The unique history of the Heritage Council’s headquarters in Kilkenny

The building which houses the Heritage Council in Kilkenny – which has historic links to former President Barack Obama - is one of the oldest continuously used structures in Ireland.

In today’s podcast, Colm Murray, Architecture Officer with The Heritage Council provides a unique insight into a building which has been part of our history for centuries.

It was constructed by Bishop Richard Ledrede - Bishop from 1317-61 - using the stone from three parish churches.

These churches had possibly fallen out of use after the devastation caused by the Black Death.

The Heritage Council moved into the former Bishop’s Palace – now called Áras na hOidhreachta - in 2008.

It was officially opened by President Mary McAleese, following a lengthy programme of conservation works by the OPW.

Bishop Ledrede was obsessed with combatting heresy and he played a primary role in confronting witchcraft.

Excavations have shown there was much earlier occupation in this area. A monastery in this location from around 600 AD, was associated with St Canice.

Further excavations provided evidence - dating from the 10th and 11th centuries - of antler comb manufacture and enclosure ditches.

Christian burials from the 8th – 10th centuries were also found at the lane at the front gate, proving this location is a vital link to Kilkenny city’s history.

The Palace continued as a Bishop’s residence, and centre of administration, during the medieval period.

During the wars of the 17th century the structure fell into ruin, and in the 1650s was described as being fit for cattle.

John Kearney, Bishop of Ossory from 1806-13, lived in the building. Remarkably, he was the great-great-great grand uncle of President Barack Obama.

The grounds were enlarged in the mid-19th century and a considerable amount of landscaping provided the outline for the garden’s current appearance.

Further Reading

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