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Sitting on the banks of the River Nore, in the Nore valley sits the city of Kilkenny. Colloquially as the Marble City, Kilkenny is a beautiful small inland city, located in the south-east of Ireland. The marble in its nickname refers to the carboniferous limestone that is mined in the area. Kilkenny black marble a distinctive type of limestone that is dark in colour and has a lustrous shine when polished. Indeed, the footpaths of the city in days past were paved with this limestone in the form of flagstones, which glistened when wet. On wet evenings, the street lights reflected on the footpath which were highly polished with wear, showing that distinctive marble shine.
Known in the Gaelic tongue as Cill Channaigh (which means Church of St. Canice, who was a famous Irish saint) Kilkenny is a famous Irish city with a long history, but it is now combined with a more contemporary feel with its culture, vibrancy and entertainment. It is well known as a tourist town and this can be seen in the city itself. There is so much to see and do in the city and surrounding area that you will need to allow lots of time to fully immerse yourself in Kilkenny.
The origins of Kilkenny date back to the mid-6th century, where similar to lots of other towns and cities in Ireland, there were ecclesiastical settlements but there are also thought to have been even earlier settlements dating back to stone and bronze age. It was a major monastic centre from around the 8th century but it was in the early stages of the next millennium that Kilkenny really started to make its mark. The first mention of Cill Channaigh was in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1085, which is a highly important ancient text involving the kingdoms of Ireland. The town continued to grow, and following the Norman invasions, a castle and town walls were built. In 1609 King James I of England granted Kilkenny a Royal Charter giving it the status of a city, which it is still to this day despite its small size and population of just under 25,000.
Travelling to Kilkenny is relatively easy. It is equidistant between Cork and Dublin meaning you can fly to either city and the motorway network allows fast travel to Kilkenny from there by car. Rail and bus connections can also transport you from either city centre. Shannon airport is also less than a 2 hour drive away and frequent buses will get you quickly across to Kilkenny.
Now that you have arrived in Kilkenny, there is so much to see and do in the city. Unsurprisingly, given its long history, many of the sights in the town hark back to its religious and medieval buildings and settlements and subsequent structures. Two cathedrals are situated in the city, the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s, and the Church of Ireland St. Canice’s. St. Canice’s is by far the oldest, along with its accompanying round tower, it dates back to the 13th century and is the second largest cathedral in Ireland. Be sure not to miss an opportunity to gaze across the magnificent architecture of these buildings.
Kilkenny castle was built over the late 12th and early 13th century by the 1st Earl of Pembroke to control a number of strategic points in the city, notable on the River Nore. It is an original Norman castle and it was passed into the hands of the people of Kilkenny nearly 50 years ago. The castle is maintained by the Office of Public Works, and restorations have been carried out, meaning the castle and surrounding gardens are open to the public so why not take a tour of the castle in. Part of the original town walls, which hemmed in medieval Kilkenny, still exist and you can see remnants if the walls and towers in various locations around the city. Other old sights to visit would be Rothe House, St. Mary's Cathedral, Kells Priory, Kilkenny Town Hall, Black Abbey and Jerpoint Abbey, which are all dotted throughout the city. Why not take a walking tour and try and see how many you can discover!
Moving on from religious and medieval infrastructure, Kilkenny has so much more to offer. Kilkenny is known internationally as the home of the renowned Cat Laughs Festival. Held over the June Bank Holiday weekend, this draws in the best of Irish and International comedians. The festival takes over the city for the weekend and you are sure to have a barrel of laughs there. Due to popularity, be sure to have a look and book well in advance. For those less hectic times, why not take in the Kilkenny Arts Festival. Held later in the summer in late August, Kilkenny is host to numerous contemporary art performances, including Film, Theatre, Dance, Visual Art, Literature, Sculptures/Paintings and various live performances. Various musical events catering for Traditional, Classical, Jazz and World music also take place over. The festival is very varied so there is something for everyone and is not to be missed.
For the more specialist small music festival, the Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival is held on the first weekend in May every year and features the Bluegrass, Folk and Americana artists in various venues throughout the city. Indeed, some of these venues such as the Watergate Theatre play host to numerous music, theatre and dance events all year round. Summer is definitely the ideal time to take in a festival visit to Kilkenny.
For the sporting types, Kilkenny Golf Course is located within the city itself meaning easy access for the casual golfers among you. However, Kilkenny is better known as the home of the Cats, the GAA hurling team which are the most successful team in Irish history. Hurling is an ancient Irish sport, played on a grass field with long sticks and a small ball. It can be said to resemble a mix of hockey and lacrosse, but it does predate both these sports. Known as the fastest field sport in the world you may be able to catch a glimpse of one of the best teams in recent time during the summer months.
For getting out and about, Kilkenny has many green areas and parks where you can take it easy and get lost in your surroundings. Castlecomer Discovery Park is a woodland estate opened to the public in 2007 and it has already won numerous awards for best attraction in the city and surrounding area. For the more adventurous, the nearby Dunmore cave give an insight in history and geology of the area in the sight of this wonderful cave.
Following your traipses around the city, it is now time for vital sustenance. Kilkenny is home to many wonderful and varied eateries, where you will find all manner of local and international cuisine. From the award winning Ristorante Rinuccini, where you will be served some of the best Italian food in the area, to Anocht Restaurant (which means tonight in Gaelic) where the best of local produce and current techniques combine to give you a taste of contemporary, modern Irish food. Claddagh Restaurant is also not to be missed. From the high end and award winning locations, why not amble around and find your own little corner of Kilkenny where simple food is cooked with passion. For traditional Irish fare, Billy Byrnes will serve you at very reasonable prices.
Following an exceptional meal, round off an evening with a tour of some of Kilkenny's best pubs. Well known for its nightlife (indeed many a great stag or hen party was held here) you can catch most types of atmosphere in Kilkenny. If you are looking for a quiet pint of Guinness to while away the evening with a book, you will find many traditional Irish pubs in the city. For a little more bustle, some of these bars will hold a traditional Irish music session on many of the evenings. Take a seat in a corner and watch some of Ireland's best musicians play the night away, and join in with a buladh bus when they stop between songs to take breath. If you are looking for something more lively, there are a number of more chic and modern bars. Move from here to many of the nightclubs where you can party the night away to your heart's content. Kilkenny also has many sports bars where you can catch that important match that you do not want to miss.
If you intend visiting the city for some of the wonderful summer festivals, for that weekend stag or hen party trip, or if you are in the area for a longer more quiet time, Kilkenny has many accommodation solutions for you. If you are on a budget or with a large group check out local deals and special offers on cheap and pleasant 2 star hostels and hostels in the area such as MacGabhainns Backpackers hostel, and The Club House Hotel in the city centre. There are also many guesthouses, B&B’s and family friendly hotels with swimming pools. Check out The Kilford Arms Hotel, Zuni Hotel, The Kilkenny Arms Hotel and O’Malleys Guesthouse, for those looking for that little bit more. Leave nothing to chance on the more sophisticated and luxury hotels with spas and pools.
The Kilkenny Hotel, The River Court Hotel, and The Kilkenny Ormonde are all 4 star hotels located very close to the city centre and are the type of higher end but still reasonably priced hotel that will provide for all your needs. For the ultimate in luxury, try the Lyrate Estate, a spectacular award winning 5 star hotel with spa and pool located on an estate just outside the city. Your every whim will be catered for and looked after here. Be sure not to miss this. If your visit is last minute, or if you are planning far in advance, you will be sure to get the best deal on the hotel accommodation you require in Kilkenny.