July 4, 2022

Signs of our times: Kilkenny’s rich history comes to life at our City Walls

KILKENNY’S City Walls have stood testament to centuries of historic events and countless hidden stories through the ages.

But now some of the city’s unique history will be on public view for all to see as two beautiful new signs were unveiled on James Street this week.

The colourful bilingual interpretive signs are part of Kilkenny County Council’s strategy to highlight our heritage, and provide information for locals and visitors about the former medieval city walls.

Welcoming the initiative Leas Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council Cllr. Andrew McGuinness said: “As our city grows and develops it’s important that we remember, celebrate and showcase our history and heritage – this is what makes Kilkenny such a special place to live in.”

Although much of the original two miles of medieval city walls have been lost over the last hundreds of years, their foundations are still rooted strong beneath the streets of Kilkenny. And in some sections an impressive section of the walls still stand firm.

St. James Gate, located on James Street near Tilbury Place, was one of seven gatehouses built in the city walls by the Anglo Normans in the 1300’s. Outside the walls was a thriving suburb where the poorer Irish craftworkers lived and traded. It was also a meeting place for Irish pilgrims to gather before they set off to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In the 1800’s this area developed into a centre for education and religion with the construction of St. Mary’s Cathedral, the CBS and the Presentation Convent.

Archaeological excavations commissioned by the Kilkenny CBS Secondary School during construction of an extension to the school at James Street a few years ago uncovered the original medieval ditch on which the city wall was built.

Kilkenny County Council Conservation Officer Francis Coady has worked closely with the CBS to record and highlight this valuable part of our city’s heritage.

He said: “This project is a great example a positive partnership between Kilkenny County Council, the CBS, their architect and also the archaeologist and illustrators who were part of the design team for the new signs. The focus here was to create an interpretative piece that highlights the importance and value of our City Wall, a National Monument, to local people as well as the tourists.”

Kilkenny County Council Heritage Officer Dearbhala Ledwidge added: “What is particularly special about these signs is that the illustrations are evidence-based recreations of what the area would have looked like and they tell the story of life and conditions outside the city walls – from the perspective of the native Irish population. I think that they will be a really useful educational resource for history teachers and students around the county.”

One sign is located at the corner of James Street and Tilbury Place. The other is on the grassy area in front of the City Wall on Chapel Lane.

The signs were co-funded by Kilkenny County Council, the Irish Walled Towns Network and Kilkenny CBS Secondary School. They are part of a series of City Walls signs developed by Kilkenny County Council to highlight the fascinating history and stories of Kilkenny’s medieval City walls.

Design and artwork was provided by Ale Mercado; archaeological illustration by Philip Armstrong; and archaeological and historical research by Coilín O’Driscéoil, Kilkenny Archaeology.

For further information on Kilkenny’s City Walls, and to download a copy of the signs see www.kilkennyheritage.ie . A limited supply of copies of the brochure “Kilkenny City’s Medieval Walls: Talbots Tower” are also available from the Kilkenny County Council Heritage Office. Email heritage@kilkennycoco.ie

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