Transformation from medieval fortress to renaissance dwelling

During the course of his long life Thomas (1531-1614), 10th Earl of Ormond, began the changes that were to convert the late medieval fortress of Kilkenny Castle into a more modern and comfortable dwelling, though still within the stout encircling walls. Having already transformed Ormond Castle in Carrick on Suir during the 1560s and 70s, in 1580-81 it is recorded that ‘This year Thomas Earl of Ormond began the great gallery and the roofing of the Tower over the Nore in the great Castle of Kilkenny’.

This would suggest that the Long Gallery, which was situated on the second floor of the central block, was being built at this time and that the roof of the North Tower was raised to that level. A local man, Robert Fraine (Freney or de Freney) is credited with this work. It is also probable that Thomas made improvements to the setting at the castle similar to those at Ormond Castle, where he is known to have extended his gardens and orchards.

Based on evidence from inventories of the earl’s goods we know that the interiors of Kilkenny Castle were lavishly furnished at that time. There would have been priceless Flemish tapestries hanging on the walls, furnishings covered in sumptuous cloth of gold fabric with lace, and embroidered velvet fabrics would have been used on beds, curtains, canopies, cushions, and chairs.

Silver bowls, spoons, and damask linens would be used at the table; paintings to decorate the walls, while beds would be dressed with velvet curtains, damask sheets, topped with silk covered quilts.


The Great Sale

When Thomas died without a legitimate male heir, the bulk of the Ormond properties, including Kilkenny Castle, were taken over by his daughter Elizabeth and her second husband Richard Preston, Lord Dingwall (d.1628). Under their ownership some interiors in the castle were refurbished. New tapestries for the Great Chamber and tawny velvet bed hangings were ordered from London as well as gold and silver fringing ‘for beds chairs and stools’. Following the sudden deaths in 1628 of both Elizabeth and her husband there were further complications in the Ormond inheritance and a great sale of the contents of the castle took place in 1630. An inventory taken at that time lists only sixteen chambers within the buildings and describes bare interiors, indicating that at least some of the rooms had been stripped of their contents.