Outraged of Kilkenny


Just in case you've been in a cave for the last few months, here's what all the fuss is about: a few months ago, the then Mayor of Kilkenny Tony Patterson was contacted by a producer for his comment on the city's proposed "downgrading" to a town, from a city, in a new local government bill due before the Oireachtas. Somewhat surprised, the Mayor got a copy of the bill and discovered the dreadful truth that indeed Kilkenny was scheduled to become administered by a town council and be stripped of its city status by stealth. The treachery was exposed on the airwaves through the Kilkenny Agenda programme on Radio Kilkenny, creating a massive groundswell of public outrage and the campaign began with the collection of thousands of signatures and issuing forth of delegations to the Minister for the Environment.

A frighteningly enthusiastic civil servant in the Customs House explained that the current local government administrative system is awkwardly arcane with towns and cities being run by Town Commissioners, Urban District Councils, Borough Corporations and so on and, in order to streamline the administration, it is proposed in the new bill that all urban areas be run by Town Councils or City Councils only. City Councils are to exist in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway. All other towns (and Kilkenny) are to be run by Town Councils. It's a bit like streamlining the FA league into just the Premiership and the Vauxhall Conference - scrapping the three intermediate divisions - and finding Kilkenny relegated overnight to the bottom of the table.

As anyone in Kilkenny will tell you, it is a city, the only inland city in the republic (Armagh qualifies because of its cathedral credentials) and you only need to walk the streets to know that you are in no mere town. The case for the defence is quite clear:

Dictionary Definition:

ACCORDING to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, a city is defined as: "A town created a city by charter and containing a cathedral". No problem - Kilkenny received its first charter as a city from King James I in 1609 and boasts two cathedrals; one 12th-century, the other 19th-century, seats of Bishops of Ossory (and Cashel) since 1111 AD.

A Nation's Capital:

FOR seven glorious years from 1642, the Confederation, a native parliament of all Ireland, sat in Kilkenny attracting a bohemian mix of European types; diplomatic, ecclesiastical and ne'er-do-well in equal measure, all rubbing shoulders in the taverns and other houses of ill-repute that flourished at the time. Doubtless, this was the origin of the modern city's fearsome festival reputation.

Festival City:

THE Confederation provided the inspiration for a series of Confederation Festivals in the mid-1990s, paving the way for a number of other annual events. Twenty years earlier, the Kilkenny Beer Festival, with its somewhat questionable cultural credentials, was replaced from 1973 when the first Kilkenny Arts Week was held offering a menu of top international classical music, visual arts and theatre. Kilkenny Arts Festival has grown enormously in popularity over the years along with the annual Cat Laughs International Comedy Festival, the Rhythm and Roots Festival and the Gowran Park Racing Festival.

Seat of Parliament:

CENTURIES before the Confederation and the charter of James I, Kilkenny was the natural venue for parliamentary assemblies presided over by various Anglo-Norman kings and, in 1366, by Edward III's son who effected the notorious "Statute of Kilkenny" which amongst other things banned hurling - a cruel blow to the athletes of Kilkenny.

Kilkenny City Sports:

TODAY'S athletes face no such ban but they could be facing an ignominious downgrading of their proud traditions. Kilkenny City Football Club could hardly hold their heads as high in the Eircom League, nor could Kilkenny City Harriers feel the breeze beneath their feet at international athletics meetings denuded of their city designation.

The Walls:

SADLY the victims of a very modern siege - that of the property developers - little remains of the original city walls except for a few fine dignified bulwarks, a gate and a tower. In their heyday, however, the walls separated the Boroughs of Irishtown from Hightown as much as they separated the outside world from that within. The two separate corporations promulgated different laws and there were frequent rows as to their precedence at official ceremonies, however they co-existed relatively peacefully. Good walls make good neighbours, apparently.

University City:

A UNIVERSITY, the Royal College of St Canice, was briefly established by James II at Kilkenny College in 1689, past pupils of which include Jonathan Swift, William Congreve and Bishop Berkeley. Although there is currently no major third level institution, there have been moves afoot to re-establish Kilkenny's claim as an academic centre, something which would certainly add further to the city's vibrant atmosphere.

Administrative Hub:

THE Crafts Council of Ireland and The Heritage Council have their national headquarters in Kilkenny and, in keeping with its political heritage, there are significant decentralised governmental departments slated for the city, which already hosts the Patents Office and divisions of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland.