Ireland

Image Credit: Madrugada Verde / Shutterstock

About Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle is a significant castle in along Kilkenny’s ‘Medieval Mile, in Ireland. Once the stronghold of the powerful Butler family, it was heavily restored in the 19th and 20th centuries.

History of Kilkenny Castle

The first castle was constructed here in the Anglo-Norman period by Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, but it was only replaced by a stone structure in 1192 by William Marshal. The Butler family bought the castle in 1391, and it became their seat for well over the next 500 years.

During the Irish Confederate Wars if the 1640s, the Protestant Butlers were on the side of King Charles I. However, Catholic rebels captured Kilkenny Castle, and it was besieged by Cromwell during his conquest of Ireland. Following his return from exile in 1661, Butler remodelled the medieval castle as a more modern chateau.

The Butler family increasingly struggled to raise the necessary revenue to keep the castle maintained, with odd pieces of work done when money appeared. In 1904, James Butler, 21st Earl of Ormonde, welcomed King Edward VIII and Queen Alexandra to Kilkenny Castle when they visited Ireland.

When James Butler died, huge amounts of death duties meant that the castle’s future was in jeopardy. It was besieged by the Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War in 1922, and quite severely damaged. The Butlers upped and moved to London in 1935, abandoning the castle. It was eventually sold in 1967 to the Castle Restoration Committee for a ceremonial £50. It now technically belongs to the city of Kilkenny, and remains the city’s most popular tourist attraction.

Kilkenny Castle today

The castle is open year round: between November and January, access is via 45 minute guided tour only. The rest of the year, self-guided tours in a variety of languages are available, with guided tours running semi-regularly for those who want them. The grounds and gardens of Kilkenny Castle are lush, particularly in the summer: they’re well worth a stroll, or a lengthier walk if you want to let off steam.

Kilkenny hosts a major arts festival in August every year, and the town gets extremely busy as a result. Look out for the Chinese Withdrawing Room (with its traces of handpainted 1820s Chinese-style wallpaper), the monumental Carrara marble fireplace by John Hungerford Pollen and the magnificent Entrance Hall.

Getting to Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle is in the centre of the town of Kilkenny: it’s hard to miss. It’s a short (15 minute) walk from Kilkenny MacDonagh train station (Dublin – Waterford line, frequent trains in either direction, about 90 mins to Dublin and 35 mins to Waterford), and coaches also stop here, including route 600 which runs between Dublin and Cork via Waterford.

If you’re driving, head down the M9 from Dublin to Junction 8, and turn off onto the N10, following signs for Kilkenny. The castle is on The Parade in the town centre: there’s plenty of parking around.