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15/10/2010

  

Chief Justice to preside at opening of €17 million newly refurbished Kilkenny courthouse.

The Hon. Mr. Justice John L Murray, Chief Justice of Ireland will preside at the official opening of Kilkenny Courthouse, by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D.

 

Kilkenny courthouse which will be officially opened today, 15th October, is an ultra modern, sensitively restored, historically important, civic heart to the cityscape of Kilkenny.

The old building

Kilkenny Courthouse is a detached, two-storey over raised basement building located on Parliament Street, in the historical centre of the town. It was originally built over, and incorporated the remains of, a sixteenth century castle and an eighteenth century bridewell/gaol. Its conversion to a courthouse occurred in c.1792, and it was later remodelled in c.1828, and further extended to the rear in c.1870. It has two double-height courtrooms, which were totally refurbished in c.1980. The building is of national architectural heritage importance. However many alterations were quite insensitive, and were reversed in the recent refurbishment and construction works.

Works and facilities

The works involved the refurbishment of the existing, historic courthouse building and the construction of a new 3,000 square metre extension linked to the existing structure by a new atrium which serves as a new public entrance. The original entrance is also retained. The works provide new and improved accommodation for all court users. It includes two new courtrooms, judges’ chambers, consultation rooms for legal practitioners, victim support room, improved jury facilities, office accommodation for Circuit and District Court offices and a holding cell area for prisoners.

Design

The intent of the design and refurbishment was firstly, to renovate in a sensitive way the existing historic building and secondly to create a high-quality modern extension providing both additional accommodation for users and allowing universal access to both old and new elements.

Materials

Durable sustainable materials including stone, copper and wood were used to create high-quality public spaces outside and inside. The new building and the existing building relate to each other by their proportions, by choice of material and by the quality of space created.

History of site

The site has been occupied for at least 800 years. The building has had many guises, and has been in public use for 500 years. 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.

Archaeological finds

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 l ittle 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.

Accessibility

Previously, the only access to the court building was via long flights of external stone steps. By relocating the main entrance to the new atrium with its lifts, the new works have ensured that all public and staff areas are now fully universally accessible. The courtrooms have been redesigned to be accessible to anyone with mobility difficulties - witnesses, jurors, legal practitioners or members of the public. The courtrooms have also been equipped with induction loops for people with hearing difficulties.

Project leaders and cost

The project was undertaken for the Courts Service. The design was led by OPW architects with the assistance of conservation architects Bluett O'Donoghue. The main contractor was Michael McNamara & Co. The total construction and fit out cost of the project will be €17million.