Kilkenny City’s Medieval Walls

Illustration by Ale Mercado
Illustration by Philip Armstrong

County Kilkenny has a rich medieval heritage which includes a number of walled towns and villages, of which Kilkenny City is the best known.  The others are Callan, Gowran, Inistioge and Thomastown.  The National Policy on Town Defences sets out national policy for the protection, preservation and conservation of walled towns and cities.

Kilkenny’s city walls were built by the Anglo Normans in the 13th century.  They gave protection for the colonists living inside, and were a symbol of authority over the native Irish.  The construction of the city walls in the 13th century was the largest civic project ever undertaken in Kilkenny, and measuring over two miles in length, the walls were the longest in Ireland at that time. 25% of the city walls still stand above ground today, the rest remain as archaeology hidden beneath our feet.

City Walls (illustration by Philip armstrong)

City Walls (illustration by Philip Armstrong)

For more information about the city walls see the Kilkenny City Walls Conservation Plan produced by Kilkenny Borough Council, in partnership with the Heritage Council  and the  Medieval Walls of Kilkenny City brochure produced by the Heritage Council.   

Talbot’s Tower
Talbot’s Tower was built around 1270, and then renamed after the 15th century Mayor of Kilkenny, Robert Talbot.  It was one of nine such watch-towers on the city walls.

The original 13th century tower was approximately three-quarters of its current size and had a timber roof.  In the 1400s its height was raised by placing a stone-vaulted roof over the old battlements.

During the 500 years of the turbulent middle-ages soldiers were stationed at Talbots Tower to defend the city.  Oliver Cromwell successfully breached the walls, after a brief siege, in 1650.

Kilkenny City's Medieval Walls: Talbots Tower

The attack on Talbots Tower by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 (illustration by Ale Mercado)

From 1700’s onward Kilkenny enjoyed a sustained period of relative peace and the walls were no longer needed and fell into disrepair.  In the 19th century a pleasure garden was created at the top of the tower.  By the 20th century the tower and adjacent walls were in ruins.

Watchtower to Garden tower

The rooftop garden at Talbot’s Tower in 1850 (illustration, Philip Armstrong)

In 2005, Kilkenny Borough Council, in partnership with the Heritage Council, produced the Kilkenny City Walls Conservation Plan, in order to provide a strategy for the long term survival of the city’s walls.
Kilkenny County Council began the careful rebuilding and conservation of Talbots Tower in 2006, guided by the City Walls Steering Committee.  It was a massive undertaking and  involved commissioning many professionals including engineers, architects, archaeologists, building historians, stone masons, illustrators, landscape architects, gardeners and grounds staff. The project was managed by Kilkenny County Council, with support from the Heritage Council and Government departments. The project was funded by Kilkenny County Council, the Heritage Council and the Irish Walled Towns Network.

Report on the Escavations at Talbots Tower (Coilin O’Drisceoil)

Talbots Tower Park was opened to the public in 2018. The Tower sits in a beautiful small landscaped park, with illustrated panels that tell its story. The park has been planted with pollinator friendly plants to help support our bees. The interpretive panels have been made into a booklet, see here.   If you would like a hard copy of the brochure email heritage@kilkennycoco.ie
Opening Hours
Talbots Tower Park is open 7 days a week from 8.00am until 8.00pm (Free)
Entrance to the tower and roof is by appointment only.
Email kilkennyareaoffice@kilkennycoco.ie for appointments.

Talbots Tower and interpretive panels (photo courtesy of Dylan Vaughan)

City Walls at James Street
St. James’s Gate, which ran across James Street at Tilbury Place, was one of seven gatehouses built in the city walls by the Anglo Normans in the 1300’s. Outside the walls was a thriving suburb where the poorer Irish craftworkers lived and traded. It was also a meeting place for Irish pilgrims to gather before they set off to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

St. James’s Gate in the 13th Century (illustration by Philip Armstrong)

In the 1880’s this area developed into a centre for education and religion with the construction of St. Mary’s Cathedral, the CBS and the Presentation Convent.

By the early 1800’s St James’s Gate was in ruins, and a new Catholic quarter was flourishing outside the wall (illustration Ale Mercado)

Two interpretive signs marking Kilkenny’s City Walls, and telling about the history of St. James’s Gate; one sign is located at the corner of James Street and Tilbury Place, and the other is on the grassy area in front of the City Wall on Chapel Lane. The signs were co-funded by Kilkenny County Council, the Irish Walled Towns Network and Kilkenny CBS Secondary School. They are part of a series of City Walls signs developed by Kilkenny County Council to highlight the fascinating history and stories of Kilkenny’s medieval City walls. Design and artwork was by Ale Mercado; archaeological illustration by Philip Armstrong; and archaeological and historical research by Coilín O’Driscéoil, Kilkenny Archaeology.

 

 

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