Kilkenny Castle stands dramatically on a strategic height that commands a crossing on the River Nore and dominates the ‘High Town’ of Kilkenny City. Over the eight centuries of its existence, many additions and alterations have been made to the fabric of the building, making Kilkenny Castle today a complex structure of various architectural styles.
The original Anglo-Norman stone castle was built for William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke (c.1146-1219) during the first decade of the thirteenth century. Kilkenny Castle later became the principal Irish residence of the powerful Butler family for almost 600 years. The Butler ownership began when James (c.1360-1405), 3rd Earl of Ormond, purchased the castle in c.1391, and lasted until 1967 when Arthur, 6th Marquess of Ormonde (1893-1971), presented it to the people of Kilkenny in return for a token payment of £50.
The buildings have been in the care of the Office of Public Works since 1969, and many important programmes of archaeological excavation, conservation, and restoration have been carried out there.
The Building of the Castle
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 colour. Pathways have been restored and some have been extended.
On the west side of the castle, a formal garden with axial paths radiating from a central fountain 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.
Lords of the Castle
The Marshal family builders of the first stone castle; The Walter/Butler family; A family tree of the Butler/Ormond family, prefaced by a summary of their origins and with illustrated portraits of some of the most famous and colourful members of that family.