NEWLy elected Mayor of the city, Sean O’hArgain remarked that the key to being a sucessful politician is to know when to stop digging. Of course one quick turn of the sod last Monday evening at the Bishop’s Palace next to St Canice’s Cathedral and adjoining the Heritage Centre headquarters was enough to officially open a new and fascinating archaelogicial dig in the city.
Described by Coilin O’Drisceoil as one of the most signifciant finds in the city, this dig could unearth the story of Kilkenny’s very first citizens - before even our medieval city was a busy cross roads. Indeed, a burial site found just metres away on Church Lane is the earliest gra\e in Kilkenny with bones dating from the sixth century - the time of the arrival of the Derry monk- St Canice - to the area.
St Canice founded a monastery on the site of the present Bishop’s Palace, dedicated to St Benedict. This latest dig will help uncover the lifestyles of the inhabitants of that time - what they ate, how they lived and what they made. If it’s proven, and initial indicates suggest this, that it was a trade and craft centre in the sixth century then this spot is the start of Kilkenny as an urban settlement. Previously it was thought that the Normans built Kilkenny.
It seems that the first inhabitants were well-heeled, well fed and a somewhat fashionable bunch as the first findings of craft in the area was that of combmakers - benefitting from the plentiful supply of antlers available from deer herds in the surrounding forests of oak and elder.
Michael Starrett, Chief Executive of the Heritage Council welcomed everyone to the launching of this significnat event.
Not only are the findings proving to be particularly incisive, the fact that the public can witness history uncovered makes this week partlcularly special.
There are now just three days left - the public are invited to the gardens of the Bishop Palace to watch the archaelogists at work - as they painstakingly peel back each layer of clay and uncover another clue to our heritage.
The Mayor is obviously a big supporter of local heritage projects, and Michael Starrett was delighted that he was attending his first official heritage function since being elected less than a week ago to officially declare the site open - and of course open to the public.
The site itself is touching the robing room and spreads out towards the Bishops Palce, about 5 metres square. Already numerous artefacts have been found and are in disiplay in the robing roos.
The robing room - built in 1758 by Bishop Richard Pococke is in itself a fascinating building. Built as a gazebo to overlook the wonderful gardens, branching out from it were shelted walkways from the palace, to the robing room, and on to the cathedral so the Bishoip basically did not get wet once prepared for ceremonies at the cathedral. And there was also the fascinating technology of some type of central heating system.
The rooms had a cellar which of course stocked the finest wines but it also had a furnace. This furnace provided heat below wooden benches in the room - so basically the clergy could put their bums on a nice warm bench before saying Mass.