Kilkenny Medieval House in Danger


This morning I happened to catch the headline: “Minister Jimmy Deenihan urged to save remnants of medieval manse house in Kilkenny,” and I just had to stop and read. Just having been in Ireland last summer, I took particular interest in the ancient city of Kilkenny, and even more specifically, it’s Rothe House Museum. I absolutely loved this place – it was an awesome demonstration of medieval Irish architecture and life ways, and it entirely fascinated me. So I thought with this post, I would introduce the article about the medieval house in Kilkenny that is currently at risk of being destroyed, and then reiterate an older post about my visit to Rothe House and Gardens, as an example of what can be done with ancient structures such as this for the sake of public history.

Below is an excerpt from the article about the medieval house:

“Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan is being urged by An Taisce to spare a the remnants of late medieval manse house opposite St Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny that stand in the way of a controversial road scheme.

This follows the discovery that one of the three 19th century houses due to be demolished to facilitate the central access scheme contains a late-medieval gable and a shouldered chimney “identical to that of Rothe House”, one of Kilkenny’s tourist attractions.

“This medieval manse house is clearly an integral part of the St Canice’s Cathedral complex. It ticks all of the legal boxes to qualify as a national monument due to its historical, archaeological, architectural and cultural nature,” An Taisce said.

“There is now a very reasonable expectation that substantial remains of the lower elements of the entire building will be uncovered. Thus, a fine new tourist attraction would be created along Kilkenny’s ‘Medieval Mile’.”

An Taisce said the gable and chimney, standing at 5m, had been identified as being parts of a manse house used by canons of the cathedral in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it called on Mr Deenihan to declare it a national monument “without delay”.”

Read the full article here.

Below is an excerpt pulled from my old history blog, in which I described my experience in the Rothe House and Gardens in Kilkenny (what I thought to be an absolutely wonderful example of informative, interactive public history). It’s also an awesome opportunity for me to move content from my old website to my new one, so there’s that too!


“While in Kilkenny, one of our stops was to a location called the Rothe House (and Gardens), a historically preserved 17th century merchant’s domestic residence (the only one of its kind in Ireland).

The house itself was built between 1594 and 1610 in the English Renaissance architectural style. The builder was “John Rothe Fitz Piers who constructed it on the Burgage Plot he acquired as one of the city’s leading citizens. The Rothe Family, along with less than a dozen other wealthy families, controlled Kilkenny’s trade and dominated its civic government from the late Middle Ages until the 17th Century.” (source)

The Rothe house site was excavated in 1933 by Irish archaeologist Neil O’Flannigan. “The investigation focused on the interior of the building where the original foundations of re-deposited boulder clay survived. On top of the clay lay several slim limestone slabs, indicating the nature of the floor. Above it, a grooved corbel on the back wall suggested that the ground floor was partitioned at this point. A small area to the rear of the house was excavated, exposing a small trench and posthole


associated with the construction of the back wall. It was evident that a bed of re-deposited clay had been laid over the natural sand and gravel prior to the construction of the building. Another portion of ground in front of the house was excavated yielding evidence for an earlier stone lined well dating to Anglo-Norman times. The well was partitioned and filled with detritus sometime in the 14th century. The well remained in use, however, and over two hundred years later a fine hooded well was constructed over it. This hooded well is still in existence and can be seen in the courtyard beside the house.” (source)

The construction of this house (or complex, really), is three-part in nature: the house that sits on the street-front would have been the location of the business ran by the Rothe family. They family would have lived above the mercantile space, and the houses behind this would have also constituted domestic spaces. Behind the third house is the 17th century urban garden recreation, which I will discuss shortly. The street-front house was constructed in 1594, the middle house in 1604 and the furthest house in 1610.

250982_10151802162235023_888388836_nThe back of the first house in this complex looks down onto a courtyard, which would have originally been a private domestic space. There are two other enclosed courtyards in this complex, a feature commonly associated with 16th and 17th century domestic architecture.

Other than the great historical preservation found within the Rothe House, this location is also steeped in significant Irish history, having been the meeting place of the Confederation of Kilkenny in the mid 17th century, and the location of the Gaelic League in the late 19th century.

The image to the left is the Phelan Room in Rothe house. “This room contains a number of paintings, 18th century furniture, and a fine example of the skeleton of a Giant Irish Deer.” (source) While not all of the artifacts in the museum are attributable to the Rothe family, they all originated from Kilkenny, many of which being contemporaneous with the Rothes.


You can see at the top of this image the preserved roof beams original to the Rothe house. Obviously they are well

supported, but their original integrity remains. The first image at the top of this post is the fireplace and hearth in the third house, with contemporaneous kitchen ware from the Kilkenny area.


Behind the third house is a recreation of the 17th century gardens that would have originally been found there. The space is broken up into a Lower Garden and an Upper Garden.

“The Lower Garden is where vegetables and herbs, which would have grown in the 17th century, are planted. These include Deer Tongue lettuce, Scarlet Runner beans, Gortahork cabbage, Mammoth leeks, Lovage, Borage and Ladys bedstraw.”


“The Upper Garden or Orchard contains a wide range of fruit trees: apple; medlar; quince and damson. The apple Sweet Rocket, Calendula, Rosa Maidens Blush and Hollyhocks.”varieties include Blood of the Boyne and Scarlet Crofton. Surrounding these functional plants, our beautiful flowers which blossom throughout the year include

Visiting the Rothe house was an incredible opportunity in terms of experiencing a 16th/17th century domestic space. The three houses and courtyards (all open to the public for viewing and exploration) were full of Kilkenny’s rich material culture history and medieval architecture, and the adjacent 17th century gardens are the only such replications in Ireland that are available for the public to walk through and experience such a beautiful historical recreation.The gardens were planted to appear aesthetically akin to 17th century gardens, utilizing archaeological methodology as a means of determining what sort of plants were appropriate to plant in certain parts of the garden. Another interesting aspect of the gardens is the incorporation of Kilkenny’s post-medieval wall system (which serves as the garden wall at the very back end of the plot).


Further Reading:
Irish Times article – Kilkenny House 
St. Canice’s Cathedral blog post
Rothe House and Gardens blog post
Rothe House website
– Kilkenny Archaeological Society
– Archaeology of Rothe House
– Rothe House wiki
– Rothe House Gardens

[Photographs property of Paige Doerner Photography]  


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