St Mary's - Simply spectacular

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St Mary's - Simply spectacular
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Kilkenny County Council’s Medieval Mile Museum project at St Mary’s Church, off High Street is forging ahead and is expected to reach completion by the end of the year, writes Sean Keane.

The conversion of St. Mary’s into a modern museum and exhibition centre which combines sensitive restoration and contemporary architectural design is almost complete.

As a result, leading city Councillor, Malcolm Noonan thinks St Mary’s Church and Graveyard could become a centre of academic research into the development of the Irish town.

He said that the significance of the archaeological finds, coupled with the extensive civic archives of Kilkenny Corporation and the work of the late John Bradley could combine to provide a space within the museum that would attract academics from all over the World. Unlike other purpose built museums, the Medieval Mile Museum at St Mary's has a fascinating combination of assets, which will help to establish it as a unique attraction both within Kilkenny and the broader region. The Medieval Mile Museum is an important Heritage and tourism project on a local, national and international scale.

Following a recent site visit to St Mary’s, Mayor Pat O’Neill said the massive transformation of St Mary’s Church is breathtaking

UNCOVERING THE PAST

The museum’s interior is full of surprises, no longer a church but renovated to preserve the building’s original atmosphere.

The stories told are as surprising as the structure, revealing the historic and contemporary importance of Kilkenny.

Kilkenny County Council has a dedicated website www.medievalmilemuseum.ie where people can follow the project.

The visitor route within the building is designed to be a free flowing journey for visitors who are encouraged to explore the museum at their own pace.

A mix of fun hands-on interactives and digital media such as an interactive map table of the medieval mile, a timeline video wall and AV displays, will encourage visitors to linger as people and periods from history come to life providing a religious and Medieval history experience that many visitors will not have seen before.

The newly restored building will also provide a space for temporary exhibitions and cultural events and will be available for use as part of the recently introduced Kilkenny Christmas festival “Yulefest Kilkenny 2016”.

Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council, Matt Doran has acknowledged “the significant capital investment of the council, Fáilte Ireland and Kilkenny Civic Trust Ltd, in delivering the high quality, interactive museum experience.

The Council recently agreed in principle to develop a format for the management of St Mary’s Museum in partnership with The Kilkenny Civic Trust Ltd to ensure that suitably qualified and targeted resources are dedicated to the facility in establishing and promoting its wonderful potential.

Centre of academic excellence

St Mary’s Church and Graveyard could become a centre of academic research into the development of the Irish town, according to Cllr Malcolm Noonan

“Extensive civic archives of Kilkenny Corporation and the work of the late John Bradley could combine to provide a space within the museum that would attract academics from all over the World,” he said.

‘We have in Kilkenny some of the oldest civic records in Ireland or Britain. John Bradley wrote extensively on the origins of the Irish town using Kilkenny as his template. Our own Architectural Conservation Committee is hoping to work with premises owners in the City to highlight the significance of the merchant houses; almost unique to Kilkenny.

It is my view,” Cllr Noonan said, “that using these elements in tandem with the incredible funerary monuments and other archaeological discoveries on site during the works to restore the church we could have on our doorstep one of the finest collections of research material into how our settlements evolved from pre Norman times to the present day.”

He said that schools too would benefit greatly from such a centre which could be housed within the Kilkenny Room. Cllr Noonan said that he was encouraged by the announcement of a new management structure and appointment of a CEO to the Civic Trust. ‘I think that this new structure of the Civic Trust will place all of our City’s built heritage assets on a strong strategic direction and it will particularly benefit St Mary’s and Rothe House’ he said.

Cllr Noonan also said that it was vitally important that a strong community element be designed into the Museum citing the incredible success of Heritage Week as an example of how consistent quality civic engagement with local communities can help foster local support for projects. ‘Yes, tourism revenue is vital to the commercial viability of St Mary’s as museums by their nature are not profit generating, however it is equally important that the wider local community has as much input to the project as possible and the inclusion of a research/study centre could be part of that community engagement’.

Cllr Noonan wants the Trust and the Council should seek further funding opportunities to restore the remaining important funerary monuments in the graveyard. ‘The restoration of the Shee Mausoleum and other monuments was a great success with modest funding. The graveyard is an integral part of the site and of equal importance and it would be great to have this as a green lung in the heart of the City while allowing people to appreciate the monuments and the crafts people who made them,” he said.