State to pay €1.1m for heritage church and graveyard in Kilkenny city


THE STATE is to pay the Church of Ireland €1.1 million for a derelict church and graveyard in the heart of Kilkenny’s medieval city centre.

Local TD John McGuinness said Government funding had been secured to acquire St Mary’s Church, which he described as “a fantastic asset for the national heritage” which would “add greatly to Kilkenny’s tourism offering”.

St Mary’s is situated along a trail of the country’s most intact medieval urban architecture, midway between Kilkenny Castle and St Canice’s Cathedral. The church has not been used for worship since the 1960s, and has fallen into disrepair. An Taisce and the Heritage Council have expressed alarm at its deterioration.

An Taisce said the 13th century church was “at the centre of affairs in the city during the medieval period”, and that the graveyard contains “internationally important” funerary monuments, “acclaimed as unique examples of Irish Renaissance architecture”.

But the site has “suffered appalling damage through vandalism” in the past 20 years. Some of the tombs, which contain the remains of notable medieval families, have been desecrated and smashed.

Mayor of Kilkenny Malcolm Noonan said the Church of Ireland did not have adequate funds to restore the site, which was “the single most important medieval ecclesiastical site in Kilkenny”.

The cost is being funded by a grant of €700,000 from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with €300,000 from the combined Kilkenny local authorities and €100,000 from the Heritage Council. Public ownership means the site, a protected structure, can be declared a national monument. The councils hope to renovate the “nationally important building” and to restore the damaged tombs.

Mr McGuinness has suggested the church be used to create a “museum of Norman history”.

Cóilín Ó Drisceoil of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society said the deterioration of St Mary’s had long been “the most critical heritage issue facing the city”, and that “its transfer into public ownership is the most important development for heritage conservation in Kilkenny since the castle was gifted to the people of the city by the Butlers in 1969”.

Green Party TD for Carlow-Kilkenny Mary White said Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley had visited the site last month and “was bowled over by the integrity of St Mary’s Church; the extraordinary quality of the building, tombs and sculpture and the unique integrity of the site as a whole”.