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Renaissance tombs in St Mary’s graveyard, Kilkenny city get the care they deserve

Elias Shee pre and post conservation

St Mary’s Church is located off High Street in Kilkenny city. The church, which was built in the early 1200s, was deconsecrated in the 1950s and was used since then as a community hall and as a  Freemasons Lodge. During the medieval period this was the parish church for the City and a forum for civic events. With the assistance of the Heritage Council it was recently bought by Kilkenny local authorities. It is now being developed as a museum with assistance from Fáilte Ireland.

 The cemetery, which surrounds the church, is the burial place of members of the leading merchant and political classes of late medieval Kilkenny, as well as many of the citizens of Kilkenny since the medieval period. Prominent members of the Shee and Rothe families were interred in the cemetery in elaborately sculpted tombs. Through these tombs members of the leading families of early seventeenth century Kilkenny attempted to show their Renaissance learning, their wealth and sophistication, and the prestige of their families. 

These tombs are one of the finest collections of sixteenth-seventeenth century memorials in Ireland and are of national importance. During the late twentieth century the graveyard became dilapidated and some of the tombs were vandalised and badly damaged.

 In 2005 a conservation plan, which was the result of co-operation between the Heritage Council, the Church of Ireland, Kilkenny local authorities and the Trustees of St Mary’s was published. The conservation of these tombs is a key action of this plan.

 These repair works were funded by Kilkenny Borough Council and the Heritage Council. The works were carried out  by team of archaeologists and conservators (Kilkenny Archaeology, Ivor McIlveen, Tallis building contractors, Amy Harris). The next phase of works will see the removal of modern graffiti.