Demolition will ‘seriously injure historical integrity’ of Kilkenny, say opponents
Important medieval structure hidden behind Victorian accretions, insists archaeologist
The imminent demolition of three seemingly ordinary Victorian two-storey houses on Vicar Street, Kilkenny, to facilitate a new road scheme “will seriously injure the historical integrity of the medieval city”, according to opponents of the plan.
Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, director of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, noted that the three houses stood on the site of a much earlier courtyard manse - the Prebendary of Tascoffin - intimately associated with the nearby medieval St Canice’s Cathedral.
He disputed Kilkenny county manager Joe Crockett’s contention that the houses were “of no heritage value”, saying there were “substantial grounds” to believe that parts of the Tascoffin complex were “still standing behind Victorian accretions”.
Mr Ó Drisceoil said investigations conducted to date have been “inadequate”, as no large areas of plaster were removed to see what was underneath. “Thus, the local authority still has no idea as to the extent of surviving remains of the medieval house.”
He also warned that the Central Access Scheme - as the proposed road is now called - could lead to “large-scale destruction” of deeply stratified layers of waterlogged medieval archaeology, such as timber structures found at nearby John’s Bridge.
“New research indicates there is every likelihood that the Central Access Scheme will lead to the destruction of a famine graveyard that is recorded as having been present at the County Fever Hospital, Wolfe Tone Street”, Mr Ó Drisceoil said.
He also noted that excavation of a similar graveyard on a site next to Kilkenny’s railway station, where MacDonagh Junction shopping centre was being developed, had cost more than €1 million in 2006-2007 and led to the disinterment of over 900 bodies.
The Central Access Scheme budget has already increased from €8.5 million to €10.7 million. Archaeologists familiar with the area believe that costs could rise significantly because of the likely presence of sensitive archaeological remains on the route.
When the controversial road plan was first proposed in 2007, the National Monuments Service warned that it would have “a severe negative impact on archaeological remains in the historic city will completely alter the street pattern”.
In a letter signed by chief archaeologist Brian Duffy, it said the Central Access Scheme would “cut through the precinct of St Canice’s”, which had already been altered in an unsympathetic way “and this further impact would be unacceptable”.
“We are surprised to find that no alternative routes have been proposed for our consideration,” it said. “We object to the proposed scheme proceeding because of the severe impacts on the archaeology of one of Ireland’s premier historic cities.”