Thursday 13 June 2013

Kilkenny famine graveyard at risk

Seems there's something of a rumpuss going on in Kilkenny about a planned new road that will carve up a famine graveyard within the grounds of the old Fever Hospital.

The route of the road – part of the City’s €10.7 million Central Access Scheme (CAS) – has already caused controversy because it requires the demolition of two historic houses at 21 and 22 Vicar Street, which are thought to contain substantial medieval fabric and significant archaeological importance. Despite a 3,600-signature petition against the demolition, the houses are expected to be wrecked within days.

News about the famine graveyard has come as a revelation. But Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, director of Kilkenny Archaeology, says that a local historian had discovered a reference to it from March 1847 when the Kilkenny City Relief Committee 'voted £10 for coffins and £10 to buy a plot of land behind the Kilkenny Fever Hospital'.

“Kilkenny County Council were not aware of this graveyard,” Mr O’ Drisceoil told the Kilkenny People newspaper. “It is quite extraordinary that after ten years of planning for the Central Access Scheme that this should have been missed.”

A similar famine graveyard within the old Kilkenny Workhouse complex at nearby MacDonagh Junction was excavated in 2006-7. It ended up costing over €1 million and led to the disinterment of 900 skeletons. Just as in the current case, no record of a burial ground was reported in advance of the development. But once evidence of the bodies was found, an archival search was carried out. Lo and behold, the Workhouse Minute Books, reportedly missing at the time when the planning study was taking place, were discovered.

The CAS isn't going down well locally. It will significantly alter historic Dean Street, and locals are concerned it will bring extra traffic into the medieval city as well as open an edge-of-town site for retail development, which could negatively impact retail outlets on High Street.