Kilkenny City takes its name not from the Irish Ale now so popular around the world but from a humble monk named Canice who founded a religious settlement here on the banks of the River Nore in the 6th century. Once the medieval capital of all Ireland, Kilkenny has today firmly established itself as the nations’ liveliest inland city. To be a city, one ideally needs to have a cathedral and here Kilkenny comes up trumps. St. Canice’s is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Western Europe. It is sited on the presumed location of Canice’s original monastic settlement, on a hilltop near the River Brosna, a tributary of the Nore. The bulk of the church was built in the 13th century and substantially restored in the early 19th century. Visitors are welcome to confront their fear of heights and clamber up a spiral staircase of a Round Tower built so petrified monks could hide from axe-wielding Vikings. St Canice’s is home to an intriguing array of monuments to the dead, some dating to the early days of the Anglo-Norman invasion.
The Black Abbey offers another excellent slice of medieval history. It was built for the Dominicans in 1220 by the remarkable William Marshall, a man who unseated Richard the Lionheart in a jousting tournament, bullied King John into signing Magna Carta, married the sole heiress of Strongbow and Aoife, toured the Middle East on several Crusades and encouraged rabbit breeding in Ireland because he liked the taste of them. Kilkenny is a city synonymous with arts and craft par excellence. Some of the finest shopping is to be found in the Kilkenny Design Centre, former stables to the Ormond’s horses. But jewellers, woodworkers, potters and craftsmen of great skill are burrowed down many a side-street or slip-way and again, one only need ask for directions.