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Kilkenny Castle-
The Early Phase

Kilkenny Castle is one of the prime tourist spots in Ireland and is in the care of the OPW (Office of Public Works.) Because the castle remained a family residence for some six hundred years, it underwent many architectural changes over the centuries. The castle was lovingly restored by their architects and master craftsmen who chose to restore it as it would have looked in the 1830ies. Little remains today of the early medieval castle that I want to focus on on this page.

Kilkenny Castle and the river Nore

Kilkenny Castle and the river Nore.

History Of The Early Castle

Kilkenny Castle is one of the earliest Norman stone castles to be built in Ireland.

It was built by William Marshall (c. 1146-1219) starting in 1195 and completed around 1210. William Marshal was the 4th Earl of Pembroke and by marrying Isabel De Clare became son in law to Richard De Clare also known as Strongbow, the man credited with initiating the Norman invasion of Ireland.

The location of the castle was perfectly chosen, on a high plateau overlooking a fording point in the river Nore. It was not the first fortification here. Previously, this spot was the seat of the Gaelic kings of the area and most likely there was a stone fort or a ring fort in place at this location before the Normans built their first motte and bailey.

Medieval Norman knight and arrow loop window in the medieval room of the castle.

Facts About The Early Castle

  • Instead of actual windows which are a later addition to the castle, the medieval castle featured arrow loops. See them on the photo above. arrow loops were designed for defensive purposes- for shooting arrows through them. The few remaining arrow loops at the castle will show you just how thick the walls really are.
  • Arrow loops feature granite keystones. Granite of course is a very hard and enduring rock which supports the softer limestone structure.
  • Recent excavations on the site revealed a timber structure which preceded the stone castle. Archaeologists now believe that Kilkenny Castle itself might have been the original Strongbow fortification. Strongbow and a band of knights were present at Kilkenny.
  • In 1307 the first images of the castle were recorded showing it as a ‘keepless castle’ consisting of four towers, surrounded by a moat which encircled various other buildings including a chapel and a great hall. The original castle was a military stronghold, and designed with strong defences. Three of the original four towers survive.
  • The North West Tower has the oldest rooms still in existence in the castle today, dating back to the 13th century.
Model of a Norman knight displayed in the medieval room of the castle.

Norman knight guiarding the stairs at Kilkenny Castle

  • The early castle was strongly defensive. Instead of windows as we know them there were arrow loops in the thick castle walls.
  • There was a moat and a double, in parts treble, curtain wall. The Medieval castle had an outer and an inner courtyard, similar to Cahir Castle, with the inner courtyard providing an added later of safety for the residents.
  • To illustrate the importance of Kilkenny castle, kings stayed here including King Richard II of England who came for a month in 1395.
  • Excavations at the tower found a medieval sallyport here, dating to the times of medieval siege warfare. A sallyport was a facility for the besieged to launch surprise attacks from on any potential attackers of the castle, without compromising the security of the castle itself. These surprise attacks on the enemy were called ‘sallies’.
  • The castle had a very steep batter wall, a sloping foundation aiding in the defence of the castle during medieval siege warfare.
Medieval wickerwork in the ceiling of the castle's medieval room shows us how the Normans built vaulted structures.
  • The wattle and daub ceiling on the photo above in the North West tower’s oldest room is medieval. The builders used willow branches for the framework. The original function of this structure was not as wall plaster as you might think. Instead, it was part of a wooden support structure that enabled the builders to erect a vaulted structure on top.

More About Medieval Irish Castles

Fascinating Castle History

  • The castle had a defensive moat also, which was filled up during the 17th century.
  • The castle’s walls were built of limestone which was quarried nearby.
  • More About Kilkenny Castle: Find out about changes made to the castle during the 600 years of serving as a butler family residence and find tourist information about the castle including our special tips and opinion.

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