Both the city and county of Kilkenny are among the top places to visit in Ireland. The city centre is adorned with Norman architecture, and you’ll discover traditional Irish pubs, restaurants, and studios among the medieval alleyways that criss-cross between a castle and a cathedral.
The county boasts centuries of religious history, quaint and cute villages, and a number of jaw-dropping landscapes that you’ll want to spend all day admiring.
So, whether you want to explore the city or get out and enjoy a few day trips in the rolling countryside of Kilkenny County, you’re sure to fall in love with this part of the Emerald Isle. Here are some of the best castles in Kilkenny that you can look out for.
4 Castles to visit in Kilkenny
1. Burnchurch Castle
Around four miles south of Kilkenny on the road to Clonmel, you’ll find Burnchurch Castle – a six-storey tower house. The 15th-century edifice is round and used to have a walled courtyard attached to the tower.
What’s really impressive about Burnchurch castle are the mural chambers and passages, which create an intricate network within the castle. There’s even a “secret room” on the fourth floor.
A lot of the castle’s history is unknown, other than that it was occupied until 1817. It was left to ruin until 1993 when it became the property of the state. Burnchurch Castle is now listed as a national monument.
When: 15th century
Style: Norman Tower House
Open for Visit: Yes
2. Foulksrath Castle
Situated in miles of open Kilkenny countryside, this Anglo-Norman Tower house holds a commanding position where you can see for miles; access to the roof comes via a secret passageway.
During the Conquest of Ireland, its owners were forced to live in outbuildings after Cromwell’s troops confiscated the castle. Foulksrath Castle is around eight miles south of Kilkenny City and was a youth hostel from 1948 until the early 21st century.
The local community had saved it from demolition only a couple of years earlier. At present, the castle is not open to the public as it is undergoing restoration.
When: 14th century
Style: Anglo-Norman Tower House
Open for Visit: Presently undergoing restoration and not open to the public.
3. Gowran Castle
Gowran Castle was restored in 2013 and 2014, but the site has more than 600 years of history before that. Even before the castle was built, Gowran had an important place in Irish history, with the Kings of Ossory having a residence in the area in the 5th century AD.
The original castle was built by James Butler, the third Earl of Ormond, whose burial place you can also see in the village – St Mary’s Collegiate Church. It is the same man who owns Kilkenny Castle. Like many castles in Kilkenny, this one was attacked and badly damaged by Oliver Cromwell in the Conquest of Ireland.
However, the Agar family built a new castle using materials from the original in the 1700s. It later went on to become a cricket club and a private residence before being fully restored. It is now a veterinary clinic.
When: 14th century
Style: Manor House
Open for Visit: 09:00 – 17:00 but this is a working veterinary clinic.
4. Kilkenny Castle
One of the most important attractions in Kilkenny – and one of the most magnificent castles in Ireland – this imposing building has guarded the crossing of the River Nore for more than 900 years.
Incredibly, it has been continuously inhabited during this time as well. Inhabitants have constantly updated and improved the castle; it’s one of the few places you’ll see medieval ruins alongside exquisite 19th-century furniture and antiques.
The extensive gardens have a number of woodland trails, which take you to an ornamental lake and rose garden. The castle is open for regular visits and is also a conference and event venue.
When: 12th century
Style: Medieval and Victorian
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:15 – 17:30 from April to September. 09:30 – 17:00 from October to March.