Kilkenny Archaeology workers, currently surveying Fethard’s Town Hall, were fascinated with the many discoveries unearthed in the building while undertaking the excavations as part of the community development plan for the building under the direction of Fethard Business and Tourism Group. The following are excerpts from the Kilkenny Archaeology Facebook page, which is also illustrated with lots of amazing photographs of work in progress in Fethard.
In the early 1600’s the Evarard lords of Fethard built what was at the time the largest almshouse in Ireland. Fethard was like a ‘mini Kilkenny’ in the seventeenth century, a thriving town where a suite of fashionable Renaissance style buildings were constructed of the finest limestone. The buildng’s four walls survive almost to their full original height and many of its windows can be seen in the facade. Kilkenny Archaeology are carrying out a detailed study of the building over the next week, removing plaster and excavating to discover the structure’s original configuration and its evolution. We have three main questions. 1. Does the early 17th century almshouse incorporate an earlier, medieval, building? 2. What was the seventeenth century configuration of the structure, its windows, doors and fireplaces and how was the space utilised for the almshouse? 3. Is there a cellar beneath the ground floor? The work is being carried out for Fethard Community Development and Shaffrey Architects, who are restoring and reusing the structure for a cafe and exhibition space.
On Day 1 they discovered a seventeenth century fireplace in the west gable, first floor; another fireplace, three new windows, a door and possibly a cellar.
This site is the gift that just keeps on giving! The second day we discovered another (yes a third!) seventeenth century fireplace, perfectly intact in the east gable of the almshouse. And our trench in the rear yard has proven that the building (or at least its rear wall) is around two-hundred years older than was previously thought, dating from around the later fourteenth century. We know this because a piece of pottery that was made in the mid-fourteenth century pottery kiln at Highhays, Kilkenny, was found in the backfill of the almhouse’s construction trench.
On Day 3 we have confirmed that the seventeenth century almshouse building was founded on an earlier, probably fourteenth century, building. Historical sources suggest this may have been a hospital. And right at the very base of our trench, stuck into a wet silt layer was the remains of one of the scaffold posts used to build the structure! And there is definitely a cellar to the building - is it full of wine we wonder? And finally, opening up of the plaster in the east gable has revealed a well-preserved window embrasure that may also relate to the earliest phase of the building.
We’ll be heading back to Fethard town hall for final surveying this week. More updates to come.