2008:719 - Rothe House, Parliament Street, Kilkenny, Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: Rothe House, Parliament Street, Kilkenny

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 05E0598 ext.

Author: Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, Kilkenny Archaeology, Rothe House, Kilkenny.

Site type: 250488 156112

ITM: E 650426m, N 656165m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.654330, -7.254715

A programme of upgrading and maintenance works carried out at Rothe House, Parliament Street, Kilkenny, necessitated licensed monitoring. Rothe House has a rich history that spans some eight hundred years and today is Ireland’s best-preserved example of an urban mansion of what is termed the Renaissance period (c. 1560–1650). The main house was completed in 1594 by John Rothe, a wealthy merchant, and another two buildings were added to the rear during the following decade. Since 1962 the complex has been the subject of ongoing restoration and conservation works by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and in 2002 a conservation plan for the historic property was completed. In 2008 the Rothe House Trust Ltd. were provided with a grant by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to carry out certain maintenance and stabilisation works within the property. All associated groundworks were monitored at the request of the Rothe House Trust Ltd.

The insertion of new French drains around the three houses in the complex required the excavation of three cuttings in the first courtyard and another three in the second. During the revamping of the house in 1898 the ground level in the courtyards had been lowered considerably, thus removing the Rothe-period surfaces, which were c. 0.3m higher than at present. Accordingly, in the main, the service trenches were dug through levelling deposits of 19th- and 20th-century date.

In Cutting 1, which was excavated to a depth of 0.45m along the rear (west) wall of House 1 in the first courtyard, an east–west stone culvert was found to have been built over by the 1594 house-wall. The point at which the culvert emptied into the basement of House 1 was blocked and the culvert must pre-date its construction. The culvert may be associated with the townhouse of the abbot of Duiske Abbey, which was pulled down to make way for the Rothes’ mansion.

Cutting 2 was excavated to a depth of 0.4m along the outside (south) wall of the outscale (link) building between House 1 and 2. The stone footings for the outscale were revealed at a depth of 0.1m and were found to have been placed directly on natural gravel. In Cutting 3 the stone footings for the east wall of House 2 were identified and found to have been sitting above the same gravel as in Cutting 2.

Cuttings 4–6 were situated within the main courtyard of the house-complex, between Houses 2 and 3. Cutting 4 ran along the front (east) wall of House 3. The only finding of note in was the glacial gravel at a depth of 0.52m below the present cobbled surface. Cutting 5 was dug along the outside (south) wall of the outscale and varied from 0.5–0.6m in depth. The gravel was encountered at 0.5m depth and above it was a thin layer of yellow clay, probably also of glacial origin. Two large pits which were dug into the abovementioned strata were backfilled with a dark silty clay. A minimal excavation into the deposits produced no finds. The footings for the outscale, which probably date to shortly after c. 1610, were built over the pits. In the case of the easternmost pit, the soft ground formed by its fill was compensated for by the construction of a rudimentary relieving arch over it. An examination of the joints between the outscale and Houses 2 and 3 indicated that the outscale was built after House 2 and concurrently with House 3.

Cutting 6 ran along the rear (west) wall of House 2 and across the carriage-arch to the corner of the outscale between Houses 2 and 3. It reached a maximum depth of 0.6m, which was also the approximately the top of the gravel substratum. In the south of the cutting a 0.6m-wide east–west wall was encountered running beneath the footings of House 2 and extending west beyond the limit of excavation. No other fragments of the wall were encountered and no evidence was found to confirm its date. However it evidently predated the construction of House 2 in c. 1604, and may also have been related to the townhouse of the abbot of Duiske Abbey.

A stone garderobe pit was also uncovered in Cutting 6. It was a 0.9m by 0.7m rectangular structure that was recessed to a depth of 0.3m into the wall of House 2; the garderobe chute above it was blocked with red-brick rubble. The interior of the pit was lined with lime render and filled with dumped rubble, from which 17th-century pottery and glass was recovered.

All of the stone structures were preserved in situ and the garderobe pit will be displayed in the near future.