9.3.1 Archaeological Heritage

Closed22 Dec, 2020, 09:00 - 12 Mar, 2021, 17:00
9.3.1 Archaeological Heritage  

Our archaeological heritage consists of the material remains left behind by past societies and includes structures, places, sites, features or portable objects, whether on land, underwater or in the intertidal zone.  It contributes to our understanding of our past and also to our cultural, educational and tourism assets.  Archaeological sites and monuments vary in form and date.

In Kilkenny our archaeological heritage dates from the Mesolithic Period (8000 BC) to the end of the Medieval Period (1700 AD) and includes earthworks (e.g. ringforts), megalithic sites; Fulachta Fiadh; early Christian ecclesiastical sites, churches, graveyards, medieval buildings; castles, industrial archaeology and underwater sites.  Archaeological remains may not always be isolated finds or sites but may have been linked at one time with other archaeological monuments in the immediate vicinity or sometimes in more distant locations – creating archaeological landscapes.   

Archaeological heritage is a resource that can help us to understand the past.  It also is of importance in terms of heritage tourism, and as an educational resource.  The Council will promote awareness of, and facilitate access to, the archaeological inheritance of County Kilkenny and will provide guidance to developers and property owners regarding the archaeological implications of proposed developments.  

The National Monuments Acts 1930 – 2004 provide for the protection of archaeological heritage.  The principles set out in the Framework and Principles for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage[1] provide the national policy framework in relation to archaeological heritage.   

There are different levels of monument protection under the National Monuments Acts:

  • A level of universal protection is afforded to all monuments listed in the Record of Monuments and Places (RMP).  All entries on the list are known as Recorded Monuments.  The RMP for County Kilkenny can be viewed in the Council’s Planning Department and online at www.archaeology.ie.  
  • A lesser number of monuments are accorded a higher level of protection, that is, some are entered on the Register of Historic Monuments. 
  • The highest level of protection is afforded to National Monuments, i.e., monuments deemed to be of national significance.  A list of National Monuments, including those subject to a preservation order (or temporary preservation order), and those in State Care, is available from the National Monuments Service.

New sites are continually being discovered and it is advisable to check the National Monument Archaeological database on www.archaeology.ie when considering development on any site.

Archaeological structures may, in some situations, also be considered as architectural heritage and therefore may appear on both the Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) and the Record of Protected Structures (RPS).

Various types of development can impact on the visual appreciation, setting and amenity of recorded monuments.  Such impacts should be adequately assessed and, where possible, eliminated or minimised.  Previously unidentified archaeological sites may be uncovered during development works, while archaeological deposits that would be damaged by development must be investigated and recorded in detail.  Any proposed development (due to its location, size or nature) with the potential to affect the archaeological heritage resource will be subject to an Archaeological Impact Assessment. This includes proposals close to archaeological monuments, proposals extensive in area (half a hectare or more) or length (1 km or more), and development that requires an Environmental Impact Assessment.

The Council will support the implementation of the Sectoral Adaptation Plan[2].


​​​​​​​ Archaeological Landscapes

An archaeological landscape is a natural landscape that has been deliberately modified by a group (or groups) of people during a particular archaeological period (or periods).  It provides context and meaning to individual archaeological sites and helps us to understand how our ancestors lived.  Such landscapes have the potential to be of cultural, economic, social and/or environmental value.

International best practice, as outlined in the European Convention on the Protection of Archaeological Heritage (Valetta Convention) 1992 and the European Landscape Convention (Florence Convention) 2000 supports a landscape-based approach to archaeological protection.

In 2019 the Council carried out a Preliminary Audit of Archaeological Landscapes in County Kilkenny which identified a number of potential archaeological landscape sites, including 3 sites which were selected as a priority for protection, as follows:

  • Freestone Hill and environs
  • The Lingaun River Valley - specifically the Megalithic monuments within it and the relationships between them
  • Tory Hill and environs

These sites in particular each have strong visual interconnectedness or sightlines, which can be sensitive to inappropriate development in the vicinity.  These are indicated on Figure 9.1. 

Development Management Requirement:

The Council will have regard to the archaeological landscapes associated with the areas listed above in the Plan and may, if considered necessary, require an impact assessment for proposed development which could have a significant impact on the identified landscape. Underwater Archaeology

County Kilkenny’s rivers and tidal estuaries contain features and objects associated with its riverine and limited maritime heritage (such as boat wrecks, fishtraps, fording points, bridges etc.).  Data on underwater archaeological sites (marine, coastal and inland waterways), including the Shipwreck Inventory of Ireland and the Ports and Harbours Archive are available from the Underwater Archaeology Unit in the National Monuments Service.   

Any development either above or below water, including to river banks or coastal edges, within the vicinity of a site of archaeological interest shall not be detrimental to the character of the archaeological site or its setting. Planning applications will be referred to the National Monuments Service where relevant.   


​​​​​​​ Walled Towns

County Kilkenny has a rich medieval heritage including a number of walled towns and villages, of which Kilkenny city is perhaps the best known.  There are also other towns and villages throughout the county which are known to have been walled, including Callan, Gowran, Inistioge and Thomastown[3]. Town defences are considered to be monuments for the purposes of the National Monuments Acts, 1930‐2004.  The Council will support the National Policy on Town Defences[4] which sets out national policy for the protection, preservation and conservation of the defences of towns and cities.     


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Industrial Heritage

Kilkenny has a wealth of industrial heritage sites ‐ sites of past industrial activity.  This includes sites and machinery relating to extractive industries (e.g. mines and quarries), manufacturing (e.g. corn and textile mills), service industries (e.g. main drainage, water supply, gas, electricity), power (windmills, watermills, steam engines) and transport and communications (e.g. roads, bridges, railways, canals, harbours, airfields).  Although some of this heritage extends back to prehistoric times, most of what survives relates to the last 250 years, the period during which Ireland became progressively industrialised.   

An Industrial Archaeology Survey of County Kilkenny[5] (1990) was commissioned by Kilkenny County Council and this identified significant sites which have since been added to the Record of Protected Structures.  


9C           To protect archaeological sites and monuments (including their setting), underwater archaeology, and archaeological objects, including those that are listed in the Record of Monuments and Places, and in the Urban Archaeological Survey of County Kilkenny or newly discovered sub‐surface and underwater archaeological remains.

9D          To carry out further research on the eighteen archaeological landscapes as identified in the Preliminary Audit of Archaeological Landscapes in County Kilkenny. 

9E           To develop an enhanced policy framework for the three priority sites identified in Section above, plus for any additional sites identified through Objective 9D above.   

Development management Requirements:

  • To endeavour to preserve in situ all archaeological monuments, whether on land or underwater, listed in the Record of Monuments and Places (RMP), and any newly discovered archaeological sites, features, or objects by requiring that archaeological remains are identified and fully considered at the very earliest stages of the development process and that schemes are designed to avoid impacting on archaeological heritage.  
  • To require archaeological assessment, surveys, test excavation and/or monitoring for planning applications in areas of archaeological importance if a development proposal is likely to impact upon in‐situ archaeological monuments, their setting and archaeological remains.  
  • To ensure that development within the vicinity of a Recorded Monument is sited and designed appropriately so that it does not seriously detract from the setting of the feature or its zone of archaeological potential.  Where upstanding remains of a Recorded Monument exist a visual impact assessment may be required to fully determine the effect of any proposed development.  
  • To require the retention of surviving medieval plots and street patterns and to facilitate the recording of evidence of ancient boundaries, layouts etc. in the course of development.
  • To safeguard the importance of significant archaeological landscapes from developments that would unduly sever or disrupt the relationship, connectivity and/or inter‐visibility between sites.


​​​​​​​ Conservation Plans  

Conservation Plans are important documents in ensuring the necessary strategies for managing significant archeological and architectural sites is undertaken.  Kilkenny County Council has been a key partner for the compilation of the conservation plans for the Kilkenny City Walls[6], Rothe House[7], St. Mary’s Church and Graveyard[8], St. Lachtain’s Church, Freshford[9] and Newtown Jerpoint among others over the years.  Other Conservation Plans include St. Canice’s Cathedral, Callan Workhouse, High Crosses of Western Ossory and Knockroe Passage Tomb. A conservation plan is currently being compiled for St. Francis’ Abbey, Evan’s Turret, and sections of Kilkenny City walls which are located on the Abbey Quarter site.

The Council will facilitate and support the implementation of existing (and any further) conservation plans, as resources allow.

Development Management Requirement:

  • To adhere to recommendations in Conservation plans when assessing development proposals for these sites


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Historic Graveyards

The historic graveyards of Kilkenny, in addition to being the resting places of our ancestors, are an important part of the heritage of the county.  They contain a wealth of architectural and archaeological features and are refuges for many species of plant and animal.  Most historic graveyards are afforded legal protection through the National Monuments (Amendment) Acts and/or the Planning and Development Acts.   

Kilkenny County Council has compiled an inventory of the historic graveyards of the County.  The data from this survey has been mapped and is available at for inspection on the Council’s website[10].  Advice on caring for and recording historic graveyards is available in Guidance for the Care, Conservation and Recording of Historic Graveyards[11].   

The Council will conserve and protect historic graveyards and churches within Kilkenny in accordance with national legislation and encourage their maintenance in accordance with conservation principles and as resources allow.


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic gardens and designed landscapes are of natural heritage, architectural, landscape, cultural and historical importance. In addition, they are often the important setting of a Protected Structure.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) has carried out a preliminary survey of historic gardens and designed landscapes in 2003-2005.  A total of 196 potential historic gardens and designed landscape sites in County Kilkenny were identified[12].

Development Management Requirements:

  • To seek the protection and sustainable management of historic gardens, parklands and designed landscapes in the Kilkenny County and City, their setting and their visual amenity.
  • To request visual impact and /or an architectural heritage impact assessment where development is considered to, have a potential impact on a historic landscape or protected structure.
  • To protect elements of designed landscapes within the attendant grounds of Protected Structures, including boundary features.


[1] Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Framework and Principles for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, 1999

[2] Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Built and Archaeological Heritage Climate Change Sectoral Adaptation Plan, 2019

[3] Thomas, A, The Walled Towns of Ireland, 1992

[4] Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, National Policy on Town Defences, 2008

[5] Contact the Heritage Office of the County Council for further details

[6] Oxford Archaeology and Heritage Council, Kilkenny City Walls Conservation Plan, 2005

[7] Ozmin, E, Sharma, B., Wait, G and Heritage Council, Rothe House, Parliament Street, County Kilkenny Conservation Plan, 2002

[8] Heritage Council, The Integrated Conservation Group, St. Mary’s Church and Graveyard Conservation Plan, 2005.

[9] Heritage Council, St. Lachtain’s Church, Freshford Conservation Plan, 2004

[10] In addition, the headstones in some historic graveyards have been recorded by community groups with support from the Council and can be accessed at https://historicgraves.com/

[11] Heritage Council, Guidance for the Care, Conservation and Recording of Historic Graveyards, 2010