VERY few homes in Ireland have as rich a history as Kilcreene Lodge. A wonderful private property, a short distance from the centre of the city, it sits on 23 acres with its own lake, woods and the River Breagagh flowing close by.
It boasts a waterfall, all sorts of wildlife and has strong links to people from our past like The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell who stayed there many times and was a great fiend of the Smithwicks family.
The Smithwicks family home was also a retreat for the rich and famous like US film stars with strong Irish connections, Tyrone Power and James Cagney. Here too were the Irish aristocracy who came to be wined and dined by the Smithwicks family who had power and influence far beyond the city walls. Lord Iveagh and his wife Miranda (Guinness family) were regulars.
It is easy to see why no one ever turned down an invitation to visit what is a most beautiful place.
Kilcreene Lodge is timeless and to walk in there is like walking into another world. Hard to believe that you are so close to the hustle and bustle of city life and yet totally detached from it.
The main entrance used to be down by the Butts, from a small road adjacent to the Waterbarracks which leads to black metal gates that are now permanently closed. The present owners, Gerry and Christine Byrne use the entrance opposite Daly’s Hill on the Ballycallan Road and just after Kennyswell Bridge. Christine and Gerry who owns the Left Bank, Hibernian Hotel and Blue Bar in Kilkenny have done a marvellous job on the house and grounds and we owe them a huge debt for keeping such a priceless hidden gem intact and in such excellent condition.
But to understand Kilcreene’s significance we must go back to Kilcreene House which was knocked many years ago and is where Kilcreene Hospital now stands. It was originally owned by the Rothes and came into possession of the Smithwicks when they purchased the brewery andl ands around St Francis Abbey.
Kilcreene Lodge served that house and was built around 1690 an redeveloped a number of times. John Smithwick, the son of Edmond Smithwick (d.1876) was the first of the family to live at Kilcreene Lodge in 1861 after his marriage to Christina Devereux, whose father owned a distillery in Bishopswater in Co. Wexford. They spent considerable money on the house and grounds and it quadrupled in size during their lives. A very fine chandelier was purchased from Baccaret, France and installed in an extension to the house built in 1884. It coincided with a huge increase in activity at the Smithwicks brewery and it is sad that after over 300 years in operation it will close in the next two years. Many feel that if the Smithwicks family still had it, the brewery would be remain in business. The last member of the family to run the brewery, Walter Smithwick was a much loved man who was famous for translating the old ancient book of Kilkenny, the Liber Primus Kilkenniensis from Latin to English. A solicitor by profession, his soirees and garden parties at Kilcreene were highlights of the year and to which everyone seemed to have been invited.
He loved Kilcreene and loved to share it with his family and friends. His son, Peter who inherited the house felt the same way but being a Dublin based solicitor, sold it around 1990 because he already had a home in Dublin and Kilcreene was just too big for him.
People still speak with fondness about Walter Smithwicks and the guests he had at the house. All sorts of titled people like the Inveighs, race horse trainer, Vincent O’Brien, Taoisigh and presidents.
The last great party held there was to celebrate Walter’s 80th birthday and that was around 24 years ago.
Kilcreene Lodge was originally a miller’s house and a retting pond used in the milling process can still be seen in the grounds.
The lake at Kilcreene was originally a mill stream and put in around 1871 with water diverted from the Breagagh. Water from the lake was used in the house. Walter Smithwick in a talk to Kilkenny Archaeological Society in the 1960s said it was the first house in County Kilkenny to have a bathroom with running water.
Many anglers in the Butts loved the fact that the lake was always stocked with fish because when the Breagagh would flood, so too would the lake and the sluice gates of the lake were then opened and loads of fish would be released down into the Breagagh, local historian and former Kilkenny People employee, Sean Kerwick told me.
Everyone has a favourite memory of Kilcreene, Walter Smithwicks and his charming wife Molly. Jimmy and Johnny Rhatigan, both retired from the brewery were mesmerised when, as small boys, they saw Water came out of the Club House hotel with Tyrone Power, who was the Brad Pitt of his day and the star of many westerns and adventure films.
Peter Smithwicks, the last member of the family to live at Kilcreene speaks of an idyllic childhood full of wonderful people. He tells the story about Jimmy Cagney dancing on the parquet floor of the drawing room. An icon of American film, Cagney was the most important actor of his generation and a friend of the family.
Kilcreene id in safe hands. Thanks to the Byrnes we still have a priceless gem in our midst.
Important dates in history of Kilcreene
Kilcreene Lodge, parish of St Canice, barony of Crannagh.
1806 George Erkwright, Kilcreene Lodge. [Jnl 6.9.1806]
7.11.1807 Mr George Arkwright, Kilcreen Lodge. [LJ]
30.3.1811 To let, Kilcreen Lodge, with 8 or 13 a, ½ mile of city. [LJ]
1870 John Smithwick Esq., JP, Kilcreene Lodge, Kilkenny. [Slater]
1873 Mr J Smithwick, Kilcreene Lodge. [Mod 25.10.1873]
1884 John W Smithwick, Kilcreene Lodge. [Bassett]
1899 James Smithwick of Kilcreene Lodge. [KAS Deed]
1908 James Smithwick, Kilcreene Lodge. [KAS Deed]
1911 James Smithwick, Kilcreene Lodge. [KAS deed]
1969 Kilcreen Lodge, the Smithwick family residence. [O’Kelly]
1993 Kilcreen Lodge, house contains a fine C17th chimney-piece taken from the now demolished Kilcreen House. Kilkenny. 18.S.49.56. [KK Dev Plan]