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County Kilkenny

County Kilkenny is nestled in the centre of Ireland’s southeastern region. Its land is charmingly rural in nature, and includes more than a few peaceful farms located along the winding rivers. Medieval buildings, survivors from an era long past, dot the countryside and pop up amid the more modern structures within the towns. They range in condition from the impeccably well restored to the enchanting ruins. The Gaelic name for Kilkenny City is Cill Choinigh, pronounced "kill kunnig",  which translated, means Canice’s Church. The town was named after St. Canice, and County Kilkenny takes its name from this small but lively city – now known as a centre for local design and crafts. Examples of the work of local crafters can be found at the many quaint shops and marketplaces about town. 


County Kilkenny is one of the favourite regions for visitors who come to Ireland, and with good reason. It offers a variety of enjoyable opportunities to experience Irish history, culture and entertainment and take part in the everyday life of its residents. One popular place to do examine the local history and learn about the people of the area is Kilkenny Castle, which is distinctive among Irish castles in its design. This particular fortress had its origins back in 1172 when Richard de Clare (Strongbow) first placed a lookout structure on the site. His son-in-law built a stone castle on the area a few decades later. The Kilkenny Castle of today is open to the public for visitation and displays exhibits of historical memorabilia that once belonged to the area’s former ruling family, the Butlers. Jerpoint Abbey is a medieval monastery that has occupied its location on the banks of the River Arragle since the latter part of the 12th century. The abbey has a captivating history to reveal to visitors, along with an amazing collection of medieval art and relics. The building itself can be considered a work of art because of its architectural design, which includes the presence of quite a few attractive and unique decorative carvings. Kilkenny City is the heart of the county, also known as Ireland’s medieval capital. Well-preserved buildings from the middle ages sit side by side with stylish townhouses that were built and at one time inhabited by the local aristocracy during the Georgian era, when Kilkenny City was among the most fashionable places in Ireland. The city today is thriving due to its current focus on the arts, traditional crafts and design. The presence of crafters and artisans is evident in the wide selection of speciality shops, galleries and craft centres. Kilkenny City also features striking examples of religious architecture. St. Canice’s Cathedral, an awe-inspiring example of a traditional house of worship, has a 102 ft high round tower located on its grounds. Black Abbey is widely famous for its antique stained glass window art. Among the notable examples of secular architecture, Rothe House exemplifies the elegance of the Tudor Era and Kyteler’s Inn is the oldest of its kind in Kilkenny City – and has a famous ghost story associated with it, involving the first witch trial in Europe. County Kilkenny also offers dramatic natural beauty to enjoy at Dunmore Cave, a three-chambered complex which has been designated as a national monument and is filled with some of the largest and most intricate calcite formations in all of Europe. Traditional stories tell about the days long ago when the caves were used by the locals as a hiding place during the vicious Viking raids. 


County Kilkenny is located within the boundaries of the former kingdom of Ossory, an ancient domain of Leinster province. It was ruled by King Cerball during the ninth century. His ancestors rose to fame and power in Kilkenny, along with those of the famous families of Mc Morrough and Butler. Kilkenny Castle was created from necessity during the violent period surrounding the Norman Invasion in 1172. Initially, it existed as a wooden guard tower erected by Richard de Clare. His successor and son in law, William Marshall, replaced it with the stone castle that is visible today in 1195. Kilkenny City served as the Catholic capital of Ireland during the English Civil War in the mid seventeenth century. It functioned as the administrative centre where the citizens from near and far came to form an Irish parliament, known as the Confederation of Kilkenny. The parliament held its meetings here from 1293 to 1408. Citizens joining together fronted a strong opposition to the persecution of Catholics, sustaining their effort until Oliver Cromwell destroyed it in 1650. The Statutes of Killkenny were written and enacted by the Confederation of Kilkenny in 1366. They were designed to prevent the intermarriage of the Anglo-Normans to the native locals and to preserve the integrity of the Gaelic language and cultural traditions. During the nineteenth century, the citizens of County Kilkenny passed an initiative that helped to ease the pervasive poverty made worse by the landlords who took advantage of their tenants and often drove them to workhouses with exorbitant rents, tithes, and all too frequent evictions. In Callan Village, the Tenant Protection Society was created to control rents and evictions in response to nationwide urgings of Catholic champion Daniel O’Connell. 

Kilkenny Surnames

Popular Kilkenny surnames include:

  • Breen
  • Brennan
  • Brien
  • Burns
  • Butler
  • Cantwell
  • Carroll
  • Delaney
  • Dowling
  • Dunne
  • Earley
  • Fitzpatrick
  • Gore
  • Grace
  • Holly
  • Howlin
  • Marshall
  • Murphy
  • Phelan
  • Plunkett
  • Power
  • Purcell
  • Rochford
  • Ryan
  • Shea
  • Shortall
  • Sweetman
  • Walsh


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