New plans for Kilkenny's iconic Tholsel get members' support

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Plans to renovate Kilkenny’s historic Tholsel building to ensure it can remain in use in the years ahead have been given the go-ahead by local councillors in a majority decision.

The town hall building has been an iconic landmark in the city for centuries, and over that time has been the subject of a number of significant interventions, not all of them sympathetic. The building still has a civic use, but it does not comply with fire safety regulations or disability access requirements. Without intervention, it will not be able to be used as a public building as of 2022.

With permission now given, the council will make applications to Failte Ireland for grant funding. Director of services Tim Butler says the council hopes to be in a position to go to tender in the middle of next year. The estimated cost of the project is €3.8 million, with about 2.2-2.5 million of this to come from Failte Ireland.

At Monday’s meeting of Kilkenny County Council, senior engineer Tony Lauhoff said the new plans are an opportunity to open up the basement structure, and the wider building to members of the public and tourists. Two entrances are required — one for civic use and one for tourism purposes.

Mr Lauhoff said the timber inserts were intended to by sympathetic to the structure, and timber would have been historically used within the forecourt area.

It’s also proposed to install a glazed reception area, and remove the railings introduced to the area in the 1950s. “They convey a message of ‘keep out’,” said Mr Lauhoff.

Windows in the Mayor’s Parlour will be re-instated along with the original double-height ceiling. Mr Lauhoff said that to comply with regulations, the stairs and lift access needed to be continuous to all floors.

In order to retain as much civic reception and office space as possible, the spiral staircase will be removed. Were it to be kept, it would mean the loss of a considerable amount of space, as a new staircase and lift are required.

Senior executive officer Brian Tyrrell said the council had brought as much expertise to the project as was possible, in architectural, archaeological, and heritage terms. He said there was a deficiency in terms of the storytelling experience of the town hall. The reception area is a welcome to the building and provides links with the Medieval Mile Museum. The basement tour will tell a darker story of Kilkenny’s history using technology and interpretation.

There will also be an opportunity to display civic archives. Finally, there will be limited public access to the clocktower, offering views across the city.

Cathaoirleach Peter ‘Chap’ Cleere said that as a former Mayor of Kilkenny who had an affinity for the building, he was delighted to propose the item.

“I think it could be a real game-changer for Kilkenny,” hesaid.

It was seconded by Cllr Andrew McGuinness, who said it was one of the hardest decisions he had ever had to make due to his family connections to the building, and personal love for it. He said he did have some concerns, such as the glass structure and the removal of ceremonial staircase, but the positives outweighed the negatives.

“It’s a scary prospect that it can’t be used by the public after 2022 if we don’t do something,” he said.

Other members expressed their qualified support for the plans. Two members, Cllrs Eugene McGuinness and Malcolm Noonan, said there was much that was to be welcomed, but they could not support the item, citing the removal of the ceremonial staircase as a deal-breaker.

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