Canice, the saint from whom the county gets its name, was a sixth-century missionary and contemporary of St. Columba. Born at Dungiven in Co. Derry, he founded many establishments both in Ireland and in Scotland; his sign of the cross is said to have paralysed the sword-hand of King Brude the pagan Pict when he threatened the Irish missionaries. St. Canice's cathedral in Kilkenny city is on the same site as one of the saint's churches.
The county is fertile and well wooded, with a well-developed dairy industry and a strong tradition of brewing.
Originally part of the old Gaelic kingdom of Ossory (the surrounding diocese still bears the name), it was settled by the Normans at a very early stage. They were rapidly assimilated into Irish life and, in the seventeenth century, the Confederation of Kilkenny brought the Catholic descendants of the Normans together with the native Irish in unsuccessful opposition to Cromwell.
The medieval character of Kilkenny city has been beautifully preserved. The association of the city and county with the Butler Earls of Ormond dates from the thirteenth century.
Surnames associated with the county include Brennan, Cody, Comerford, Shortall, Phelan, Lanigan and Hoban, Walsh.