In this blog we will explore some of the many sites and landmarks for you to explore and visit in Kilkenny city. Most of the visited landmarks in the city are in an area known as Ireland’s Medieval Mile.
It is a trail of discovery through the narrow streets and corridors of Kilkenny city. Bookended between the majestic Kilkenny Castle at one end and St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower at the other, the medieval mile offers many wonderful sights including Shee Alms House, Rothe House & Garden, Smithwick’s Brewery, Graces Castle, Kytelers Inn & The Hole in the Wall.
Shenanigans Walks will show you all of these on route and tell you the history & stories of the buildings & people to inspire you to #KeepDiscovering.
Here in Part One we will give you some information on each and you can plan out your visit, Parts Two and Three will discuss places to eat, drink, stay and look at the surrounding county.
Kilkenny is a popular destination for both international & domestic visitors. Kilkenny caters for all with a wide range of accommodation options, restaurants, bars many with live Irish music, plenty of shopping and river and park walks for relaxation. Also known as the festival capital, Kilkenny has the greatest number of festivals in Ireland throughout the year including the “Kilkenny Cats Laugh”
comedy festival, “Kilkenny Arts Festival”, “Smithwick’s Roots” music festival, “Savour Kilkenny”, food festival to name just a few – see a full calendar of activities here.
Beyond the beating heart of Kilkenny and city walls you have Kilkenny county with picturesque towns, villages, countryside, history, landmarks and activities for all awaiting your discovery #KeepDiscovering. In the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East surrounded by five counties of – Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary, Carlow, and Laois making Kilkenny the perfect central location as a base for your journey of discovery, exploration and relaxation
Kilkenny Castle the starting point for our Shenanigans Walks is one of the most renowned attractions not just in Kilkenny but Ireland. The original site of a wooden fort built by Norman invader Strongbow, later the castle and fortified walls were built by his son-in-law William Marshall in the 12th Century. Subsequently in the 14 th century the castle was bought by the Butler Family and over the century’s made a number of renovations. The Butlers remained in the castle until 1935. The castle is open to visitors with audio tours available to purchase. It is advisable to book tickets in advance during peak season.
The castle rose garden and parkland are free of charge with inviting woodland walks, duck pond, children’s playground and access to the river and canal walks. Popular with locals it is a perfect place to stretch your legs, throw a frisbee or have a picnic. Escape into nature with course Instagram opportunities to tease & brag about with every step. Light refreshments available in the castle kitchen
and outdoor café.
Opposite the castle is the Castle Yard – originally the castle’s stable yard, built in 1790 by the Duke of Ormond. In the 1960’s the Castle Yard became the home to the Kilkenny Design Workshops, where you can visit workshops and watch skilled artists, craftspeople at work – from woodworking to silverwork, metalwork, textiles, and ceramics. You will also find the Kilkenny Design Centre, where
you can purchase local craft products & gifts and grab a bite to eat. It is also the home of the National Craft Gallery where local and international designers exhibit their creations and collections. On your stroll through the castle yard you’ll discover a narrow entrance leading into the beautiful hidden gem Butler House & garden.
Built for Lady Eleanor Butler in 1783, it was passed down through the Butler family for generations and in the 1970’s was restored by Kilkenny Design & opened as a guesthouse to the public. The landscaped gardens have been restored to their original splendour and are well worth a visit and a great place to relax for a bit.
Shee Alms House was built by the Shee family in the late 1500s. A home and safe haven for the poor which operated until the 1830s is a great example of a Tudor period building for architecture buffs. It was home to Kilkenny Tourist Office until 2019 when they moved to a new location at 79 High Street. At the rear of the house you will be on one of Kilkenny’s narrow corridors or lane ways and just
a few steps away is St Mary’s Church is a prime example of an Irish medieval church. Now home to the Medieval Mile Museum you’ll find replicas of relics from the city’s legacy as a monastic settlement such as Ossory High Crosses, as well as touring exhibitions.
Tholsel – Town Hall
Tholsel is a name given to public or government buildings in old Irish towns and cities – deriving from old English words ‘tol’ (meaning toll or tax) and ‘sael’ (meaning hall) – indicating a building where taxes are collected. Architecture fans will enjoy the limestone façade constructed in 1761 and still standing strong, home to many hidden stories.
The Hole in the Wall
The tavern originates from the 16th century – one of Ireland’s oldest surviving townhouses. It gets its name, quite literally, from a hole that was knocked in the wall at the back of the building to gain access from the High Street behind the house.
Now reopened as a public house the Hole in the Wall tavern is abuzz with cultural events and entertainment – from music and dance to literature and art.
The Butter Slip
Be transported back in time and imagine how the streets looked in Medieval times. The Butter Slip is a wonderful example of the narrow stone streetscape from the Middle Ages. Built in the 17 th Century between two houses to connect High Street and St Kieran’s Street. It is a picturesque alleyway with stone cobbled steps and an arch entryway. A popular location for buskers as the slip amplifies their music and songs (do stop and give them a dance and a clap and if you wish a little thank you tip).
Kilkenny was the site of Europe’s first witchcraft trials. Kyteler’s Inn is one of Ireland’s oldest inns, dating back to the 13th Century. The owner and innkeeper, Dame Alice de Kyteler, was married four times. She was accused of using poison and sorcery when all four husbands died under suspicious circumstances, leaving to her an amassed fortune. Dame Alice disappeared but her maid was flogged and burned at the stake. Kyteler’s Inn today is a pub in which you can enjoy food, drink and traditional music sessions until the early hours.
Today it is Kilkenny Courthouse, but this building has a long history. Built in 1210 and home of the wealthy Grace family until the mid 1500s when it was converted to a prison and finally Kilkenny’s courthouse in the 18th Century.
Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny
The Smithwick’s Experience– Site of the former Smithwick’s brewery where you will hear about the Smithwick’s family and their importance to Kilkenny and experience the story of a 300 year brewing history and finish with a little taste of the famous ale.
Rothe House & Garden
Across the street from Smithwick’s is Rothe House, built in 1594 is a journey into the past. The wealthy Rothe family were also a very important & influential family who can be discovery on a visit to the house as well as discovering many artefacts. The court yards link the three homes and offer a glimpse into life of the times. The walled garden is also an insight to life in these times and one of my favourite spots to bring a coffee and sit on a bench listening to the songs of the birds and busy bees.
A true haven amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.
The Black Abbey
The beautiful medieval stone architecture of the Black Abbey is inviting. At the entrance there is a collection of 13 th Century tombs. On entering you are greeted with a kaleidoscope of colour as daylight spills through the magnificent stained-glass windows including Ireland’s largest Rosary Window.
Black Freren Gate
In the shadow of the Black Abbey is Black Freren Gate. It is the only gate still standing from the old Norman walls of the city erected in the 12th Century. The gate originally connected the monastery to the town, and the friars of Black Abbey held the key. Another great photo opportunity (SMILE)
St. Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower
The 13 th Century Cathedral and 9th Century Round Tower (the oldest structure in the city) which is one of only two towers in Ireland that can still be climbed. The Cathedral and Round Tower are built on the site of the original monastic settlement established by St Canice in the 6th Century and lots to explore inside. No visit to Kilkenny is complete without scaling the tower to capture three hundred and sixty degree view of the city and county.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
This building is for fans of Gothic architecture, having been built in the 1800s, cut from Limestone and based on the design of Gloucester Cathedral in England. It features a beautiful limestone altar, also in gothic style.
Talbot Tower is the only surviving complete defensive tower of the fortified walls of Kilkenny City, dating back to 13 th Century. The tower would have sat at the south-west of the city’s walls as a defence look-out. It is open free of charge to visit, and set in a small park with seating and interesting story boards about the tower and walls.
St. John’s Priory
St John’s Abbey also called St John’s Priory was established by the Augustinian monks in the 1200s and became a centre for scholarly activity, worship and culture. The Augustinians inhabited the priory until the mid-15 th century. When it was handed over to the state under the rule of Henry VIII. Over the years much of the structure was destroyed and in the 1800’s underwent renovations. It is noted for its
many spectacular windows.
Magdalen Castle (Maudlin Castle)
Magdalen Castle, also known as Maudlin castle, was a hospital built during Medieval times. It eventually became a hospital to house lepers when leprosy spread through Ireland in the 10th-11th Century – hence it was given its name, as Mary Magdalen has long been associated with lepers. At another stage in its history it also served as a retirement home for the elderly of wealthy families, including the Shee and Rothe families.
Evans Home (Butler Gallery)
NEW Butler Gallery moved from Kilkenny Castle. Evans home is a little known building in Kilkenny but has a rich history. Formally the site of St John’s Priory, it later became a military barracks. The current building was created at the bequest of Joseph Evans in 1818 as a Servants’ Asylum and was a home right up until the 1980’s. More to come soon…….
The Famine Experience
Set in the restored Union Workhouse , now the MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre, you can take a free AV tour telling you the story of the discovery of 970 human remains from the Irish Famine period. Also the story of the Saul Brothers who sought refuge in the workhouse in 1841.