The Black Abbey is a Dominican priory was founded in 1225AD by William Marshall the younger, Earl of Pembroke. At that time, Kilkenny town was divided in two, with one half Irish, and the other half English. The two sections of the town were built on opposite sides of the River Bregach. The Black Abbey was built outside the walls of both towns, near the river, as a means of demonstrating its independence.
In 1540AD, the abbey was confiscated by the English crown, but the Dominican community was allowed to continue in residence. They remained until 1603AD, when King James I ordered that the building be converted into a courthouse.
Between the years of 1642-1649AD, during the outbreak of the English Civil War, The Black Abbey served as the meeting place for the Confederate Assembly of Kilkenny. This was a synod held by the Irish Catholic clergy with the intention of achieving unity between the old Irish aristocracy, and the English Catholics, with a view to serving both the English throne under James I, and also Catholicism. It served as a provisional government intended to oversee Irish rule until such a time as the English Civil War was settled.
However, the Catholic Church in Rome saw the assembly as an opportunity to restore their full power in Ireland, whereas the English elements of the assembly favoured a negotiated religious settlement. As a result, civil war eventually broke out within the Confederacy, and the assembly met for the final time in 1649AD.
The following year, Cromwell's army laid siege to Kilkenny. Upon the town's surrender, The Black Abbey was sacked.
In 1776AD, the Dominicans once again took possession of the abbey, initially by renting it from the crown. In 1816AD, The Black Abbey was fully restored as a Dominican priory, and the first public mass was held on 25 September 1816AD. In 1864AD, it was reconsecrated by a bishop, and reopened its doors as a house of prayer.
During this period, extensive reconstruction work was undertaken at the abbey. It had largely fallen into ruin, and the choir was demolished to provide materials for other buildings. The south transept was restored first, followed by the nave and aisle.
Today, The Black Abbey serves as both a Dominican religious house, and also as a public place of worship for the people of the town. Although heavily restored, there is still a tangible sense of history here, making this hidden little corner of Kilkenny worth seeking out.