NOT for the first time, the role of the Office of Public Works (OPW) in safeguarding our wonderful treasure throve of historical and archaeological sites has come into question. By far the most important period in the life of Kilkenny is the Tudor era culminating in the Confederation of Kilkenny when the mighty and good of the country descended on the city for a national parliament which first sat in October 1642.
Part of the reason that Kilkenny was chosen was because of its affluence, thanks to what went on in the preceding 70 top 80 years. Merchants like the Shees, Langtons and Rothes built incredibly lavish homes and brought in a set of planning rules and controlled the Corporation, to create what we have today in the centre of the city and which is the envy of many other towns and cities cross Ireland and Europe. We have Rothe House, Parliament Street and the Shee Alms House on Rose Inn Street as examples but most of the rest is hidden.
It was in effect the Renaissance period in Kilkenny’s rich history. We publish two photographs to capture the essence of Tudor Kilkenny and what is left of it.
The first is the 500 year old archway into Seamus Callanan’s auctioneering business on High Street. The second is the remains of a long since derelict Tudor gem, hidden from view that is in desperate need of care. If you go up William Street in the city centre and take the first left in though the gates, you will see it, or what is left of it, straight in front of you. It once faced the Tholsel (City Hall) and St Mary’s Church and this was the place to live back then.
The reason we mention the OPW is that on the side of this forlorn yet captivating building there is a “Fogra” asking the public to aid the Commissioners in preserving it. And it adds that injury or defacement of the national monument is severely punishable by law. That says it all. It is in stark contrast to the building next to it, The Hole In The Wall, which has been painstakingly restored by heart specialist, Mr Michael Conway.
However, we would like to focus on the positive, the possibilities and on a hidden world of secret passageways, glimpses of former grandeur, 500 year old arches, window frames, wooden beams, snobbery and jealousy. The people of Kilkenny owe a debt to the Burghers-merchants of Kilkenny from 1550 to 1660. They paved the way for modern Kilkenny and while many of the lovely houses like Martin Crotty’s residence on Lower Patrick Street are Georgian in facade they are actually Tudor. And in the case of Crotty’s and others, the people who live in these homes have retained the Tudor elements even though it would have been easier to knock, remove or hide them.
There are at least 58 Tudor buildings left in the centre of the city and 12 these have recently been discovered by historian, Gertie Keane and there are another 20 that are probably Tudor but have not been confirmed as of yet due to difficulty of access and other issues. Most houses on the Parade, Rose Inn Street, High Street, Parliament Street, Irishtown, Dean Street and Coach Road have elements of Tudor in them.
Many of these are cherished by their owners like the wonderful Maibe Carey on Parliament Street whose kitchen dates back to around 1550. Jealously was rampant. The bigger the house and gardens you had the higher your social standing and the main place to have your Tudor House based on Continental and English architecture, was between Kilkenny Castle and St Canice’s Cathedral. For example, Parliament Street is totally Tudor at the back, like the photograph showing the side-back wall of the building which houses The Italian Connection restaurant.
There are even more intimate examples of Tudorism in the city like the fireplace at Elvery’s sports on High Street. The Tudor period has been sexed up lately by a number of racy television shows and while they are far fetched, the Tudors have always managed to capture the imagination and I still refer back to my secondary school book, Tudor and Stuart Ireland by Margaret Mac Curtain which is a great read.
And yes there is a secret passage way linking most of High Street dating back from the Tudor era although it has probably collapsed but parts of it do remain.
And one strong example of Tudor times is the entrance to the Butter slip. The stone work dates from the late 1500s but the top has been plastered over and maybe its about time it was exposed. So the next time you walk in the centre of the city be aware that you are living in Tudorland, places like the Book Centre, Paris Texas, the list goes on and on and there are probably more which have not yet been discovered.
Ms Keane in her thesis says: “The evidence from field research, in particular, of the Hightown (around high Street) suggests that many the patrons of these town houses embraced the new classical architecture and changing concepts in social ordering and class identity, and seized opportunities to negotiate their locations and positioning within the city. A sense of spatial hierarchy is suggested from the location and positioning of many of the town houses in relation to each other, and to the principle areas and buildings of public focus within the city. Returning to John Rothe, - and perhaps, in doing so, aptly giving the last say to him. Surely, it is not purely co-incidental that just as John Rothe located his town house just opposite that of Sir Richard Shee, on High Street,
So also he must have recognised the equally symbolic significance of their shared resting place in death in St Mary’s Church? It seems social calculation in the early modern period knew few boundaries – whether in the location and positioning of a final resting place in death or in the location and positioning of many of Kilkenny’s town houses.”
Six family crests
There re six family crests in plaque form embedded in an inside wall at St Mary’s Church. Wouldn’t it be lovely to re-associate them with the Tudor homes from which they were removed. These plaques were like breast plates and were a kind of grandeur, showing the family crest because at that time very few people could read or write but they would have had no problem, deciphering images.