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A history of St. Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny Ireland

Canice's cathedral and round tower (remnant of an earlier monastery and proto-urban community.)

Saint Canice's Cathedral is a structure from the early Anglo-Norman period of Kilkenny, built upon the site of an ancient monastic settlement.

Monastic settlements were the closest approximation to urban centers in Ireland before the Viking cities of the 10th century, and the walled monastery on the site where Canice's Cathedral now stands was therefore an important establishment long before the arrival of the Normans. The round-tower on site is the only visible, above-ground monastic remnant, and it's about 1000 years old.

The political-economic importance of Kilkenny grew after the arrival of Anglo-Normans in southeast Ireland in A.D. 1169, and their town here soon attained the seat of ecclesiastical power within the diocese of Ossory*

The diocese of Ossory comprises most of modern County Kilkenny and includes a "peninsula" of several parishes northward into County Laois and a small "island" parish in County Offaly.

It was in this island parish, Sier Kieran, that the church originally maintained its bishop's office and cathedral — the episcopal "see," [from Latin sedes, seat.] ...

Saint Canice himself, from whose Gaelic name derives the English-language "Kilkenny," established a monastery in Aghaboe, in the north of Ossory at about A.D. 580. (He probably also established the monastery here on the site of St. Canice's Cathedral.) The Synod of Rathbreasail, around A.D. 1100, moved the episcopal see from Sier Kieran to the monastical settlement there at Aghaboe.

At around 1190, three decades after the Anglo-Norman invasion of southeastern Ireland, and near to the time that they retook the land at the bend in the river here on the site of modern Kilkenny, Bishop Felix Dulaney (Delaney, O'Deleaney) moved Ossory's episcopal see from Aghaboe to Kilkenny.

Sources tell various tales. It seems that the Normans, expelled after their original incursion in 1169, had returned in about A.D. 1190 with enough force to take back the hill on which the castle came to stand. Sources also tell that the church moved its episcopal see to Kilkenny at about the same time, in recognition of the imminence of the town. If both of these are fact, then the growth of Kilkenny to importance had happened rapidly.

In 1202, Dulaney either 1.) died, 2.) established foundation of the new cathedral, or 3.) both. But, regardless of the specific year, it was at about this time that Kilkenny started to build its first cathedral, the physical manifestation of the office of the seating of the bishop in this parish.

Following the 2011 traditional White House visit on Saint Patrick's Day by the Taoshioch, officials officially announced that President Obama would be visiting Ireland in May. The itinerary, clearly planned much earlier, was rumo(u)red to include plans to visit Saint Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny.

Saint Canice's has been renovated on several occasions.

In the witchcraft case of A.D. 1324, in which Alice Kyteler was convicted of involvement in dark magic, her son William Outlawe received a lighter sentence. (The court sentenced her to death, but she escaped and disappeared.) The son, apparently only complicit in her sins, received orders that he would serve pennance. Mr. Outlawe was to attend mass three times per day; to feed a certain number of the poor; and he was to re-surface the roof of the cathedral with sheets of lead. That's one version of the story, anyhow. Most versions of the story end pretty much the same: the roof of the cathedral collapsed.

In 1332 the first major renovation began.

In 1650 the English military-and-political leader Oliver Cromwell captured the cathedral and, it is said, used it for stabling his horses. He disinterred all of the corpses buried there and moved them elsewhere. The cathedral, naturally, required another major renovation after the expulsion of Cromwell's forces.

The architect Sir Thomas Newenham Deane in 1863 organized another renovation of the cathedral. His work was not as successful as much of his other work across the republic, at least if his conflict with caretakers of the property, associated with the Church of Ireland, is taken as a testament.

In 1871 the Church of Ireland was disestablished, meaning that this minority congregation (associated with the Anglican [British] church and "reformed," as such, in the 16th century) was no longer due its obligatory tithing from the Irish citizenry. Since then, Saint Canice's Cathedral has been under state care as a national monument.

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* A diocese, in Catholicism, is the administrative territory supervised by a bishop. Ossory was, and is, upon the territory of an ancient kingdom by the same name.

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