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The 18th century gate of Kilkenny Castle (Laurent Prat / Adobe Stock)

Kilkenny Castle is Voted Among the Most Beautiful in the World

Castles will always hold particular fascination, partly because they were at the heart of so many dramatic events in history. One of the most famous in Ireland is the beautifully restored Kilkenny Castle, once owned by one of the most important families in Irish history. It has been named as ‘one of the 10 most beautiful castles’ by Architectural Digest , standing proudly with other winners such as the Palace of Versailles and Windsor Castle.

A Glimpse into the History of Kilkenny Castle

The castle has played an important role in the history of Ireland. It was first built by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke but better known as Strongbow, in about 1173. He played a crucial role in the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland. Kilkenny Castle overlooks the Nore River and was used to guard the tactical river crossing for over 900 years.

The Normans likely built their fortress on a Gaelic Irish center and the first castle would have been a wooden bailiwick , later rebuilt in stone. Strongbow’s only legitimate heir married William Marshall, one of the largest landowners in the British Isles and France. The first stone castle was finally completed in 1260.

The 18th century gate of Kilkenny Castle ( Laurent Prat / Adobe Stock)

The castle passed to Sir Gilbert De Bohun, a powerful English noble, but was later seized by the crown and sold in 1391 to the Butlers, a leading Anglo-Irish family. They ruled the surrounding area with a great deal of autonomy and protected the Pale (area of English control) from the raids of the Gaelic Irish. Lady Margaret Butler, one of the descendants, was the paternal grandmother of Anne Boleyn . James Butler, later the Duke of Ormond, inherited the castle and was loyal to the Crown during the English Civil War.

Portrait of Anne Boleyn based on a contemporary portrait which no longer survives (Public Domain)

Portrait of Anne Boleyn based on a contemporary portrait which no longer survives ( Public Domain )

During a siege in 1650, the castle was damaged by Parliamentarian forces under the command of Oliver Cromwell . James Butler returned to Kilkenny Castle with the restoration of Charles II and remained close to the king.

By the 18th century, the castle was in near ruins because of the decline in the family fortunes. The Butler’s fortune’s revived after the 17th Earl of Ormond married an heiress. With her dowry he rebuilt his ancestral home . In the 19th century, the castle was regarded as one of the finest stately homes in the British Isles.

During the Irish Civil War, Kilkenny Castle was occupied by rebels and briefly besieged by government forces. The Butlers left the castle in the 1930s as they were unable to maintain their former home once again near ruin. The family voluntarily transferred the property to the people of Kilkenny. 

The nursery in Kilkenny Castle, Ireland (Public Domain)

The nursery in Kilkenny Castle, Ireland ( Public Domain )

A committee was formed, and the members worked tirelessly for many years to restore the fortress to its former glory. Today, Kilkenny Castle has been completely restored and is a popular tourist destination.

The Magnificence of Kilkenny Castle, Ireland

Much of the castle was re-built in the 17th and 19th century and while many have described the additions as eccentric, others have likened the castle to something from a fairytale. The most authentic medieval remains are the towers which retain many of their original features. Part of the original ditch that once encircled the fortress can still be seen.  

The entrance to the castle is via a massive gate built in a classical style that dates from the 18th century. This leads into a large rectangular courtyard, flanked on three sides by buildings and towers.


The interiors of the castle are authentic and give us great insights into the life of the aristocracy of the past. The center of the stately home is a magnificent hall which has original furniture and furnishings, all painstakingly restored. Among the other impressive areas in the castle are the dining room, a Victorian nursery, and the picture gallery with its hand-painted beam roof.  The Victorian kitchen is also popular with visitors. Many of the Butler family’s priceless paintings and tapestries still hang on the walls.

The magnificent Butler gallery of Kilkenny Castle (Public Domain)

The magnificent Butler gallery of Kilkenny Castle ( Public Domain )

The castle is set in many hectares of rolling parkland and the splendid fountain at the entrance of the castle, is particularly noteworthy. The west wing of the castle is now a conference center. 

Visiting Kilkenny Castle

The castle is located in the heart of Kilkenny. A fee is charged to enter the interior of the castle, which is open all year round. It is possible to take a self-guided tour. Kilkenny city has a number of Medieval buildings such as St Canice’s Cathedral where the Butler family tombs can be seen.

Top image: Kilkenny Castle                    Source:  Ben Burger / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

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