County Kilkenny takes its name from the city of Kilkenny. Kilkenny is the anglicised version of the Irish Cill Chainnigh, meaning Church (Cell) of Cainneach or Canice. This probably relates to the church and round tower, now St. Canice’s Cathedral, which was built in honour of St. Canice.
The Kingdom of Osraige was one of the ancient Kingdoms of Ireland. The Kings of Osraige, the Mac Giolla Phádraig family, reigned over Osraige and Cill Chainnigh was their stronghold. The Kingdom of Ossory existed from at least the 2nd century until the 13th century AD. The current ecclesiastical dioceses of that area is still known as Ossory. The medieval Diocese of Ossory and was established in 549 AD, and its territory corresponded to the medieval Kingdom of Ossory. In historic times, Kilkenny replaced Aghaboe as the chief church in Osraige.
The kingdom was bounded by two of the Three Sisters the rivers Barrow and Suir and the northern limit was, generally, the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The Osraige —their name means people of the Deer— inhabited much of modern County Kilkenny and parts of neighbouring County Laois. To the west and south, Osraige was bounded by the River Suir, to the east the watershed of the River Barrow marked the boundary with Leinster, and to the north it extended into and beyond the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The River Nore ran through the Kingdom.
Osraige formed the easternmost part of the kingdom and province of Munster until the middle of the 9th century, after which it was attached to Leinster. Osraige was largely a buffer state between Leinster and Munster. Its most significant neighbours were the Loígsi, Uí Cheinnselaig and Uí Baircche of Leinster to the north and east and the Déisi Muman, Eóganacht Chaisil and Éile of Munster to the south and west.
The name Osraige is said to be from the Usdaie, a celtic tribe that Ptolemy’s map of Ireland places in roughly the same area that Osraige would later occupy. The territory indicated by Ptolemy probably included the major late Iron Age hill-fort at Freestone Hill which produced some Roman finds. Also the interesting burial at Stonyford which is of typical Roman type and probably dates to the 1st century AD. The Osraighe themselves claimed to be descended from the Érainn people. Others propose that the Ivernic groups included the Osraige of the Kingdom of Osraige/Ossory. The Brigantes were the only Celtic tribe to have a presence in both England and Ireland, in the latter of which they could be found around Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford.
Pope Adrian IV gave Norman King Henry II of England permission to claim Ireland 1154. The Cisternians came to Jerpoint and Kilkenny around 1155/60. Jerpoint Abbey is founded by Donal MacGiollaPhadruig, King of Ossory 1158. In 1168, Dermot MacMurrough the King of Leinster was driven out of his kingdom by Rory O’Connor the High King of Ireland with the help of Tiernan O’Rourke. MacMurrough looked for help from Henry II and got help from a Cambro-Norman lord notable Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, known to history as Strongbow. MacMurrough secured the services of Richard, promising him the hand of his daughter Aoife of Leinster and the succession to Leinster. Richard and other Marcher barons and knights by King Henry assembled an army. The army, under Raymond le Gros, took Wexford, Waterford and Dublin in 1169 and 1170, and Strongbow joined them in August 1170. The day after the capture of Waterford, he married MacMorrough’s daughter, Aoife.
The Lordship of Ireland was a lordship created in the wake of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169—71. Kilkenny formed part of the lordship of Leinster. Strongbow became Lord of Leinster in 1171.
Following the Norman invasion, the island of Ireland was divided into thirty-two counties. The Republic of Ireland today is made up of twenty-six of the traditional thirty-two counties with the other six forming Northern Ireland. Two former counties in the Republic have been subdivided, giving a modern total of twenty-nine counties for administrative purposes rather than twenty-six.
It is thought that humans had established themselves in the Lough Gur area of the county as early as 3000 BC, while megalithic remains found at Duntryleague date back further to 3500 BC. The arrival of the Celts around 400 BC brought about the division of the county into petty kingdoms or túatha.
From the 4th to the 12th century, the ancient kingdom of the Uí Fidgenti was approximately co-extensive with what is now County Limerick, with some of the easternmost part the domain of the Eóganacht Áine. Having finally lost an over two-century-long conflict with the neighboring O’Briens of Dál gCais, most of the rulers fled for County Kerry and soon after that County Cork. Their lands were almost immediately occupied by the FitzGeralds and other Norman families, who permanently prevented their return. The ancestors of both Michael Collins and the famous O’Connells of Derrynane were among these princes of the Uí Fidgenti. The Norse-Irish O’Donovans, descendants of the notorious Donnubán mac Cathail, were the leading family at the time and were responsible for the conflict.
The precise ethnic affiliation of the Uí Fidgenti is lost to history and all that is known for sure is that they were cousins of the equally shadowy Uí Liatháin of early British fame. Officially both are said to be related to the Eóganachta but a variety of evidence suggests associations with the Dáirine and Corcu Loígde, and thus distantly the infamous Ulaid of ancient Ulster. In any case, it is supposed the Uí Fidgenti still make a substantial contribution to the population of the central and western regions of County Limerick. Their capital was Dún Eochair, the great earthworks of which still remain and can be found close to the modern town of Bruree, on the River Maigue. Catherine Coll, the mother of Éamon de Valera, was a native of Bruree and this is where he was taken by her brother to be raised.
Christianity came to Limerick in the 5th Century, and resulted in the establishment of important monasteries in Limerick, at Ardpatrick, Mungret and Kileedy. From this golden age in Ireland of learning and art (5th – 9th Centuries) comes one of Ireland’s greatest artefacts, The Ardagh Chalice, a masterpiece of metalwork, which was found in a west Limerick fort in 1868.
The arrival of the Vikings in the 9th century brought about the establishment of the city on an island on the River Shannon in 922. The death of Domnall Mór Ua Briain, King of Munster in 1194 resulted in the invading Normans taking control of Limerick, and in 1210, the County of Limerick was formally established. Over time, the Normans became “more Irish than the Irish themselves” as the saying goes. The Tudors in England wanted to curb the power of these Gaelicised Norman Rulers and centralise all power in their hands, so they established colonies of English in the county. This caused the leading Limerick Normans, The Geraldines, to revolt against English Rule in 1569. This sparked a savage war in Munster known as the Desmond Rebellions, during which the province was laid to waste, and the confiscation of the vast estates of the Geraldines.
The county was to be further ravaged by war over the next century. After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Limerick city was taken in a siege by Catholic general Garret Barry in 1642. The county was not fought over for most of the Irish Confederate Wars, of 1641-53, being safely behind the front lines of the Catholic Confederate Ireland. However it became a battleground during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649-53. The invasion of the forces of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s included a twelve month siege of the city by Cromwell’s New Model Army led by Henry Ireton. The city finally surrendered in October 1651. One of Cromwell’s generals, Hardress Waller was granted lands at Castletown near Kilcornan in County Limerick. During the Williamite War in Ireland (1689–1691) the city was to endure two further sieges, one in 1690 and another in 1691. It was during the 1690 siege that the infamous destruction of the Williamite guns at Ballyneety, near Pallasgreen was carried out by General Patrick Sarsfield. The Catholic Irish, comprising the vast majority of the population, had eagerly supported the Jacobite cause, however, the second siege of Limerick resulted in a defeat to the Williamites. Sarsfield managed to force the Williamites to sign the Treaty of Limerick, the terms of which were satisfactory to the Irish. However the Treaty was subsequently dishonoured by the English and the city became known as the City of the Broken Treaty.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw a long period of persecution against the Catholic majority, many of who lived in poverty. In spite of this oppression, however, the famous Maigue Poets strove to keep alive their ancient Gaelic Poetry in towns like Croom and Bruree. The Great Famine of the 1840s set in motion mass emigration and a huge decline in Irish as a spoken language in the county. This began to change around the beginning of the 20th century, as changes in law from the British Government enabled the farmers of the county to purchase lands they had previously only held as tenants, paying high rent to absentee landlords.
Limerick saw much fighting during the War of Independence of 1919 to 1921 particularly in the east of the county. The subsequent Irish Civil War saw bitter fighting between the newly established Irish Free State soldiers and IRA “Irregulars”, especially in the city.