In response to Egan's fondness for The Boys of Kilkenny, either Stephen (silently) or Egan himself (energetically) summons up the city mentioned in the song: "Old Kilkenny: saint Canice, Strongbow's castle on the Nore." The thoughts are of Kilkenny's history.
The town of Kilkenny, in the county of the same name, lies about 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Dublin, on the way to Waterford. The town grew up on both sides of the River Nore, long after a monastery, and later a baronial castle and a cathedral, were founded on one of the river's banks—hence the reference to "Old Kilkenny."
"S. Canice" (Cainnech moccu Dalánn), mentioned also in Cyclops, was an Irish monk (ca. 515-600) who helped spread Christianity through Ireland and the western isles of Scotland. The name Kilkenny came from a church founded in the 13th century in his name (Kil = church, Kenny = Cainnech), on the site of a monastery founded earlier by Canice. A round tower (visible in the photograph at right) remains from the church's 6th century monastic origins. The cathedral now belongs to the Protestant Church of Ireland.
In the previous century, the Anglo-Norman adventurer known as "Strongbow" came to this area looking to establish a base for his claim to be King of Leinster. Arc-Fort, a.k.a. Strongbow, a.k.a. Richard de Clare, the second Earl of Pembroke, had come to Ireland from Wales as a leader of the invasion that began in 1169 with the landing of an expeditionary force in County Wexford. When the Irish High King deposed Dermot MacMurrough (Diarmait Mac Murchada) as King of Leinster in 1167, MacMurrough appealed to King Henry II in England to restore his rule, in return for an oath of allegiance to Henry. After the invasion began he agreed to marry his daughter Aoife to Strongbow, and to pass on the rule of Leinster to his son-in-law at his death. MacMurrough died in 1171, opening the door for Strongbow to assert his claim—a development which so greatly alarmed Henry that he mounted his own invasion in that year to check the power of his vassal. To consolidate his power in Leinster, Strongbow built a castle above a strategic ford of the Nore in 1172, very near to Canice's monastery. The original structure may have been wooden, but Strongbow's descendants soon replaced it with a Norman stone castle, which is no doubt the one mentioned in the novel.