Of all the towns, hamlets, cities, burgs, and villages we drove through and explored during our two week adventure in Ireland, Kilkenny was one of our favorites.
The name Kilkenny comes from the Irish; Cill Chainnigh, which translates into “church of Cainnech.” Cainnech (also known as Canice, Canicus, Kenneth, and Kenny) was an Irish abbot, priest, missionary, and eventually Saint who lived from 515-600 AD and was considered by many to be a man of great learning and virtue. He is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and is the patron saint of the shipwrecked.
The city, which is technically a town due to the majority of the population residing outside of the borough boundary, has a special mention in the Local Government Act of 2001 where it is to be referred to as a city, since it had been know as a city long before it actually became one. Kilkenny is located in the south-east part of Ireland in the province of Leinster and in the county of the same name, County Kilkenny. Kilkenny sits on both banks of the River Nore, which along with the River Barrow and River Suir make up The Three Sisters Rivers in Ireland.
The earliest mention of Cill Chainnigh is from a text dating back to 1085 AD. One can take a walking history of Kilkenny by visiting all the unique landmarks that have survived the tests of conflict and time.
Some of the landmarks that can be found in Kilkenny are: Kilkenny Castle, St. Canice’s Cathedral and round tower, Rothe House, The Black Abbey, The Hole in the Wall, The Tholsel, Shee Alms House, and the Smithwick’s Brewery.
Our Time In Kilkenny
Waking up in Dublin earlier that morning, we drove to Glendalough (another special place reserved for a future blog) and enjoyed the heritage site before the busloads of tourists arrived. We then drove along the Wicklow Way until we arrived in Kilkenny some time in the late afternoon. We checked into our bed and breakfast walked to a spot along the River Nore and had a peaceful lunch. After we ate we walked back to O’Malley’s Bed and Breakfast and took a quick nap. Upon waking to our alarm, we were met by a new friend who we will never forget for his kindness, rode with him to his farm, got engaged in a castle (read here for more details), had dinner, and were able to walk around the medieval city late into the night (the sun did not set until well after ten o’clock).
The next morning we walked the city again, toured Kilkenny Castle, visited the Black Abbey, St. Canice’s Cathedral, and were shut out of Smithwick’s Brewery due to renovations (which, after our Guinness Brewery visit was not a bad thing).
St. Canice’s Cathedral was well worth the three euros we paid to climb to the top of the thirty meter tall Round Tower and get a 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding countryside. The Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in the city of Kilkenny and is only one of two Round Towers visitors can climb in Ireland.
Being a round tower, I naturally assumed the stairway would be a spiral staircase, but was proved wrong when we began climbing ever-narrowing ladders to get us to the top. Coordinating who comes down and who goes up with other visitors is a necessary skill when traversing the ladders up and down.
Originally, the Round Tower had a cone shaped roof on top, but due to neglect it was eventually removed and now provides great views, weather permitting.
The weather during our visit was sunny and warmer than the locals may have been used to. We witnessed several kids jumping off the two bridges into the River Nore to cool down. The streets were always filled with people walking, shopping, eating a ninety-nine with Flake (if you don’t know what that is, click here — now you know).
On our last night we found our way into Kyteler’s Inn for a pint, a bite to eat, and some wonderful storytelling broken up by a bit of music from time to time. The Bulmer’s cider from the tap was refreshing, the food was good and the storytelling was entertaining. We could not have asked for a better way to end our stay in Kilkenny.
Unlike other towns and villages we visited, Kilkenny had the majority of their retail stores open for business. This was not the case throughout the rest of the Irish countryside. During our visit, in June of 2014, many towns were still recovering from the collapse of Ireland’s economy back in 2008, after a period of rapid growth from 1995 to 2000 known as the “Celtic Tiger.” Kilkenny seemed to be recovering much better than other places we spent time in. A lot of towns with smaller populations and less tourist draws seemed to be struggling to fill their retail space, as well as homes and apartments within the main villages.
I hope that has changed for the better since we visited.
Although our time in Kilkenny was brief, the memories we took home with us will last a lifetime. The city and the people will always have a special place in our hearts.