A conference held in Kilkenny in 1986 by Áontas – The National Adult Education Council – was attended by five local women who had an interest in establishing a local study group. They were Eileen Conway, Ann O’Donoghue, Mary O’Hanrahan, Ita Scott and Bernie Stephenson. With the support of the CEO of Kilkenny Vocational Committee, Mr. Brendan Conway and Adult Education Officer, the late Martin O’Grady, and of NUI Maynooth, weekly evening and day-time classes were organised. There was an enthusiastic welcome for the programme which included subjects such as English literature, history and sociology and many of the early students were awarded a Diploma in Liberal Studies from NUI Maynooth.

After a few years of direction from NUI Maynooth the group decided to become autonomous and appointed a committee to run their affairs at local level under a new constitution. The Kilkenny VEC encouraged the group by providing accommodation and generous financial support which enabled the engagement of lecturers of a very high standard.  Since 2001, when NUI Maynooth had set up its Outreach Campus at St. Kieran’s College, the Liberal Studies Group has been accommodated there.

By now the membership has risen to over one hundred with a similar number on a waiting list. The programme is delivered on Monday and Tuesday mornings between September and April. The lectures cover literature, poetry, drama, art history, music, world history, architecture and philosophy and are given by academics and other experts in their particular fields. Outings have been arranged to places as diverse as China, Greece, Prague, Budapest, Bruges, Florence, Turkey, England and many places in Ireland. The members are regular visitors to The National Concert Hall, the Wexford Opera Festival and to Dublin theatres and buildings of historic and cultural interest. Several members have pursued their interests in liberal studies with The Open University and NUI Maynooth to B.A. and Ph.D. levels.

The Kilkenny Liberal Studies Group is the only one of its kind in the country. Membership is confined to residents of the county and it is hoped that it will continue to provide intellectual stimulation for its members for many years to come.