Smithwick site offers massive potential for city

‘Brownfield’ site available for redevelopment

The Diageo site in Kilkenny: A spokesman for Diageo said decommissioning of the site has already begun. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

The Diageo site in Kilkenny: A spokesman for Diageo said decommissioning of the site has already begun. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan


Kilkenny no longer has a beer festival and, at the end of December, its historic Smithwick’s brewery began to close down after more than 300 years – leaving a huge “brownfield” site right in the middle of town available for redevelopment.

At 15 acres (six hectares), it is proportionately much larger on Kilkenny’s scale than either Trinity College or the Guinness brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin. And the good news is that it will pass into the ownership of Kilkenny County Council.

Visitor centre
A spokesman for Diageo Ireland says decommissioning of the site has already begun and brewing will stop “in the coming weeks”. He adds that Diageo is “working very closely with the county council on its ambitious plans and on a new visitor centre”.

The council has bought the entire site for €2.1 million – apart from some older brewery buildings on Parliament Street, which Diageo will retain for refurbishment as a visitor centre. All of the remaining structures, apart from the brewhouse, will be demolished.

This is all being done at Diageo’s expense, thus saving the council a fortune.

Also being retained for its historical importance is the propped-up ruin of St Francis’s Abbey, which has been standing rather bizarrely in the midst of the brewery’s marshalling yard.

‘University city’
The most exciting prospect is that the site could be redeveloped as a Kilkenny satellite of the proposed Technological University of the southeast, incorporating Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology, and exploiting its potential to become a “university city”.

County manager Joe Crockett notes that NUI Maynooth has a research arm at St Kieran’s College and Waterford Institute of Technology has said it would like to do the same. “We see this as the nucleus of a research and enterprise campus for the city,” he says.

Recognising the exceptional opportunity presented by the Smithwick’s site, the council held a day-long “design colloquium” in collaboration with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, at which leading architects presented ideas on what could be done with it.

Masterplan competition
A subsequent masterplan competition was won by Reddy Architecture + Urbanism for a scheme that would reinstate medieval burgage plots obliterated by the brewery, with four-storey buildings set back from the river Nore to make room for a park and riverside walk.

Billed as the Abbey Creative Quarter, it would include a new street linking John’s Bridge with Irishtown, effectively functioning as a bypass of the medieval core – but not as wide as the new road that has created a huge gap beside the courthouse on Parliament Street.

The site would be developed around a new square – called Berkeley Square, after the Kilkenny-born philosopher. But first, the brewhouse, a five-storey industrial building, is to be renovated as a nucleus for the overall scheme, at an estimated cost of €3 million.

Design teams are now being sought for conversion of the brewhouse and the former Mayfair dancehall adjoining the Smithwick’s site as well as the proposed riverside park.

“In other words, we’re in the process of implementing the masterplan’s vision,” Crockett says.

Royal charter
As for the idea that Kilkenny would have a university – or at least part of one – chief architect Tony Reddy pointed out that a royal charter was granted by King James II for a University of Saint Canice in Kilkenny. But then he lost the Battle of the Boyne.

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