Kilkenny (from Irish: Cill Chainnigh meaning "Cell or church of Cainnech/Canice") is the traditional county town of County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the meandering River Nore, at the centre of County Kilkenny in the province of Leinster in the south-east of Ireland. We along with our friends decided to visit Kilkenny over the long weekend in June. We hired a Paddy Wagon tour bus and started from Old Jury’s Hotel (now D4 hotel) from Ballsbridge Dublin. The drive to Kilkenny from Dublin takes around 2 hours. It was a usual wet Irish morning and we prayed for sky to clear up to make it a memorable day but by the time we started from Dublin it was pouring heavily.
We stopped for a short break at Kildare Village outlet shopping centre which has around 50 luxury boutique shops. The shopping centre is beautifully built and is designed as a place where tourists heading towards Kilkenny can take a short break. Some of our friends did shopping at the branded stores out there. The weather was still gloomy and it was putting a dampener on our plans but we still had some hope. Everyone had brought lot of food and the drive towards Kilkenny was a pleasant one over good Indian snacks and the melodious tunes of Bollywood music.
As if somebody up there was heeding to our prayers, by the time we started approaching Kilkenny the rain had stopped and sky had started to clear up. In Ireland they have a famous saying that at Ireland one can see four weathers in a day and lo.. the gloomy rainy day had turned into the bright sunny one by the time we entered Kilkenny.
Kilkenny is a popular tourist destination in Ireland. The history of Kilkenny (from Irish: Cill Chainnigh meaning "Cell or church of Cainnech/Canice") began with an early sixth century ecclesiastical foundation, this relates to a church built in honor of St. Canice, now St. Canice’s Cathedral and was a major monastic centre from at least the eighth century. The Annals of the Four Masters recorded the first reference Cill Chainnigh in 1085. In 1609 King James I of England granted Kilkenny a Royal Charter giving it the status of a city. In 2009 the City of Kilkenny celebrated its 400th year since the granting of city status in 1609. The Architecture of Kilkenny shows Kilkenny’s heritage through the historical buildings and other landmarks of the town. Kilkenny is a well preserved medieval town and is dominated by both Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice’s Cathedral and round tower. Kilkenny Castle and some important historical architecture of the medieval city survive, like parts of the Kilkenny City Walls. They define the extent, layout and status of the medieval town. The town grew from a monastic settlement to a thriving Norman merchant town in the Middle Ages. Saint Canice’s Cathedral and round tower are an example of the monastic settlement and Rothe House is an example of a Elizabethan merchant townhouse.
We arrived at Kilkenny castle around noon and the first thing that struck us was the grandeur and the beauty of it. Kilkenny Castle in Kilkenny city was the seat of the Butler family. Formerly the family name was FitzWalter. The first stone castle was begun in 1204 by William Marshall the site was completed in 1213; it was a symbol of Norman occupation and in its original thirteenth-century condition it would have formed an important element of the defenses of the town. There were four large circular corner towers and a massive ditch, part of which can still be seen today on the Parade. This was a square-shaped castle with towers at each corner; three of these original four towers survive to this day.
The castle was sold to the local Castle Restoration Committee in the middle of the 20th century for £50. Shortly afterwards it was handed over to the State, and has since been refurbished and is open to visitors. After the castle was taken over by the Office of Public Works, new entrances were created to give access to the park. The entrance near the Parade Tower has nineteenth-century cast iron gates that came originally from Saint Stephen’s Green. The open parkland to the south of the castle been replanted with emphasis on trees and shrubs that provide year round color. Pathways have been restored and some have been extended. Part of the National Art Gallery is on display in the castle. There are ornamental gardens on the city side of the castle, and extensive land and gardens to the front. It has become one of the most visited tourist sites in Ireland.
There is an official guided tour of the castle for the visiting tourists. But before the tour we decided to take lunch as everybody was feeling hungry after the long drive from Dublin. We spread our picnic sheets on the beautiful gardens overlooking the castle and had lunch together. The kids were hungry but they were more interested running around the gardens but the tasty food had brought them back soon. After the lunch we started with the annotated tour of Castle beginning at the entrance gateway to the courtyard, this is designed to complement the official self guided tour. The guidebook follows the tour, room by room, providing additional insights to the architecture, decoration, furnishings, and paintings of the castle. It also covers intriguing medieval spaces and features beneath the ground floor of the present building, which are not included in the official guided tour. Unfortunately the photo shoot is not allowed so its not possible to take pictures of the beautifully restored bedrooms and meeting rooms inside the Castle. The tour gives a glimpse of the life at kingly castle in medieval times. The exit of the tour takes you into the well groomed castle gardens on the west side of the castle. Its a beautiful garden with axial paths radiating from a central fountain and retains much of the basic form that could have been there during the ducal period. The existing fountain is probably the base of an original seventeenth century water feature. Two lead statues stand on pedestals near the castle: one is of Hermes after the original in the Vatican Collection, and the other is of Diana the Huntress. All of the garden features, including the terracing, have been recently restored. The children liked the garden a lot and wanted to stay there for more but we decided to drive over to our next stop.
The next stop was Dunmore Cave which is eleven kilometers north of Kilkenny City and, is formed by limestone which was laid down over 300 million years ago. It contains almost a quarter of a mile of passages and at its deepest point is 150 foot below the surface. The beauty and magic of its calcite formations as well as its scientific and historical interest make it one of Ireland’s most fascinating caves. Its presence has been known for years but it is only recently that attempts have been made to unravel its history. In 928, the Dunmore Cave was the site of a Viking massacre. Mention of the cave was made in the 9th century Irish Triads.
Since 1940, when the cave became property of the State, it has been a National Monument because of its historic interest. Today, stairs and walkways and an extensive lighting system have been installed to aid access and viewing. There is restricted plant and animal life in and around the cave primarily due to the lack of sunlight. The cave did at one time support a bat colony and bat skeletons can be seen encrusted in the calcite limestone. The tour starts with a small film that provides basic information on how the caves and caves in general were formed. The tour is very well done and took about 50 minutes and involved a lot of stairs to go in and come back out, but you were well prepared for it before entering. The guide explained in detail how the caves were formed and its historical importance that how the cave is known in Old Irish literature as one of the darkest places in Ireland and as the place where the monster Luchtigern ‘The Lord of the Mice’ was slain, this cave was plundered by Godfry and the Vikings of Dublin in 928. In this raid, 1,000 people were killed, and the numerous human bones found in the cave are thought to be the remains of the victims.
The cave is divided into three main parts, of which Haddon Hall and chambers leading off it are difficult to access. The wide entrance shaft leads to the second part, which is the main chamber. Ahead lies a high chamber which is practically a cul-de-sac, while the portion to the left has a floor of eccentric blocks and a stalagmite on the east wall. From here an ascent leads to the third part, the chamber with the ‘Market Cross’ – a huge stalagmite in the middle of the triangular chamber. To the right and left of the chamber are other dripstone formations, and the blocks forming the floor are covered in stalagmite bosses.
All of us including children were intrigued by the natural beauty inside the cave but were too tired after coming out of the caves as there were hundreds of stairs to climb up and down.
After visiting a man made castle and a natural cave in a single day we were left to wonder which was more beautiful and intriguing but thankfully we don’t have to choose between them and can enjoy the splendor of both the monuments.
The drive back to Dublin was again a pleasant one and after a heavenly day in Kilkenny we went to bed mesmerized by its beauty….