2010:422 - Rothe House (third courtyard), Parliament Street, Kilkenny, Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: Rothe House (third courtyard), Parliament Street, Kilkenny

Sites and Monuments Record No.: KK019–026 Licence number: 09E0572

Author: Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, Kilkenny Archaeology, Threecastles, Kilkenny

Site type: Early modern townhouse

ITM: E 650428m, N 656155m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.654244, -7.254687

Rothe House is a protected structure that is owned by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society (KAS) and managed by Rothe House Trust Ltd. Construction of the complex of three houses and a garden began in 1594 on the site of the townhouse of the abbot of Duiske Abbey, Graiguenamanagh, and was completed around 1610 by John Rothe Fitzpiers, a wealthy merchant and politician. Since 1962 the house has been the subject of restoration and conservation works by the KAS and a Fáilte Ireland/Kilkenny Borough Council-funded representation scheme for the property commenced in 2006. The project has resulted in a series of archaeological excavations, in 2005 in the garden burgage plot (Excavations 2005, No. 821, 05E598) and in 2007 in the courtyards (Excavations 2007, No. 970, 05E598 ext.). In 2010 the construction of a new kitchen and access into the garden at the rear (west) yard of what was formerly the ‘great kitchen’ of the house (known today as the ‘third house’) was prefaced by testing, excavation and monitoring. A single cutting measuring 6.2m north–south x 5.3m was excavated within the cobbled yard.

The earliest activity occurred in the late 13th to 14th century and was represented by a section of a large stone-lined cesspit; its use can be correlated historically with the plot’s occupation by the abbot of Duiske Abbey. The north-west corner (the north and west walls) of the pit fell within the excavation area. Its internal dimensions were 1.2m x 0.8m and it was investigated, but not bottomed, to a depth of 1.05m. It is difficult to reconstruct the complete dimensions though it may have been in the order of 2.4m sq, the rest of it extending outside the excavation cutting. The sides were battered inwards; this was more pronounced in the west wall than the north. Twelve individual deposits were excavated within the cesspit, arranged in alternating layers of cess and ‘damping’ deposits of stone/sandy clays.

Although limited in extent, a rich collection of finds, animal bones and environmental evidence was recovered. Associated ceramics were the base of a Saintonge-decorated ware jug and sherds of Leinster cooking ware and Kilkenny-type pottery. Metal finds included an iron double-oval buckle with plate (mid-14th to mid-15th century), a copper-alloy possible rush-light holder and iron nails. Mineralisation of fly puparia (and some beetle remains) occurred and this led to the preservation of a moderate number of fly species (identified by Eileen Reilly), all most likely associated with the original use of the cesspit as a receptacle for human excrement and urine. The seaweed fly was an unusual inclusion and may have been brought in with oyster shells. Only meat-rich body portions of the main domesticates were present in the animal bone assemblage and the meat cuts represented virtually all edible segments of cattle, caprovine and pig. The cat, brown rat (presumably intrusive) and wood mouse were also identified. European eel and species from the cod family (gadidae) were the only fish represented. A varied assemblage of mineralised and carbonised macrofossil non-wood plant material was identified including oat, wheat and barley cereals, orache, onion, fat hen, docks and mustard/cabbage, elderberry, cherry, haws, rowan berries, hazelnut, fig, pulses and vetches. All of the evidence recovered from the cesspit points to its association with a wealthy household of high status that enjoyed a rich and varied diet and is in keeping with the documentary evidence that the site was the townhouse for the abbot of Duiske Abbey. As such, it is an important addition to the corpus of ‘pre-Rothe’ archaeology from the site – the well in the garden, the rectangular well in the main courtyard and a large stone French-drain in the first courtyard being the only other features known from this period.

The cesspit was covered over in the late 16th/early 17th century by a previously undocumented east–west wall, 0.45m in width, that subdivided the rear yard and contained a yellow-clay yard surface associated with Westerwald pottery. The wall defined a 7.5m (east–west) x 6m space in the north of the yard and its position adjoining the former northern (now infilled) entrance to House 3 makes it possible that the wall was built to form a private area for the Rothe family that was accessed through this door and from which the garden was entered. The foundation trench for the west wall of the yard, which acted as a retaining wall for the garden 2.5m above, was also investigated and found to be 0.55m wide x 0.5m deep and dug into the natural gravel. No finds were retrieved from the backfill but it was abutted by the east–west wall. The new evidence for a private yard behind the 1610 ‘great kitchen’ adds to our understanding of the arrangement of space in this part of the complex and also provides an insight into the social organisation of the Rothe household.

In the 19th century House 3 was modified into a forge and a lean-to shed was constructed in the north of the yard. Post-holes from this structure were excavated, as well as a large quantity of waste metal-smelting detritus. The post-holes corresponded with the south wall of an L-shaped building that is shown on the first-edition Griffith’s valuation and 1872 OS maps. By the time the 1902 map was produced the building had been removed and the resultant post-pits backfilled with waste from the forge. A large number of iron finds recovered from the DeLoughry forge’s waste dumps also provide additional information regarding its workings and products. Following the completion of excavations, the construction of the new structures was completed with archaeological monitoring. The stone cesspit was preserved in situ beneath the formation level for a chair lift.