Kilkenny Castle

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume II, Chapter XIII-5 | Start of chapter

The entrance into Kilkenny, and the romantic view of the castle of the Ormondes rising above the river, reminded us strongly of one of the views of Warwick Castle. The first impression of the town from a cursory glance is extremely fine; the Cathedral of St. Canice, the castle, and other very imposing structures, coming into almost every view, from the unevenness of the ground, and the happily chosen sites of all these edifices. Kilkenny is divided into two parts, called Irish-town (the neighbourhood of the cathedral) and English-town (that of the castle); the latter thrifty-looking and well-built, and having an air of gentility, in which many of the second-class Irish towns are rather deficient.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

The morning after our arrival, some friends were kind enough to accompany us to KILKENNY CASTLE, which is being modernised within and un-modernised without; the old furniture giving place to the luxuries of London in our own time, and the walls and towers undergoing castellation. We were first taken through the gardens and conservatories, laid out and supported in princely magnificence; and thence we crossed the public road to the castle, which we were most civilly shown "from turret top to donjon keep." You would scarce fancy yourself in a castle, however, in any part of it; and our own recollections are principally of the views from the windows, which were unequalled for picturesque richness, particularly one from a balcony overhanging the Nore. We should not forget, however, a picture of a marchioness of Ormonde, which struck us exceedingly, and one or two very choice old cabinets. Historically, this castle is one of the most interesting in Ireland.

There is perhaps no baronial residence in that country that can boast at the same time of a foundation so ancient, a situation so magnificent, and so many historical associations as the princely residence of "the chief butler of Ireland," Kilkenny Castle. It appears to have been originally built by Richard de Clare (Strongbow) as early as 1172; but this structure having been destroyed by Donald O'Brien, King of Limerick, it was rebuilt in 1195 by William Lord Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, in the possession of whose descendants it remained till the year 1391, when it was purchased by James Butler, the third Earl of Ormonde, from Thomas le Spencer, Lord of Glamorgan and Kilkenny, whose grandfather, Hugh, acquired it and the Earldom of Gloucester in marriage with Eleanor de Clare, third sister and coheir of Gilbert, ninth Earl of Clare and Gloucester. From this period to the present it has been the chief residence of the illustrious house of Ormonde; and we trust will long continue so. Here, in 1399, the earl had the honour of receiving King Richard II., and of entertaining that sovereign for fourteen days.

In March, 1650, when the city was invested by Cromwell, and its defence entrusted to Sir Walter Butler, the cannon of the former were opened on the castle, and a breach was effected on the 25th, about mid-day; but the besiegers were twice gallantly repulsed, and the breach was quickly repaired. On this occasion it was said that Cromwell, apprehending a longer resistance than suited the expedition necessary in his military operations at the time, was on the point of quitting the place, when he received overtures from the mayor and townsmen, offering to admit him into the city. He accordingly took possession of Irish-town, and being soon after joined by Ireton with fifteen hundred fresh men, "Sir Walter Butler, considering the weakness of the garrison, few in number, and those worn out for want of rest by continued watching, and hopeless of relief, determined to execute Lord Castlehaven's orders, which were, that if they were not relieved by seven o'clock the day before, he should not, for any punctilio of honour, expose the townsmen to be massacred, but make as good conditions as they could by a timely surrender. A parley was beaten, and a cessation agreed on at twelve o'clock the next day, when the town and castle were delivered up." The articles of capitulation were highly creditable to the garrison; and it is recorded that Sir Walter Butler and his officers, when they marched out, were complimented by Cromwell, who said "that they were gallant fellows; and that he had lost more men in storming that place than he had in taking Drogheda, and that he should have gone without it, had it not been for the treachery of the townsmen."

Of the original castle, as rebuilt by the Earl of Pembroke, but little now remains. It was an oblong square, of magnificent proportions, with four lofty round towers at its angles. This castle was re-edified by the first Duke of Ormonde, towards the close of the seventeenth century, in the bad style of architecture then prevailing on the Continent, a taste for which had probably been imbibed by the duke in his repeated visits to France. It retained, however, three of the ancient towers, but changed in character, and disfigured by fantastic decorations, to make them harmonise in style with the newer portions of the building. That structure has again been removed by the present marquis, and one of better taste, the subject of our present Engraving, erected on its site, preserving, however, the ancient towers, and restoring them to something like their original character. The architect is Mr. Robertson, of Kilkenny.

The interior of the castle is adorned with its original collection of ancient tapestries and pictures, valuable as works of art, but still more as memorials of some of the most distinguished historical personages of the two last centuries.

Nothing can be finer than the situation of Kilkenny Castle, placed on a lofty eminence, immediately overhanging that charming river,—

"..... The stubborn Newre, whose waters grey

By fair Kilkenny and Rosse-ponte broad."