Conference to re-imagine 16th century Ireland

Archaeologists, historians and academics are set to examine Kilmallock and other surviving Walled Towns in an effort to reimagine what Ireland's urban areas may have looked like during the 16th century.

Organised by Limerick City & County Council and funded by Limerick City of Culture and the Irish Walled Towns Network, a conference in Kilmallock on June 5-6 will examine strands of 16th century Ireland by focusing on town fortifications, the role of the merchant classes, and the function, design, origins and influences of their domestic buildings. 

Evidence from Limerick City and from other towns with notable remains of the period such as Kilkenny, Galway, Kinsale and Youghal will also be considered.

"The 16th century is an important period in history as it marks the transition from the medieval to the modern world, including changes in warfare and its consequences for town defences. Due, however, to the social upheavals of the 17th century and the loss of much of our documentation it is a period that is not much explored or understood," stated Sarah McCutcheon, Executive Archaeologist, Limerick City & County Council.

She continued: "The conference aims to establish the historic background and set the scene for this period and then to look at the remaining evidence, whether cartographic, first-hand accounts, historical documents, antiquarian drawings, or the remaining structures. The intention is to draw together a range of experts to explore a variety of strands, such as the urban architecture, the function of the buildings, their design, origins and influences, the fortifications their upkeep and transformation in the face of modern weaponry, and the economic functions of the town and the merchant classes."

Ms. McCutcheon explained that Kilmallock, which is one Ireland’s most intact Walled Towns, is an ideal case study for any examination of 16th century Ireland.

Kilmallock's town walls, 70% of which remain standing today, led it to becoming one of the most strategically important towns in Ireland resulting in its direct involvement in almost every Irish conflict since medieval times. Hundreds of metres of the town's medieval walls have been restored since the Kilmallock Town Walls Conservation & Management Plan and Kilmallock Walled Town Public Realm Plan in 2009.

According to Ms. McCutcheon: "Kilmallock reached its zenith in the 16th century and nowhere was this more clearly reflected than in the building programme which created an urban landscape of merchant houses lining the main street which exuded wealth, security and confidence in the future. Yet by the time of the Civil Survey in the 1650s the town was laid waste. Though this was a similar experience in many Irish towns, Kilmallock is relatively unique in its descent from importance to comparative obscurity and its consequent lack of development in subsequent centuries. This allowed for the preservation of many of the buildings of the 16th century town, whether by 18th and 19th century antiquarian drawings, or by their incorporation into the modern fabric of the town."

Acting Curator at Limerick Museum and Conference speaker, Brian Hodkinson said that the upcoming conference will "help to shed some light on Limerick City's past."

He added: "One of the primary aims of the conference will be to examine the appearance of Limerick during the 16th century, a time when the City was described as 'a wondrous proper city' with houses 'made of quadrangular blocks of black marble and built in the style of towers or fortresses'. Due to Limerick City's continued prosperity and importance much of this fabric has been lost to the modern streetscape. By examining the remains in Kilmallock and other survivals throughout the country the 'wondrous' city may be re-imagined."

Other speakers during the upcoming two day conference include Dr. Rachel Moss, Assistant Prof. History of Art & Architecture, Trinity College Dublin (Building a house in the 16th century: craftsmen & patrons); Dr. Jim Higgins, Heritage Officer, Galway City Council (16th century Galway, the merchants houses); Daniel Noonan, Archaeological Consultant (Myrtle Grove, Youghal); Dr. Jane Fenlon, Art Historian Consultant (Merchants and their houses); Prof. Colm Lennon, Dept of History, NUI Maynooth (The social and cultural world of the merchant families); Dr Liam Irwin, Former Head of Department of History Mary Immaculate College (The 16th century -setting the scene); Frank Coyne, Director, Aegis Archaeology Ltd. (Supervalu Kilmallock recent discoveries); Ben Murtagh, Buildings Archaeologist Consultant (Changes in design of merchant houses 1500-1600); Col. Donal O’Carroll, Former President of the Irish Military History Society (Small arms & armour); Paul O’Keefe, Archaeologist, National Roads  Authority (Camps, cannons & calivers: the archaeology of the Siege of Kinsale); and Brian G Scott, Heritage Consultant (Walls & cannon, conflicts of interest).

"While the conference is likely to attract a local audience and is targeted at the general public, a good percentage of the delegates will come from further afield, as the subject matter has a national appeal. It will raise the profile of the late medieval remains within the environs, encourage repeat visits and establish Limerick City, Kilmallock  and other Walled Towns firmly on the itinerary of cultural tourism," concluded Mr. Hodkinson.

'Kilmallock Conference: The 16th Century Walled Town' takes place on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th June at Friarsgate Theatre, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick. A full conference programme is available from Booking is essential; Contact-Helen O'Neill (063) 98019

Admission details are also available from +353 63 98727 or email:

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Treaty Stone Limerick. Photo Piotr Machowczyk