Digital Recordings of Kilkenny’s Medieval Buildings

Digital Recordings of Kilkenny’s Medieval Buildings

Digital recordings of Kilkenny’s Medieval Buildings

The Shee Alms House

The Shee Alms House is one of the oldest surviving alms house in the country. A coat of arms plaque to the front elevation bears an inscription with the date ‘1581’, while a plaque to the rear gives a date of 1582.  The Alms house was intentionally cited in close proximity to St Mary’s Church ecclesiastical complex. St Mary’s had a particular association with the merchant class in Kilkenny, and many of its prominent families were buried here (including Shee, Archer and Rothe). The location made the alms house highly visible to those who mattered to Shee — the other ten civic families of the town.

Shee’s Alms house was built by Richard Shee, originally to house six ‘honest, unmarried men’ and six widows aged 50 or older (Bradley 2000, 6; Law 2013). The rules of governance stated that those who were to be admitted were to be unmarried, and ‘either blind, lame, impotent, or diseased, or people of the age of fifty years, and not able to work or get their living, and such as are poor and not worth five pounds in lands or goods above their debts’ (Anon. 1861, 318). The interior of the building accommodated six women on the ground floor, six men on the first floor, and a Master in the loft who also led prayers.

A reconstruction project was undertaken between 1978–1981 and documented in the Shee Alms House: The Story of a Restoration by Colm Ó Cochláin (1986). Fragments of leather and brackets, oak roof timbers, stairs, pottery shards were all uncovered during works. Towards the end of the restoration the Kilkenny Archaeological Society presented a Shee-Poer coat of arms from 1578 which was erected on the southeast gable; this was originally from Sheestown (ibid., 99).

Both the ground and the first floor contain communal fireplaces. The ground floor was described by Robertson as being divided into ‘two rows of cells’ with ‘a central passage the length of the building’ and ‘the remains of a large fireplace with cut stone jambs and head’.

In 2021, Kilkenny County Council undertook conservation works on the building. Cementitious pointing was removed and replaced with lime mortar, the roof was stripped and re-slated, new lead was installed, and later modern insertions (connected with the Tourist Office) were removed. These works provided an opportunity to undertake a detailed building interpretation, laser scan, photogrammetry survey of the building, the result may be found at the link below.

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