30 August 2018

Grace’s Castle, a modern
courthouse in Kilkenny
dating from the 13th century

Grace’s Castle on Parliament Street, Kilkenny, is a modern courthouse on the site of a mediaeval castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier today, I enjoyed the view of the classical façade of Grace’s Castle on Parliament Street, in the historical centre of Kilkenny. This is a very modern courthouse, but it stands on the site of an early mediaeval castle or fortress that was first built by the Grace family in 1210.

The Grace family was descended from Raymond le Gros, who came to Ireland in 1170. The family primarily lived at Courtstown Castle in Tullaroan, about 15 km from the city, and Grace’s Castle served as their townhouse.

From the beginning, the family was active in the life of Kilkenny city and county. Two members of the family were abbots of Jerpoint Abbey, Oliver Grace of Tullaroan was Keeper of the Peace in Co Kilkenny in the 15th century, and later, in 1834, William Grace became Mayor of Kilkenny.

Grace’s Castle remained a private residence until it was leased to the state in 1566 by James Grace, who was then Governor of Ireland. The castle was rebuilt and converted into a prison and was used as a goal for about 200 years.

Garret Comerford (ca 1550-1604) of Inchiholohan or Castleinch, Co Kilenny, was the Queen’s Attorney-at-Laws for Connaught, MP for Callan, Second Baron of the Exchequer and Chief Justice of Munster. His third son, Nicholas Comerford, was the King’s Gaoler in Kilkenny in the early 17th century, and his children included Nicholas Comberford (ca 1600-1673) of Stepney, an important cartographer in the mid-17th century.

The mediaeval remains of the castle that survived in the jail at Grace’s Castle were incorporated I then 18th century into the basement area of the gaol. When Grace’s Castle was converted to a courthouse in 1792, the work incorporated fabric of the earlier Bridewell dating from 1566, and the basement retains fabric of the mediaeval castle dating from 1210.

This classical-style courthouse is a seven-bay, double-height building over a projecting raised basement, built in 1792. Archival material suggests Sir Jerome Fitzpatrick, a campaigner for prison reform and a former medical doctor in the army, took charge of extensive renovations to convert the building into a courthouse.

Fitzpatrick’s internal configuration shows the influence of James Gandon (1743-1823), including the courthouse he built in Waterford City in 1784 but that was demolished around 1849.

However, Grace’s Castle, as it appears today, is primarily the result of a comprehensive redevelopment by the Kilkenny-born architect William Robertson (1770-1850), who had returned from London around 1801 and had developed a busy architectural practice in Kilkenny, with the Earl of Ormonde as an early client, carrying out extensive work at Kilkenny Castle in the decades that followed.

He also enlarged the barracks at Kilkenny, reported to the Dean and Chapter of Saint Canice’s on the fabric of the cathedral in 1813, and he designed Jenkinstown Castle for the Bellew family, the Gothic gateway for Shankill Castle, Gowran Castle for Lord Clifden, the chancel of Saint Mary’s Church (Church of Ireland), Gowran, Saint Canice’s Roman Catholic Church, Kilkenny, and Cappoquin Bridge in Co Waterford.

William Robertson died in Mayo 1850 at Rosehill, the house which he had built for himself near Saint Kieran’s College on College Road, Kilkenny. His large library – ‘the result of Fifty Years’ collecting’ – was sold at auction in Dublin over a number of days the following April.

Robertson’s classical scheme for Grace’s Castle, surmounting a somewhat haphazard base, forms an elegantly distinctive building. He remodelled the façade, adding features such as a balcony and stone staircase, and designing the pedimented tetrastyle Tuscan frontispiece added at the centre.

Here, the engaged Tuscan columns form a tetrastyle frontispiece to the centre, supporting the frieze with a moulded surround to the pediment with modillions. There are paired engaged Tuscan columns to end bays, a frieze, moulded cornice, and blocking course over, incorporating panels to the end bays having swags.

The courthouse is set back from Parliament Street with a landscaped forecourt that is enclosed by paired flights of 20 cut-limestone steps leading up to the entrance level.

The courthouse was extended in 1855-1856 with a four-bay three-storey return to east, and it was extended to the rear ca 1870.

The building was renovated around 1977, when the interior was remodelled. Despite these late 20th century renovations, some early fittings survive inside that offer an element of artistic importance, including fine timber joinery and decorative plasterwork features.

More recently, a 3000 sq m extension was added at the rear of the courthouse, with modern facilities and additional courtrooms. The brief involved refurbishing the existing courthouse building along with building the new 3,000 sq m extension. The work provided new and improved accommodation for all court users, including two new courtrooms, judges’ chambers, and office accommodation for the Circuit and District Courts.

All public and staff areas are fully accessible, including the courtrooms, redesigned to be accessible to anyone with mobility difficulties. The courtrooms have also been equipped with induction loops to aid people with hearing difficulties.

Kilkenny Courthouse is used today for sittings of the Circuit and District Courts. The front of the building retains some of the original features of the jail, which are visible from street level, and Grace’s Castle remains one of the earliest-surviving civic institutions in Kilkenny.

Grace’s Castle is one of the earliest-surviving civic institutions in Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Kieran’s, the Tudor
revival college in Kilkenny
that predates Maynooth

Saint Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, is a picturesque set of Tudor-Gothic revival buildings dating from the 1830s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am on my way to Kilkenny this morning, travelling by bus and train, from Askeaton through Limerick, Limerick Junction, Clonmel and Waterford, for this evening’s institution in Saint Canice’s Cathedral of a former student, the Revd David MacDonnell, as the Incumbent of the Kilkenny Union of Parishes and his installation as the Dean of Ossory.

Earlier this week, I was discussing how I had recently rediscovered my lecture notes for 12 modules of 12 of lectures each on Islamic Studies and Byzantine Studies in 2003-2004 on the NUI Maynooth Campus at Saint Kieran’s College, Kilkenny.

Saint Kieran’s College on College Road, Kilkenny, is set back from the road in landscaped grounds, and is a picturesque, impressive set of Tudor-Gothic revival buildings dating from the early Victorian period.

Saint Kieran’s College, which predates Maynooth by 13 years, was founded in 1782 as a diocesan college under the patronage of the Bishop of Ossory. Grattan’s Parliament had relaxed the Penal Laws that year, and records show a lease was signed for an old house in Kilkenny on 12 October 1782. This makes Saint Kieran’s the oldest Catholic college in Ireland and ‘the first Catholic College in the Kingdom.’

During its history, the college has been at a number of different locations, but always at the heart of the city, and moving to its present location in 1836.

The core college buildings at Saint Kieran’s College were designed by William Deane Butler (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The core college buildings were built under the direction of William Kinsella (1793-1845), Bishop of Ossory, to plans designed by the Dublin-born architect William Deane Butler (1793/1794-1857).

William Deane Butler was the second of the 13 children of George Butler, a Dublin solicitor, and his wife, Elizabeth Shea. He trained as an architect under Samuel Beazley and Henry Aaron Baker.

His other works include Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Kilkenny, the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Monasterevin, the county gaols in Ennis and Portlaoise, courthouses in Ballyconnell, Bray, Callan, Clifden, Cootehill, Newtownbutler and Urlingford, the Railway Station at Amiens Street, Dublin, and a gate lodge at Dublin Zoo.

Butler was appointed architect in ordinary to the Lord Lieutenant in 1853. He was married three times, had 13 surviving children, and died on 28 November 1857.

The foundation stone of Saint Kieran’s College was laid on 24 October 1836, the east wing was completed by September 1838, the west wing was completed in 1839, and the central block was built in 1847-1849.

The terminating ranges completing the main college buildings are the work by AWN Pugin’s son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921), and Ralph Henry Byrne’s nephew, Simon Aloysius Leonard (1903-1976) of WH Byrne & Son, Dublin. Leonard’s range was built by Walsh Brothers of Dublin reusing the fabric of the dismantled Saint John’s Roman Catholic Church in nearby Maudlin Street, originally built in 1840.

The college is simple but elegant, centred on the elevated chapel, and is an important landmark on College Road. The college buildings are well maintained, with most of the historic fabric still intact both outside and inside, and it is enhanced by the variety of openings in each range, as well as the distinctive glazing patterns and the finely-carved details.

This is a detached, 19-bay, two-storey over part-raised basement Tudor Revival college building. The double-height projecting central chapel is single-bay at the front and four-bay deep, projecting central chapel. There are two nine-bay, two-storey recessed flanking lateral wings. The east wing was completed in 1838 and the west wing in 1839. These wings have single-bay, two-storey gabled projecting central bays with canted oriel windows on the first floor.

At the rear or north side, there are nine-bay, three-storey over raised basement elevations.

The elliptical-headed openings arcaded bays were added in 1875 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This building was renovated and extended in 1875, with the addition of a single-bay, two-storey, gabled projecting terminating block with an attic to the right (east). This has a two-storey canted bay window, and five-bay two-storey side elevations. In addition, a series of elliptical-headed openings were added to the east and west wings, forming arcaded bays.

The 17-bay mainly three-storey school buildings to the north, enclosing a courtyard, date from 1933. The college was completed in 1955 with the addition on left or west side of a single-bay, two-storey over part-raised basement gabled projecting terminating block that has a six-bay, four-storey side or west elevation. This addition has a half-dormer attic and a three-stage canted bay window.

The interesting details in this composition include the projecting bays, the open arcades, the gablets at the windows, the half-dormer attic windows, the cut-limestone chimney stacks, the gables with cross finials at the apexes, the octagonal corner turrets on the chapel, the gabled buttresses, the ogee domes, recesses and finials, the battlemented parapet, the pointed-arch windows openings, the cut-limestone steps, the carved cut-limestone doorcase and the tongue-and-groove timber panelled double doors.

The college chapel forms the centrepiece of the main building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The college chapel, which forms the centrepiece of the main building, has a range of interesting artistic items, with an altar carved by Harry Stafflesser of South Tyrol, delicate stained-glass panels from the Harry Clarke studios, timber pews, panelled wainscoting incorporating a Gothic-style reredos, a timber panelled gallery, a decorative plasterwork cornice to the ceiling, a pointed-arch chancel arch, and trefoil-headed timber panelled wainscoting.

The complementary and elegant arched gateway on College Road was erected in 1941 but dates from 1782. This is a Tudor-headed carriageway with tooled limestone ashlar piers, chamfered reveals, a hood moulding over, iron double gates, cut-stone date stones or plaques.

Originally, this was the gateway to Jenkinstown Castle and estate in Co Kilkenny. It was reassembled on site at the entrance to Saint Kieran’s in 1941 and it remains a picturesque feature on College Road.

Sadly, the Kilkenny Campus of Maynooth University closed this year in June 2018.

The elegant arched gateway was first built in 1782 for Jenkinstown Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)