1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kilkenny (city)

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18719311911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15 — Kilkenny (city)

KILKENNY, a city and municipal and parliamentary borough (returning one member), the capital of county Kilkenny, Ireland, finely situated on the Nore, and on the Great Southern and Western railway, 81 m. S.W. of Dublin. Pop. (1901), 10,609. It consists of Englishtown (or Kilkenny proper) and Irishtown, which are separated by a small rivulet, but although Irishtown retains its name, it is now included in the borough of Kilkenny. The city is irregularly built, possesses several spacious streets with many good houses, while its beautiful environs and imposing ancient buildings give it an unusual interest and picturesque appearance. The Nore is crossed by two handsome bridges. The cathedral of St Canice, from whom the town takes its name, dates in its present form from about 1255. The see of Ossory, which originated in the monastery of Aghaboe founded by St Canice in the 6th century, and took its name from the early kingdom of Ossory, was moved to Kilkenny (according to conjecture) about the year 1200. In 1835 the diocese of Ferns and Leighlin was united to it. With the exception of St Patrick’s, Dublin, the cathedral is the largest ecclesiastical building in Ireland, having a length from east to west of 226 ft., and a breadth along the transepts from north to south of 123 ft. It occupies an eminence at the western extremity of Irishtown. It is a cruciform structure mainly in Early English style, with a low massive tower supported on clustered columns of the black marble peculiar to the district. The building was extensively restored in 1865. It contains many old sepulchral monuments and other ancient memorials. The north transept incorporates the parish church. The adjacent library of St Canice contains numerous ancient books of great value. A short distance from the south transept is a round tower 100 ft. high; the original cap is wanting. The episcopal palace near the east end of the cathedral was erected in the time of Edward III. and enlarged in 1735. Besides the cathedral the principal churches are the Protestant church of St Mary, a plain cruciform structure of earlier foundation than the present cathedral; that of St John, including a portion of the hospital of St John founded about 1220; and the Roman Catholic cathedral, of the diocese of Ossory, dedicated to St Mary (1843–1857), a cruciform structure in the Early Pointed style, with a massive central tower. There are important remains of two monasteries—the Dominican abbey founded in 1225, and now used as a Roman Catholic church; and the Franciscan abbey on the banks of the Nore, founded about 1230. But next in importance to the cathedral is the castle, the seat of the marquess of Ormonde, on the summit of a precipice above the Nore. It was originally built by Strongbow, but rebuilt by William Marshall after the destruction of the first castle in 1175; and many additions and restorations by members of the Ormonde family have maintained it as a princely residence. The Protestant college of St John, originally founded by Pierce Butler, 8th earl of Ormonde, in the 16th century, and re-endowed in 1684 by James, 1st duke of Ormonde, stands on the banks of the river opposite the castle. In it Swift, Farquhar, Congreve and Bishop Berkeley received part of their education. On the outskirts of the city is the Roman Catholic college of St Kyran (Kieran), a Gothic building completed about 1840. The other principal buildings are the modern court-house, the tholsel or city court (1764), the city and county prison, the barracks and the county infirmary. In the neighbourhood are collieries as well as long-established quarries for marble, the manufactures connected with which are an important industry of the town. The city also possesses corn-mills, breweries and tanneries. Not far from the city are the remarkable limestone caverns of Dunmore, which have yielded numerous human remains. The corporation of Kilkenny consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors.

Kilkenny proper owes its origin to an English settlement in the time of Strongbow, and it received a charter from William Marshall, who married Strongbow’s daughter. This charter was confirmed by Edward III., and from Edward IV. Irishtown received the privilege of choosing a portreeve independent of Kilkenny. By Elizabeth the boroughs, while retaining their distinct rights, were constituted one corporation, which in 1609 was made a free borough by James I., and in the following year a free city. From James II. the citizens received a new charter, constituting the city and liberties a distinct county, to be styled the county of the city of Kilkenny, the burgesses of Irishtown continuing, however, to elect a portreeve until the passing of the Muncipal Reform Act. Frequent parliaments were held at Kilkenny from the 14th to the 16th century, and so late as the reign of Henry VIII. it was the occasional residence of the lord-lieutenant. In 1642 it was the meeting-place of the assembly of confederate Catholics. In 1648 Cromwell, in the hope of obtaining possession of the town by means of a plot, advanced towards it, but before his arrival the plot was discovered. In 1650 it was, however, compelled to surrender after a long and resolute defence. At a very early period Kilkenny and Irishtown returned each two members to the Irish parliament, but since the Union one member only has been returned to Westminster for the city of Kilkenny.

The origin of the expression “to fight like Kilkenny cats,” which, according to the legend, fought till only their tails were left, has been the subject of many conjectures. It is said to be an allegory on the disastrous municipal quarrels of Kilkenny and Irishtown which lasted from the end of the 14th to the end of the 17th centuries (Notes and Queries, 1st series, vol. ii. p. 71). It is referred also to the brutal sport of some Hessian soldiers, quartered in Kilkenny during the rebellions of 1798 or 1803, who tied two cats together by their tails, hung them over a line and left them to fight. A soldier is said to have freed them by cutting off their tails to escape censure from the officers (ibid. 3rd series, vol. v. p. 433). Lastly, it is attributed to the invention of J. P. Curran. As a sarcastic protest against cock-fighting in England, he declared that he had witnessed in Sligo (?) fights between trained cats, and that once they had fought so fiercely that only their tails were left (ibid. 7th series, vol. ii. p. 394).