By Gemma Grant
Kilkenny castle, completed in 1213, was placed on a strategic height overlooking the River Nore. The stronghold consisted of a square-shaped castle with curtain wall and four strong round towers at each corner. Three of the original towers have survived to this day.
It was the pièce de résistance of William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke and Crusader Knight. Marshal was husband to Isabel, granddaughter of the King of Leinster, Dermot Mac Murrough, credited with bringing the Normans to Ireland in 1169.
The couple, with ten children, still found time to embark on a building boom. Along with castle building and maintenance, they undertook the rebuilding of the town, safely enclosing Norman merchants, English, Flemish and Dutch workers, within the fortified walls of the new English town. They also paid for the building of Churches and Abbeys around the South East region.
The story is told that Isabel, saved the castle from attack when her husband was away on business in England. Although heavily pregnant, she managed to lower a man in a basket down the castle walls, instructing him to bring back reinforcements.
She saved the day, took hostages and punished them severely. On his return, William Marshal disagreed with his wife’s treatment of the prisoners. Isabel was less than pleased and, with the blood of the Celts in her veins, informed her husband that they got what they deserved.
William and Isabel’s days as Lord and Lady of Kilkenny castle ended with their deaths in 1219 and 1220 respectively. Their male heirs produced no children and the castle was eventually bought in 1391 by the powerful Norman-French FitzWalter family.
The FitzWalters came to England with William the Conqueror and expanded into Ireland during the Norman invasion.
For services rendered, the Crown granted the FitzWalter lineage large tracts of land in Ireland. Their vast estates were to be found in Nenagh, Cahir, Roscrea, Kilcash and Thurles.