Major Concern Over Condition Of 17th Century Kinsale Gift Houses
Writes Leo McMahon
Kinsale’s oldest dwellings, the Southwell Gift Houses, have fallen into major disrepair due to vandalism and squatting and something must be done to save them, says Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG).
He was speaking at the monthly meeting of Cork County Council’s Bandon-Kinsale Municipal District (MD) where he called for a derelict sites notice to be served immediately because it was now a case of trying to prevent ‘a gem of Kinsale heritage’ from destruction.
Cllr Gillian Coughlan (FF) spoke in support and the request from members was noted by senior executive engineer Brendan Fehily who said it was timely to open a new derelict sites register for the district.
Sir Robert Southwell, President of the Royal Society and Clerk of Privy Council of King Charles II of England, was elected a burgess of Kinsale in 1676. In 1692, he built almshouses for old people and by a deed the same year, handed these over to the Bishop of Cork and his successors forever. The houses, situated at the Mall, a short distance from the council offices in the Municipal Hall, are a rare example of 17th century architecture and were restored in the 1960’s and 1970s.
Secretary of Kinsale History Society and former town councillor Dermot Ryan told The Carrigdhoun he had written to the MD requesting urgent action be taken to prevent further deterioration or even destruction of the six dwellings, which were sold off by the Church of Ireland in 2015 because it could no longer afford the cost of maintenance and insurance.
‘The property was sold to a private purchaser who subsequently submitted a planning application to build an extension to the main house but this application was referred back by the council and not proceeded with. Unfortunately, all of the buildings have since been left open to the elements for many months, with many of the windows removed and the whole area becoming a derelict site. The only ones to benefit have been a succession of people who have moved, without permission, into some of the empty houses, arousing fears that there may be even greater damage caused as well as the ever-present danger of fire. There appears to be no person responsible for security and sealing off the buildings,’ wrote Mr. Ryan
‘A major problem in trying to get some action taken in relation to the Gift Houses, is the almost unbelievable fact that they are not listed in the Record of Protected Structures in Kinsale Town Development Plan. The buildings are Recorded Monuments and protected under the National Monuments Act 1930. The competent authority in this instance is the National Monuments Section of the Department of Heritage. On November 11th last, the council stated that the new owners had obtained their necessary permissions to undertake restoration works to the building under Section 12 of the National Monuments Act, contractors had been appointed and works were imminent. Unfortunately, nothing has happened and the houses are deteriorating rapidly, at risk from the elements as well as squatters.’
Mr. Ryan said the History Society was requesting that the Council take urgent action under the Derelict Sites Act to acquire or at least make safe the buildings. ‘We also request that you find out why and when these structures were not included the Record of Protected Structures in the town development plan as it may be that other buildings of importance are not included either. Is it possible that the plan can be amended to include them even now?’.
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