Making the Normans work for Kilkenny

DEPUTY John McGuinness in his recent book "The House Always Wins" devoted a number of pages to explaining his idea that Kilkenny should promote itself as Ireland's Norman county and illustrating the difficulties he experienced when, as part of his attempt to promote the idea, he challenged the Office of public works (OPW) regarding the care and maintenance of heritage buildings and sites in Kilkenny.

DEPUTY John McGuinness in his recent book "The House Always Wins" devoted a number of pages to explaining his idea that Kilkenny should promote itself as Ireland's Norman county and illustrating the difficulties he experienced when, as part of his attempt to promote the idea, he challenged the Office of public works (OPW) regarding the care and maintenance of heritage buildings and sites in Kilkenny.

"Many years ago I suggested that we should pay more attention to cultural and indeed, environmental tourism, which would come as a result of our pride in place and would bring visitors to Kilkenny, because we had created something for ourselves and future generations that was worth experiencing", said Deputy John McGuinness.

"Nothing much happened as a result, but I have continued to promote the idea because it brings together many strands: pride in place; protection of heritage; respect for our environment; county and city co-operation; integrity and community involvement. Kilkenny needs a big challenge. It was in times like this that we bought and began restoring the castle, laying the foundation for a tourist industry that has never really moved up the quality path. Maybe now is the time to move forward again and focus on the future.

Deputy McGuinness said that the Castle, Rothe House and other well known heritage buildings are only the best preserved and most obvious examples, but there are many, many beautiful sites and ruins throughout the county that are slowly, stone by stone, slipping into the ground. He wants to see them saved and put to sensitive use, part of a network of sites throughout the county forming a trail that ends in a Norman museum and study centre in Kilkenny.

"The Castle, Rothe House, St. Canice's and Jerpoint, to name but a few, show what can be done. We need to do the same with Kells Priory, Grangefertagh Tower, Clara Castle and other less well known buildings and sites throughout the county. They have never got the care and respect they deserve, firstly because they are our heritage and, secondly, because they are an asset" said Deputy John McGuinness "Throughout Europe there are Norman buildings and in Ireland these extraordinary adventures, whatever you might think of them, have left Kilkenny what today a marketing specialist would call a USP: a unique selling point.

We should not hesitate to exploit it and make Kilkenny a must visit location for anyone interested in the Normans or indeed, in the preservation and protection of ancient sites"

At the centre of Deputy McGuinness' idea is a Norman museum and study centre located in the city. He has already written to Diagio asking them to gift space at St. Francis Abbey Brewery for the museum and study centre, but has not followed up on this because he believes that not enough public, political official support has been generated. He says the reputation of Kilkenny would benefit hugely from a museum and study centre.

"I am not proposing a tourist trap or a spend opportunity. I am proposing a serious enterprise that builds on Kilkenny's existing reputation for culture, design and art. A museum and study centre would enormously add to Kilkenny's image, bringing closer the possibility of a university", said Deputy McGuinness "A great deal of Norman artefacts lie in boxes in Dublin and, as the first real Norman museum in the country, we could be a show case for them and other Norman remains. A study centre would bring academics and students here, as well as people from around the world who are of Norman decent who, for instance, would be attracted to genealogical records.

"All you have to do is look at the Langton's to realise what an extraordinary race the Normans were. In fact, Eamon may simply be reclaiming the city" said Deputy McGuinness with a smile, before going on to say that the idea deserved serious consideration and debate and that all interested parties should participate in.

"All great journeys begin with a dream. Owning the Castle was dream, and it was turned into a reality. We should approach this idea the same way. If the decision is that it is worthwhile and viable, the means to achieve it will be found. That is how Kilkenny has always made its dreams come true," he said.