FOR the first time in 1,000 years there will be an uninterrupted walkway through the entire city linking the weir on the Bleach Road with the Canal Walk. That’s just one of the expectations that Paul Smithwick has following the announcement that the brewery will close in 2013.
A member of the famous brewing family, he had been waiting for some years for confirmation of its closure after 300 years of uninterrupted brewing.
He is very sad for the 44 people who will lose their jobs in 2013 but thinks back to when there were 400 people working there and when that part of the city hummed with activity as a result. He wants to see a return to that time when the 14.5 acres at the Watergate was a hive of activity.
He has thrown his weight behind plans for a civic trust to take over the site and turn it into a cultural quarter with a mixture of commercial, leisure, and tourist activities.
He has spent several years collecting as many old pieces and memorabilia from the brewery’s heyday in the hope that a time might come when his plan for a Smithwicks brewery museum might come to fruition.
He thinks the old 1760 buildings that front on to Parliament Street, including the Cellar Bar, could be converted into a heritage centre of all Smithwicks memorabilia going back 150 years. He has the old horse-drawn drays, motorised vehicles, the steam engine dating back to 1842 which provided the electricity for the brewery until 1954. He has fantastic family paintings and he has all the manual equipment used in the brewing technique including tscoops, shovels – all the utensils used.
The Smithwicks family were very closely associated with the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell and he has all those papers for a Smithwicks library on the site, which would be a great resource for researchers, historians and anyone interested in the history of the city and the Smithwicks family.
He is most anxious that brewing be maintained at the site and feels that a micro-brewery, subject to licence by Diageo, would be a great benefit – tied in with tours of the old brewery and a new rejuvenated St Francis Abbey.
He explained that when Diageo bought the brewery from his late father Walter in the 1960s, they bought the company of 1842.
On the commercial side, he thinks an outlet selling all Smithwicks memorabilia signage, coffee shop, restaurant and the existing Cellar Bar would add to the experience of visitors.
He is looking forward to seeing a new streetscape and was very impressed by the work done by architect Carol Cantwell and feels it should be a starting point for the future of the site.
In practical terms, he feels that a lack of parking in the Parliament Street side of the city has impeded business and pushed shoppers and others to other parts of the city.
He thinks that a car park within the complex, serving Rothe House, St Canice’s Cathedral and the new cultural quarter would be ideal, especially with the construction of the new bridge over the river Nore which will go through the brewery.
“It will also allow us to bring coaches which are currently killing the city and are parked on the Castle Road,” he said. He highlighted the fact that the river is under-utilised and that a barge could be used to bring people from the brewery site to the Canal Walk and to the Castle.
“The possibilities are endless and it is up to us to ensure that we do the right thing by the site and ensure it is bought for the people of the city as a cultural quarter to enhance the visitor’s experience to Kilkenny and to boost the city,” he said.
He recalled that his late father, Walter, had wanted this to happen.
Paul Smithwick said he would love to get involved in any way possible and would make his considerable expertise available to any trust formed if he was asked. And who better than a member of the family who made beer there for over 300 years to help make it happen.