County Kilkenny

Kilkenny City is 48km (30 miles) N of Waterford, 81km (50 miles) NW of Wexford, 121km (75 miles) SW of Dublin, 137km (85 miles) SE of Shannon Airport, 148km (92 miles) NE of Cork, and 61km (38 miles) NE of Cashel

Kilkenny City the centerpiece of County Kilkenny and the Southeast's prime inland city, is considered the medieval capital of Ireland because of its remarkable collection of well-preserved castles, churches, public buildings, streets, and lanes. But, perhaps more interestingly for shoppers, it's also the national center for crafts and design, with perhaps the country's best selection of pottery, woodwork, jewelry, and other handmade items. Its lively pub and entertainment circuit (including several comedy festivals throughout the year) also make Kilkenny a top weekend getaway destination for Dubliners and Corkoni-ans. The bad news is that this newfound popularity comes at a price, and we've witnessed soaring hotel rates in Kilkenny in recent years.

Situated along the banks of the River Nore, Kilkenny (pop. 11,000) takes its name from a church founded in the 6th century by St. Canice. In the Irish language, Cill Choinnigh means "Canice's Church."

Like most Irish cities, Kilkenny had fallen into Norman hands by the 12th century. Thanks to its central location, it became a prosperous walled city and served as the venue for many parliaments during the 14th century. Fortunately, much of Kilkenny's great medieval architecture has been preserved and restored, and the basic town plan has not changed much with the passing of the centuries. It's still a very walkable community of narrow streets and arched lanes.

The oldest house in town is purported to be Kyteler's Inn on St. Kieran Street. It was once the home of Dame Alice Kyteler, a lady of great wealth who was accused of witchcraft in 1324. She escaped and forever disappeared, but her maid, Petronilla, was burned at the stake. Now restored, the inn is currently used as a pub and restaurant, but it retains an eerie air, with appropriately placed effigies of witches and other memorabilia and decorations.

One building that stands out on the streetscape is the Tholsel, on High Street, with its curious clock tower and front arcade. Otherwise known as the city hall, it was erected in 1761 as the tollhouse or exchange. Milk and sugar candy were sold here, and dances, bazaars, and political meetings were also held here. Today, completely restored after a fire in 1987, it houses the city's municipal archives.

Primarily a farming area, the surrounding County Kilkenny countryside is dotted with rich river valleys, rolling pasturelands, gentle mountains, and picture-postcard towns. Don't miss Jerpoint Abbey, on the River Nore just southwest of Thomaston on N9, one of the finest of Ireland's Cistercian ruins. Also on the Nore is the village of Inistioge about 24km (15 miles) southeast of Kilkenny City. Inistioge has an attractive tree-lined square and a much-photographed 18th-century bridge of nine arches spanning the river.

The town of Graiguenamanagh—its name means "village of the monks"—is home to Duiske Abbey. Surrounded by vistas of Brandon Hill and the Black-stairs Mountains, Graiguenamanagh is at a bend of the River Barrow, about 32km (20 miles) southeast of Kilkenny City.

Kells, about 9.7km (6 miles) south of Kilkenny City (not to be confused with Kells in County Meath), is the only completely walled medieval town in Ireland. The extensive curtain walls, seven towers, and some of the monastic buildings have been well preserved.

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