Gowran was a place of importance prior to the Norman invasion and a royal residence of the Kings of Ossory, who were sometimes recorded as the Kings of Gowran. Edward the Bruce with his army of Scots and Ulstermen took the town in 1316. James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde built Gowran Castle in 1385 close to the site of the present castle and town walls were erected circa 1415. King James I made Gowran a parliamentary borough in 1608.
The town, under the command of Colonel Robert Hammond, surrendered to Oliver Cromwell on 21 March 1650 following a siege. Colonel Hammond was a cousin of Cromwell's. The soldiers of the garrison accepted Cromwell's offer of quarter for their lives and handed their officers over to the Parliamentarians. Cromwell ordered the execution by firing squad of all but one of the officers; a priest captured in the castle was hanged.
In 1688 James II granted A Charter of Incorporation to the town and, of 18 burgesses listed, six were Kealys. A Magdelan hospital was built outside the walls circa 1578 "For the relief of poor leprous people". Gowran was a constituency represented in the Irish House of Commons until 1800.
In the centre of the village is the historic St. Mary's Collegiate Church which contains monuments from the 14th to 17th centuries. This Collegiate Church was built in the late 13th century on the site of an earlier monastery. It was served by a "college"—clerics who lived in a community but who did not submit to the rule of a monastery. They lived in a house, now destroyed, beside the Church. The Church was a large and elaborate structure, with an aisled nave—the main part of the Church where the congregation—and a long chancel—the section of the Church where the altar was placed—and has high quality architectural sculpture used throughout. In the late middle ages a massive tower was inserted between the nave and chancel, and in the 19th century this tower was incorporated into the parish church which was built in place of the chancel and which now takes up about half of the building. There were also several other changes made to the Church at various periods. St. Mary's Church is now a National Monument.
The Catholic Church is the Church of the Assumption.
Scoil Mhuire Gabhrán - St. Mary’s National School Gowran is located on the Kilkenny side of the town opposite the Catholic Church of the Assumption. The current building was begun in 1958. Prior to the construction of the new school in 1958, there was a four classroom school adjacent to the current building. This school building was built in 1900 and is now used as a community hall. The National School in Dungarvan (Co. Kilkenny) which is part of the parish of Gowran closed in 1967 following which the pupils attended Gowran NS. The school was extended in 1979 and 2011
In 2014 the pupils of Gowran NS made their own piece of history. The 6th class students were the first students from the school to take part in the Primary Schools BT Young Scientist Exhibition held in the RDS Dublin. The young students were following in the footsteps of Galileo and Newton. Their project was based on theories of gravity, air resistance, shock absorption and cushioning.
Green Schools – the school has been very active in green and environmental issues. They were awarded two An Taisce Green Flags which the school proudly displays outside the school. The Green Schools programme is run by An Taisce together with the Kilkenny Co. Council. As part of their project work to achieve Green Flag status for water conservation the school converted all their single flush siphonic toilets (school toilets use on average 85% of school water) from single flush to variable flush using the Mecon Green Button Water Saver. By doing this they conserved water and reduced their carbon footprint by not having to install new toilets. The school has a biodiversity area which contains many species of deciduous broad leaved trees and an orchard with several apple tree varieties.
Secondary Schools - are all located within a 12 km radius of Gowran. After attending Gowran NS, most pupils attend secondary schools in Kilkenny City, Borris, Co. Carlow, Thomastown and Graiguenamanagh. School transport is provided both to and from Gowran NS and secondary schools.
Gowran is at the centre of the Barony of the same name. The Barony of Gowran contains 36 parishes (See Map) 3 of which are split between the Barony of Gowran and the Baronies of Fassadinin and Ida (Mothell, Kilmadum and Inistioge). Most of the eastern boundary of the barony of Gowran is formed by the River Barrow.
Richard FitzPatrick was created Lord Gowran in 1715, and his son was created Earl of Upper Ossory in 1751. Both titles became extinct in 1818.
Gowran railway station opened on 14 November 1850 and closed on 1 January 1963.
Gowran is more or less equidistant from Kilkenny railway station (14 kilometres), Muine Bheag railway station (13 kilometres) and Thomastown railway station (14 kilometres distant). Kilkenny railway station has a Park and Ride facility. There is a charge for parking. Muine Bheag also has a Park and Ride facility. Parking was free up to 2015. Parking charges were introduced in 2015. Train tickets are not always available at the stations. However they may be purchased on the Iarnród Éireann - Irish Rail website online or on board the trains. If purchased online, proof of purchase (printout from website) must be shown when on board the trains.
Gowran is served several times daily by Bus Éireann route 4 which operates from Waterford to Dublin and Dublin Airport serving several locations en route such as Thomastown and Carlow. Journeys on this route use the M9 and M7 motorways between Carlow and the Dublin outskirts. Bus connections to Rosslare Europort are available at Waterford. Gowran is also served by the Graiguenamanagh – Goresbridge - Kilkenny Kilbride Coaches route with two journeys each way daily except Sundays. The northbound Bus Éireann stop has a shelter and seat.
Noted residents and former residents include:-Colonel Dan Bryan, head of the Irish Army's intelligence unit G2 during "The Emergency" (World War II), was born in Dunbell near Gowran.
James Butler was created 1st Earl of Ormonde in 1328. He married Lady Eleanor De Bohun in 1327. After their marriage, she became Countess of Ormonde. Eleanor was grand daughter of King Edward Ι of England and niece of King Edward ΙΙ of England. James is buried in St.Mary's Church Gowran.
D. J. Carey who was born there. He played hurling for Kilkenny until his retirement in 2006. He is regarded as an icon of the sport and has won most of the major honours in the game.
The ancestors of Walt Disney are from Gowran. Arundel Elias Disney, emigrated from Gowran, County Kilkenny, where he was born in 1801. Arundel Disney was a descendant of Robert d'Isigny, a Norman who had travelled to England with William the Conqueror in 1066.
Kilkenny hurlers Kevin Fennelly and Lester Ryan
William Butler Yeats was a descendant of the Butlers of Neigham (pronounced Nyam) in the townland of Neigham Gowran. His great, great grandmother, Mary Butler of the Neigham branch of the Butler family married Benjamen Yeats in Tullamore in 1773. Many generations of the Butlers lived in Gowran and surrounds for over 500 years following the Norman Invasion in 1169, after which Theobald Fitzwalter was granted lands around Gowran. Theobald was the ancestor of the Butler and Ormonde families. He incorporated the Town of Gowran sometime after 1177. He died in 1206. The Manor of Gowran, around 44 000 acres remained in Butler hands until c.1700 The early Butler Earls of Ormonde are buried in St. Mary’s Church Gowran. Neigham Castle was built about 1477 by Sir James Butler for his eldest son Edmund. He was called "The Earl of Gowran".
Gowran Park horse racing course and golf course is located near the village.
In 2014, Gowran Park celebrated a century of racing at this picturesque horse racing venue. The first race meeting was held in Gowran Park on 16 June 1914.
In 1914, the Gowran Park racecourse was part of the Annaly Estate Gowran. At that time the Gowran Castle estate was owned by Lady Annaly who was a keen follower of sport. She attended cricket matches in Gowran. In 1900 she presented a beautiful silver cup to the Gowran cricket club which is still kept in Gowran. The Lady Annaly Cup was played for annually. In 1930 she presented the County Championship Trophy at Northamptonshire Golf Club.
Lady Annaly’s father, Henry Agar-Ellis 3rd Viscount Clifden owned a number of horses the most famous of which were Crucifix and Surplice who won many classics. Surplice won the Epsom Derby and the St. Ledger in 1848.
Her husband, Lord Annaly was one of the first stewards at Gowran Park. The Annaly estate in Gowran was a walled estate of 774 acres set amidst a historic landscape of Norman castles and the historic St. Mary’s Church, with extensive woodlands, lakes, deer park, a home farm, out farms, stables, coach house orchards, walled gardens and extensive walks. The Gowran river flows through the estate.
The “Gowran Wall” which was built around the estate in the 18th and 19th century was 4.5 miles long and is still in existence today. The estate wall forms part of the racecourse boundary wall. The estate was part of the Gowran Castle estate. Gowran Castle is located in the centre of the town of Gowran one mile from Gowran Park racecourse.
The Gowran Castle estate became known as the Annaly estate after the Hon. Liliah Georgiana Augusta Constance Agar-Ellis (1862-1944) married Luke White (Lord Annaly), 3rd Baron Annaly (1862-1922). After her marriage to Lord Annaly, she became known as Lady Annaly. Lilah inherited the Gowran Agar estate. She was a descendant of Charles Agar who came to Gowran c.1650 from Yorkshire in England. Charles Agar and many of his descendants are buried in St. Mary’s Church Gowran (Church open to visitors during the summer months. Grounds open all year round). Later members of the Agar family held the title of Viscount Clifden over several generations. The Agars were often referred to as Lords Clifden or Clifdens of Gowran.Gowran is internationally known for its picturesque racecourse, Gowran Park, which hosts the Thyestes Chase (The Grand National of the South), one of the prestigious steeplechases in Ireland which has been won by three time Cheltenham Gold Cup Winner, Arkle in 1964 and Aintree Grand National winners Hedgehunter and Numbersixvalverde. It has 16 National Hunt and Flat meetings all year round. Gowran Park is also home to one of the most challenging golf courses in Kilkenny and is a venue for meetings, conferences, weddings and parties.
Young Irelands Gaelic Athletic Association Club are based just outside the village on the Goresbridge Road. Senior County Hurling Champions in 1996 and 2002, they were also runners up in 1997, 2003 and 2004.
There is a popular Pitch and Putt course in the village.
The local soccer team is called Ajax.
Gowran Athletic Club (Gowran AC) provide a wide range of athletic sporting activities for all age groups.
The Young Irelands Camogie Club is an integral part of the community and the local GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). In a book titled "The Gowran GAA Story" "The late Mrs. Catherine Drennan recalled that girls from Gowran, Paulstown, Bonnetstown and Thomastown played Camogie in Gowran in the early 1900's. Their first match was played in April 1908. The club was known as "Gowran Combined" and the colours were Blue and White". The current club colours are red and white.
Gowran is home to Ireland's only reptile village, The National Reptile Zoo. They have over 120 animals and 50 different species on display. The 6000 square foot indoor venue also includes a children's soft play area, snack bar, indoor picnic area, tropical walk through enclosue and reptile handling zone.