Kilkenny Castle dates back to the 12th Century whilst the imposing stable yard, with its crescent-shaped building, circular windows and copper-domed tower, was built by the Duke of Ormonde in 1790.
In 1963 these buildings were converted to house Kilkenny Design Workshops (KDW), a state-sponsored design initiative aimed at improving the design of Irish products and increasing exports. Under the leadership of William H. Walsh the buildings were acquired and converted, opening initially with five workshops - silver and metalwork, textile weaving, textile printing, ceramics, and woodworking. Designers from across Europe were employed as lead designers and mentors, making Kilkenny a centre of design excellence, and contributing significantly to the development of contemporary craft practice in Ireland. KDW officially opened in November 1965 and operated until its closure in 1988, however many of the original designers stayed and established studios in the area, such as goldsmith Rudolf Heltzel, who originally came to Kilkenny in 1966 to head the KDW silver and metal workshop.
Today the Castle Yard is owned by Kilkenny Civic Trust and is home to a number of thriving craft and design businesses where it is possible to watch skilled craftspeople at work.
These include JMK Goldsmiths, who as well as creating fine jewellery, also made one of Ireland’s most prized artifacts, the MacCarthy Perpetual Challenge Cup (commonly referred to as the McCarthy Cup), a trophy awarded annually by the Gaelic Athletic Association to the hurling team that wins the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. Castle Arch Pottery is also situated in the Yard, where potter Ray Power can be seen throwing and decorating his distinctive and colourful pottery range.
Entrance to the Yard is through an arched gateway spanned by the Kilkenny Design Centre, whose timber-beamed ceilings and stone walls contain a restaurant serving delicious Irish food and an extensive craft shop featuring Irish-made products. The Castle Yard is also home to the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, the country’s design and economic development organization for craft and design.
Situated in the heart of the city, the Castle Yard forms a natural and scenic link from Kilkenny Castle itself, to the beautifully-restored walled garden of Butler House, the Georgian Dower House of the Castle.