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Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

Photo of Exterior of Kilkenny CastleOne of the most instantly recognised buildings in Ireland, Kilkenny Castle has been an important site since Strongbow constructed the first castle, probably a wooden structure, in the 12th century.
William the Earl Marshall built the first stone castle on the site, which was completed in 1213. This was a square-shaped castle with towers at each corner; three of these original four towers survive to this day

The Butler family bought the Castle in 1391 and lived there until 1935. They were Earls, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde and lived in the castle for over five hundred years. They were a remarkable family, resilient, politically astute and faithful to the crown and to Ireland as dictated by the politics of the times. These loyalties determined their fortunes and career, and so too the fortunes of their seat

Photo of Interior of Kilkenny CastleThe property was given to the Nation in 1967 and the castle and grounds are now managed by the Office of Public Works. The gardens and parkland adjoining the castle are open to the public and the Parade Tower is a conference venue.

Tours take place every 20 mins during July and August and take approx 45-50 Mins.

We regret to inform you that in order to facilitate essential maintenance,Kilkenny Castle will be closed from Monday 11 December 2006. We will reopen for guided tours on Tuesday 2 January 2007

The Butler Gallery of Contemporary Art featuring the exhibition "It's why [birds] sings" will remain open each day from 10.30am to 12.45pm & 2pm to 5pm until Saturday 23rd. Our apologies for any inconvenience caused

With every good wish
for Christmas and the New Year

Beannachtaí na Nollag
agus na hAthbhliana

Opening Arrangements:
note: Access for visitors with disabilities to ground floor and the gardens only.

Opening Hours
Date DayTime
October - February Daily 09.30 - 16.30
March Daily09.30 - 17.00
April - May Daily 09.30 - 17.30
June - August Daily09.00 - 17.30
September Daily09.30 - 17.30


Admission Charges
Adult.............................. €6.00
Senior / Group (20+)........... €4.00
Student / Child (over 6)....... €2.50

Closed Over Christmas and on Good Friday - Unscheduled closure may also occur over the winter months for essential maintenance; please check site for details.

The Ormond Collection is the most recent publication and it maybe purchased by mail order from the Kilkenny Castle Bookshop.

The Butler Gallery Art collection is also housed in the castle.

The Ormond Collection is the most recent publication and it maybe purchased by mail order from the Kilkenny Castle Bookshop.

The Butler Gallery Art collection is also housed in the castle.

Kilkenny Castle 17th Century

The Butlers in the seventeenth century

The middle of the seventeenth century saw the struggle between the king and parliament in England. In Ireland people were also torn. The Butlers too were caught up in this struggle

A Confederate Council was set up. This breakaway alliance of Irish and Old English held their alternative parliament in Kilkenny for seven years (1642-48), trying to determine their own affairs in Ireland.

Photo looking out Arched window of Kilkenny CastleJames Butler, twelfth Earl of Ormond had been raised in England as a ward of court and had tremendous personal loyalty to both King Charles1 and his son. Prince Charles.Ormond was now the king's Lord Lieutenant in Ireland and Commander of his army, while throughout this time a Butler cousin, Viscount Mountgarrer was prominent in the Confederate Council.

Affairs in England defeated them all. After a civil war, King Charles1 was executed, and Oliver Cromwell proceeded through Ireland ruthlessly restoring his control. In 1650 he attacked Kilkenny, battering the now-missing south wall of the Castle before the town surrendered.Photo of Antique Couch in Kilkenny Castle

Throughout the years of parliamentary control and Ormond's exile. Lady Ormond held on tightly to the Butler lands and properties. Letters she wrote to Cromwell stated that they were her inheritance and so could not be forfeit for her husband's treason. Her claim succeeded. More

The Butlers in the early eighteenth century

In the last years of the seventeenth century, England- and Ireland-was divided again. King James11 had been deposed, and his daughter Mary, with her husband William of Orange, were invited to take the throne. If this developed into a ear in Ireland as James tried to defeat William and reclaim the throne in a series of pitched battles known as 'Cogadh an da R; or the Williamite wars.

The Butlers were naturally involved in this crucial struggle. The second duke, James Butler.was a very famous and experienced soldier who decided to join William's cause, while a catholic cousin, Lord Galmoy, held Kilkenny Castle and entertained King James here. In 1690 the two kings met at the Battle of the Boyne.James was defeated. Ormonde then recovered his castle and was host to King William soon after.

Photo of Staircase in Kilkenny CastleOrmonde was once more closely involved in affairs at court. On the death of Queen Anne, however, he decided to support the Stuart claim to the throne. As this was treasonable, in 1716 Ormonde fled to exile on the continent. In his absence he was found guilty and his estate forfeit. He died thirty years later in Rome.

The Butler estates and titles in Ireland passed to James' brother, Charles, Earl of Arran. He did not claim these. Feeling it politically unwise, and so when he died without an heir in 1758, the titles of Duke and Marquess of Ormonde became extinct. The title of Earl passed to catholic cousins in Kilcash County Tipperary.

By the second half of the eighteenth century, Kilkenny Castle was very badly run-down just as the fortunes of the Butler family and of Ireland were. But outside pressures-the wars with America and then with France-meant that England needed to be sure of Irish loyalty, and so the Penal Laes had to be relaxed.Walter Butler of Garryricken, inherited the Butler titles and lands in 1766, and decided to move into the very dilapidated castle.

His son, John, had married the heiress Anne Wandesford of Castlecomer, and Walter and John spent much of his inheritance on the castle. They re-routed the old approach road away from the castle, built a new road, and then landscaped and planted the Castle Park and the road much as it is today.

They built the beautiful stables and courtyards across this road and finally Walter moved to his newly-built dower house, Butler House beyond those stables.After his father's death, in 1783, John Butler reclaimed the title of seventeenth Earl of Ormonde. This was confirmed in 1791. The Butlers rapidly re-established their position and prestige. They always had large areas of land in Kilkenny and Tipperary, and now were able to become the largest landowners in the south-east.The next earl, Walter Butler, joined fashionable society in London.

He became a companion of the Prince Regent, who subsequently recreated the title of Marquess of Ormonde for him. Partly to sustain his extravagant lifestyle. Walter gave up his hereditary right to the Butler wine tax to the Crown in 1811 for _.000, an enormous sum of money at that time.Walter's brother James would later succeed him, James Butler represented Kilkenny in the Irish parliament in Dublin for four years up to the Act of Union in 1800.He was against replacing the Irish parliament with Irish seats in the House of Commons and Lords in London, but represented Kilkenny for a further twenty years there. More

Kilkenny Castle 19th Century

The Butlers in the nineteenth-century

The nineteenth-century Butlers were typical of their time, very solidly wealthy, with agents who ran their estates very effectively and efficiently. They served with a suitable regiment, married well, and enjoyed their well-ordered lives.

In 1826, a major programme of work started to restore Kilkenny Castle to its supposed 'mediaeval appearance, and also to bring it up to date as a country house with all appropriate modern conveniences. The east wing was completely rebuilt to house the garage family picture collection in a new Long Gallery, and the west curtain wall built out to provide more bedrooms.

For the years 1845-50 Ireland suffered disastrously through the Great Famine. For four years blight destroyed the potato crop and people suffered dreadfully. About a million people died, and a similar number emigrated Landlord's reactions varied, and the Butlers are said to have dealt reasonably with their tenants, reducing or waiving rents in some cases arranging passages to the colonies in others.

In 1854, further work to Kilkenny Castle started. The earlier parte cochere was extended to become the front hall linking the two wings, the Moorish staircase built, and many other details and decorations completed.

Photo of Fireplace in Kilkenny CastleAt the turn of the century, James Butler twenty-first Earl and third Marquess of Ormonde, entertained King Edward V11 and Queen Alexandra here, and later, King George V and Queen Mary. They enjoyed shooting together over Ormonde's vast estates in Kilkenny and Tipperary, they all sailed together at Cowes, and Lord and Lady Ormonde had their place at all state functions.
The eighteenth century in Ireland was the age of the Penal Laws. These were a series of laws designed to ensure protestant control in Ireland by means of a detailed oath of allegiance to the Crown which catholics could not take. This effectively excluded them from parliament, from holding any public office, from entering the law, or from holding a commission in the army or navy. Further laws forbade catholics from buying land, or from renting on other than a short lease. The practice of the catholic religion was also outlawed.


This meant the old gaelic way of life was now in real decline, with their great houses closing. An Irish poet wrote a great lament, "Caoineadh Cill Chais" about the Butler castle of Kilcash and its "good lady", Lady Margaret Butler. He describes how the rich traditional society, which supported many poets like himself, is drawing to an end.

Kilkenny Castle 20th Century

The end of the old order

The entire world changed rapidly in the first half of the twentieth century. The Irish state changed dramatically. During the Civil War, Lord Ossory, son of the Marquess of Ormonde, was caught up in the Irish situation. He later wrote; It was on the morning of 2nd May 1922 that, at the unreasonable hour of 5.30, I was awakened by a knock at the door. My butler appeared and greeted me with 'Excuse me disturbing your Lordship but the Republicans have taken the Castle'. They were immediately besieged by the Free Staters, but the castle was restored to the Butlers after a two-day siege.

The changes in society in Ireland, however, meant that, in the 1950s, the Butlers had to look closely at the viability of maintaining their seat at Kilkenny Castle. In 1955, they decided to leave, and so a great auction was held in the castle.

For five days all the contents of the castle were auctioned off, all that remained in the empty castle was the family collection of paintings and tapestries.

Apart from a brief period of occupation by Irish troops during World War 11, known as 'The Emergency'; Kilkenny Castle stood empty and abandoned.

Restoration Again

In 1967, Arthur Butler, sixth Matquess and twenty-fourth Earl of Ormonde, handed Kilkenny Castle over to the Castle Restoration Committee for the nominal sum of ޮ In an address, he said, The people of Kilkenny, as well as myself and my family, feel a great pride in the Castle, and we have not liked to see this deterioration. We determined that it should not be allowed to fall into ruins. There are already too many ruins in Ireland.

Because of the expense involved in restoring such a castle, the building was taken into state care, under the National Monuments and Historic Properties Service of the Office of Public Works. The early stages of restoration were funded by a generous gift from C. J.Lytle, a London businessman of Irish descent.

After treating the fabric of the entire building for dry rot and wet rot, a phased programme of restoration started. The east was re-roofed and completely restored and opened to the public in 1976.As well as the formal reception rooms of the castle, especially the Long Gallery with its restored picture collection, this wing houses the modern Butler Art Gallery in a ground floor suite of former servant's rooms.

Kilkenny County Council, County Hall, John Street, Kilkenny
Tel: +353 (0) 56 7794000 | Fax: +353 (0) 56 7794004 | Email: info@kilkennycoco.ie | Emergency outside office hours: : 1890 252 654
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