Old Jail and Courthouse, County Kilkenny
Kilkenny Courthouse is a detached, two-storey over raised basement building located on Parliament Street, in the historical centre of Kilkenny. Originally a 16th Century castle and an 18th Centruy bridewell/gaol stood on the site. Its conversion to a courthouse occurred around 1792, and it was later remodelled around 1828. Another extension to the rear was added in roughly 1870. It has two double-height courtrooms, which were totally refurbished in 1980. The building holds importance both architecturally and historically. Many of the changes to the original structure may have been quite intensive but these have been reversed through the recent refurbishment and construction works.
The site has been occupied for at least 800 years and in public use for the last 500 year. The earliest recorded building is Grace’s Castle, built in 1210. In 1566 the castle was sold to the English Crown and rented to Kilkenny Corporation for use as a gaol. In 1752 and 1792 further works hid whatever remained of the castle and added a courthouse and another gaol to the complex. The Kilkenny architect, William Robertson, added the present classical front elevation to unify the appearance of the buildings in 1824. He also created the Georgian entrance hall behind (possibly an amalgamation of different older rooms). The local authority made other alterations in the last century, most notably the addition in the 1920’s of a council chamber to the back of the building, with its distinctive timber-lined ceiling.
An archaeological dig in 2008 on the site to the rear of the courthouse yielded extensive finds, many unique in Kilkenny. About 30 burials were found, probably mostly of prisoners, and possibly one from medieval times. Because the site falls to the River Nore and is very damp, archaeologists found many very well preserved items such as a child’s toy, wooden spindles, even shingles of wooden medieval roofs about which little had been known. The rare "wet" archaeology also revealed seed and pollen samples, allowing experts to trace the history of vegetation and food on the site over a thousand years. The cesspits were particularly informative.
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