Monday, May 18, 2009

Kilmallock, Ireland to revitalize its medieval walls

Ambitious new conservation and management strategies for Kilmallock, one of Ireland’s most intact Walled Towns were unveiled earlier this month.

The reopening of the local railway station and the development of a new heritage centre in the town are just two of the many potential projects earmarked for Kilmallock as part of the town's ambitious new conservation and management strategies.

The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Martin Mansergh, launched the Kilmallock Town Walls Conservation and Management Plan and Kilmallock Walled Town Public Realm Plan at a ceremony attended by members of the local action team, public representatives, local councillors and the public in Deebert House Hotel in the town.

Initiated by Limerick County Council under the Irish Walled Towns Network Action Plan 2006-08, the strategies are geared towards developing a greater appreciation of, and access to, the historic town walls, and boosting local tourism.

Among the potential projects and initiatives earmarked for the town is the development of interpretative facilities and looped heritage walkways and the reopening of the local railway station.

"The background to the study stressed the importance of public transport – getting to Kilmallock and moving around Kilmallock. One way of doing that is reopening the services to the railway station," explained consultant Nicholas De Jong, who oversaw the compilation of the Public Realm Plan.

"That would be a very good way of bringing people to the town and to participate in activities in the town such as sporting events. If that is the case, and the station is reawakened, then the route from the station into the town also needs to be enhanced," he added.

Another proposal is for access to the local towers.

"Everybody loves to get up a tower. If people could get up King John's Castle, Blossom Gate and the Collegiate church that would be fantastic, even a virtual tour," suggested Anne Thompson from engineering consultancy firm Gifford Ltd, who carried out the Conservation and Management Plan, in conjunction with PLB. "Having everything closed off is not helping. There are great vantage points," she continued.

Kilmallock was once regarded as one of the most strategically important towns in Ireland due to its medieval wall defences, castles, gatehouses and magnificent churches. The town walls, 70% of which remain standing today, have contributed greatly to Kilmallock’s direct involvement in almost every Irish conflict since medieval times. The fortress town was burned during the Desmond Rebellion and the local Dominican Priory was attacked and destroyed during the Irish Confederate Wars.

Commenting at today’s official launch of the plans, Sarah McCutcheon, Executive Archaeologist, Limerick County Council said, “Kilmallock was a town of considerable importance in the late medieval period, ranking as one of the main urban areas in Ireland at the time. Today it is unique in County Limerick for its range of standing medieval monuments and it is foremost among an exclusive group of Irish towns and cities, which retain their medieval defences. The Town Walls are of national significance, but their potential as a major heritage asset for the town has not been fully exploited up until now.”

She noted that the Town Walls were a finite resource requiring conservation and management so as to enhance the public’s appreciation of and access to them.

“The plans seek to provide Kilmallock with a greater sense of identity through the preservation of the Town Walls and the improvement of the local infrastructure. Once you achieve this you have a viable tourism product that will reap benefits for the people who live and work in Kilmallock, as well as the thousands of people who visit the Walled Town each year”, added Ms. McCutcheon.

The primary objective of the Public Realm Plan is to identify specific initiatives, schemes and projects that improve the town’s infrastructure with particular emphasis on its Walled Town status. The initiatives include the possible reopening of Kilmallock Railway Station, the establishment of walking loops and interpretation facilities, improvements to the existing streetscape and open spaces, and the erection of signage and visitor orientation (including artwork) at strategic locations within and on the approaches to the Town”.