Before the Normans came in the 12th century, Kilkenny's houses clung to the 6th century monastery of St Canice and the settlement was the capital of Ossory, a subkingdom of Leinster. But the strategic possibilities of the hilltop site were quickly grasped by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who built a castle there in 1192.
At times, kilkenny vied with Dublin in importance, and numerous Irish parliaments were held there. In 1391 the lordship was brought by James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde, one of a family that figured prominently in Ireland's uneasy history.
The Castle was the principal seat of the Ormondes from 1391 to 1935, and during that time evolved from medieval castle to Restoration chateau to Victorian country house. It is this last period that most influnces the interior. The long picture gallery with painted beams contains portraits by Kneller, Lely, Van Dyke and the pre-Raphaelites. Kilkenny Castle saw its last struggle in the Civil War of 1922, when it was taken over by Anti-Treatyites (who opposed the treaty with Britain dividing Ireland). But they surrended peaceably after two days. The Castle's creeper-clad walls rear above the clear waters of the River Nore. Its great drum towers make it look a mixture of a child's toy fort and French chateau. It occupies three sides of a square - the fourth was destroyed in 1659, opening up a splendid view across parkland to distant hills.