The town of Killenaule lies at the Southern extremity of the range of The Slieveardagh Hills — situated 17 miles from Clonmel, 10 miles from Thurles, 10 miles from Cashel and 28 miles from Kilkenny City. The area has a chequered and colourful history, from Scandinavian invasions in the 9th Century, to a battle at Crohane in 852.
In the Norman Era, Killenaule was granted to a settler named Stantton, and the town achieved the status of Borough. Names associated during this period with Killenaule include Butler, Laffan and Cantwell.
During the 16th Century and the reign of Henry VIII lands in Killenaule were under the ownership of names like Britt, Purcell and again Cantwell and Butler. Around the mid 1500s landowners included Thomas Morris in Killenaule, Ballinure, Ballintogher and Moyglass. In 1640 the chief landowners among others were, Theo Mansell, Cataganstown 560 acres, Edmund Kearney Knockinglass, 800 acres, Everard of Fethard, 600 acres in Moyglass lower, Robert St. John, 300 acres in Roan, Cantwell of Killeens 700 acres, James Earl of Ormond 1600 acres in Killenaule. In Ballinure, landowners were Richard Tobin and Walter Hackett, Florence Fennell had 160 acres in Cooleagh, Morish Stokes, 800 acres in Coolquil and Henry Laffen had 1600 acres at Noan.
The principal Landlord in the Killenaule area was an absentee landlord named Waldron and the town of Killenaule was part of the Waldron Estate in the early 1900s. On the death of Mr Waldron the deeds passed on to the trustees of the Bank of Ireland. Around 1976 much controversy arose in Killenaule as some of the Waldron leases had expired and the townspeople wished to purchase outright the leases on their holdings. Various local meetings were held and with the co-operation of Tipp SR. Co. Council, and legal advice, a satisfactory agreement was reached between leaseholders and Waldron Reps.
In more modern times the two largest estates adjacent to Killenaule have been the Lanespark Estate, Ballynonty, and the Noan Estate, Ballinure. These both provided a welcome boost to the local economy by providing employment and various small industries.
Killenaule and its surrounding area, has a large and varied history and heritage to offer. The area has many fine ancient Ring Forts, Tower Houses and Castles to support its local history.
Rathmoley double Ring Fort is one of the finest complete double Ring Forts in the Country now preserved by the State. It is also situated in a prime viewing area very adjacent to Killenaule Town and discovered on its site, in Autumn 1925, was The Killenaule Viking Silver Hoard, now in the possession of the National Museum of Ireland. The site of Killenaule Castle is just a few hundred yards from the town centre and the Norman Graystown Castle is just a few miles to the south west of Killenaule. Other notable Castles are St. Johnstown, Coolquill, Mortlestown and Cooleagh Castle at Ballinure. The area has many natural resources including coal mining and peat harvesting. Killenaule is also noted for the very successful horse racing industries and numerous greyhound breeding and training establishments in the locality. In recent years, Killenaule Stone Quarries have established a thriving business at Kilbrennal Quarry. The stone is both used as road trunking and also very much sought for ornamental design.
The surrounding bogland has left a Hugh store of folklore and as this area was the last Gaelic speaking area of Killenaule, a large vocabulary of many old Irish words have remained in the area. The late Dr. Thomas Morris, former Archbishop of Cashel & Emily documented these for posterity. The normal piseogs that exist throughout rural Ireland can be heard in the Killenaule area.
Killenaule is also the home of Derrynaflan Island, where on a dark and dreary February Sunday evening in 1980, Mr. Webb and his son unearthed the priceless Derrynaflan Hoard, consisting of an 8th century chalice, a strainer or ladle, a stand — all enclosed in a bronze basin, buried eighteen inches below ground, and found about 20 yards from the main church ruin. This priceless archaeological find continues to bring many students of history, historians and interested tourists to our area to view the exact location of the find. Derrynaflan Island is situated approximately 4 miles north west of Killenaule Town.
Situated near the village of Moyglass is the ancestral site of the home of Ned Kelly the famed Australian bush ranger at Clonbrogan. This site is of major significance to all Australians who visit our town. A natural amenity available to all visitors in the future is the beautiful lake and nature reserve, presently under construction at Derryvilla between Glengoole and Killenaule, where a large tract of bogland has been flooded and converted to a lake, this will be complimented by a pony trekking area and a nature and wild-life preserve. Ideal viewing points around the Killenaule area include Knockforlagh, The Reen, Rathmoley, Graigue Upper, Knockavardagh, Crickeen and Monslatt, all providing beautiful scenic views of the various “Hills of Killenaule”. Those same “Hills of Killenaule” have been immortalised in song by the late Davy Mc Cormack, Ardagh House, who wrote this widely known local song in praise of our native hills. At Mardyke or “The Found” near Killenaule can be seen the remains of the first mining village in Ireland and also visible the remains of a mining Engine House and Air Vent. Mardyke in its glory days boasted an R.I.C. Barracks, a National School and three streets: Barrack Street, Puddle Street and Middle Street and numerous Mining Company buildings. At its peak over 1,000 men were employed in mining across the Slieveardagh Hills around 1827.
– The History & Folklore of Killenaule/Moyglass 1990