OVER 25 years ago, city woman, Betty Manning had a dream that the last surviving, yet crumbling tower of the Old City Wall of Kilkenny, would be returned to its former glory. At times it seemed a lost cause, especially in 1989 when the stairwell of the structure collapsed.
In the meantime she was elected the Borough Council and as chairperson of its Walled Towns Committee oversaw the conservation and rehabilitation of what was almost a derelict site. It has become a testament to what can be done when people come together to work for the benefit of the city.
Her efforts and those of many others in the city were rewarded on Monday when Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan officially opened what will be a hugely popular tourist attraction. Minister Deenihan described it as a fusion of heritage, culture and tourism which has a huge and enduring appeal for local people who were justifiably proud of the rich history of the city.
The intrinsic value of restoring it to its past glory was paramount in Minister Deenihan’s opinion but it is its part in the rich mosaic of historical and archaeological gems dotted around the city which is crucial for the welfare of the place and will ensure that Kilkenny continues to lead the way in terms of conservation and tourism.
And it was the Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council, Paul Cuddihy was suggested that the icing on the cake would be the restoration of the Tudor canon to the top of the tower. The centuries old piece of artillery is gathering dust in vault at the National Museum of Ireland and he made a successful plea to Minister Deenihan to return it to Kilkenny.
The opening of the tower, which has fantastic views of the city, is also a coup for the Kilkenny based Heritage Council which through its Walled Town Network, provided much of the funding for the project and it was heartening to hear Minister Deenihan reiterate the importance of the national body to Kilkenny and refer to its importance and its future.
However, the opening of the tower is a testament to he people of Kilkenny who have a great love for the medievality of the city and it was fitting, looking to the future, that the children from Colaiste Pobal Osrai, which is asdjacent to the site, were among the first to receive a tour of the magnificent structure that dates back over 800 years and which has played such a major part in the history of the city as a defence structure.
And the Mayor of the City, Cllr David Fitzgerald thought back to his own ancestors who, he felt, would have been on the ramparts defending the city back in medieval times. He thanked everybody associated with the project including the local families inconvenienced by the work. He thanked the Smith family for allowing access to the site through their property and to the O’Connell, Pembroke and Costello (next door neighbours) for putting up with a lot of inconvenience and he also thanked Margaret Hyland of Ormonde Road, whose home backs on the tower, for her kindness during all the work.
Cllr Betty Manning said the tower was the most exciting tourism project in the city for a long time. ”This tower has been standing on New Street for over 800 years and needed some tender loving care and the Borough council, Heritage Council and the Walled Towns Network all combined to provde it,” she said.
The huge return on the investment of just under E1 million was also highlighted by the former mayor who said it would entice even more visitors to the city and would help create even more jobs and copper fasten the future of existing ones.
Mayor Fitzgerald said the reinstated tower was a wonderful tribute to Betty Manning and to all those involved in the City Walls committee of the council. “This is a piece of our heritage which will bring new visitors to our city,” he said.
“The architects behind this initiative saw what was a derelict site, potentially dangerous and recognised the potential in it and saw that it was worth preserving, not only for its historic value but also as a piece of our history that will bring new visitors to our city,” he said
“It will drive the new economies of tourism and heritage in the years ahead,” he added. He thanked the cross section of people who made it happen. Specifically the members of Kilkenny VEC who have supported the project and put up with the inconvenience over the years.
Minister Deenihan explained that when the earthen works on top of the tower were excavated, they highlighted the quality of life and unearthed some exquisite wine from Spain and France, all sorts of pieces of jewellery and brooches which, he said, reflected a fairly sophisticated standard of living even back them.
Minister Deenihan noted that 25% of the wall survives and he thanked those involved in the restoration including archaeologist, Ben Murtagh and Kilkenny VEC for their input. “This is a history teacher’s dream and helps to relate directly to a period of Irish life that has long since goes and the remnants of which are few and far between,” he said. “This is a very appropriate synergy happening and he picked out Lily O’Connell for special mention.
He finished by saying it reflected 800 years of history of building, dismantling and change and that the detailed archaeological investigation had enhanced the complex history of the structure of the monument and led to a series of new question relating to the building keeping it relevant and ensuring many more years of work on it.