William Robertson – architect and artist

Kilkenny Castle. Watercolour by Henry O’Neill showing a north-west view in the 1850’s depicting the renovations of William Robertson

-A book review –

Kilkenny, city and county, is steeped in history. Tourists that visit are amazed at the myriad dramas and stories hidden within its heart.
Politics, sport, and industry are part of the rich tapestry interwoven in the abode of St. Canice.
The extensive library at Rothe House captures, in fine detail, the legacy of our ancestors.
Many notable scribes, professional and amateur, have lovingly recounted our history.
However, local historian Michael O’ Dwyer stands apart.
Over many decades, Mr. O’ Dwyer has contributed to The Kilkenny Archaeological Society and has supplied articles for The Old Kilkenny Review.
Meticulously researched and accurately presented they have enlightened and enthused in equal measure.
Importantly, they are a wonderful resource for future commentators.
A prolific writer, Michael has published twenty books, including ‘The History of Cricket in County Kilkenny’, The Shopfronts of Kilkenny’, ‘Lady Desart, Otway Cuffe and Talbots Inch,’ and St. Rioch’s Graveyard Inscriptions.
Michael’s latest publication ‘William Robertson, Architect and Artist’ details the work and legacy of William Robertson.
Perusing the publication provides a plethora of interesting information and facts about Kilkenny and about William Robertson.
Born in Kilkenny in 1770, Robertson became a prominent architect and was responsible for sensitively restoring some of Kilkenny’s finest public buildings.
He is credited with building many of Kilkenny’s most impressive country houses, including Jenkinstown House and Orchardton House.
Robertson was also noted for his work as an artist and sketched many famous landmarks.
He produced an iconic sketch of ‘The Market Cross’, at that time, the county’s most important monument.
William Robertson built a home for himself at the top of William Street at the end of the 18th century.
He further embellished this area with a diocesan hall for the Church of Ireland.
In 1831 he moved to Rose Hill House, which he built and where he lived with his family until his death in 1850.
The first half of the 19th century was a busy time for William Robertson.
He was involved with the restoration of the Court House, the new gaol (on The Gaol Road) and was also commissioned to replace and restore portions of Kilkenny Castle.
The author informs that Robertson constructed stately houses and private residences across county Kilkenny.
Though plans and documentation are no longer available, the style of Robertson design is distinctive and unmistakable.
There are, however, sketches and drawings of many of the houses preserved in The Royal Society of Antiquaries in Dublin.
Other houses that Robertson either constructed or renovated include Danesfort House, Kilcreene House, Castlecomer House, Ballyduff House (Thomastown), Lavistown House and Tennypark House.
He completed his work onThe House of Industry on the Kells Road in 1814 (today, it is now known as Cashel House.)
After his death, Robertson was described in the Kilkenny Moderator newspaper obituary as “a generous friend, a most liberal employer and an accomplished artist”.
He is buried at St Mary’s Graveyard, off High Street.
With this publication Michael O’ Dwyer honours William Robertson by, once more, bringing his ability and his achievements to light.
The forensic exploration and detailed examination helps to give William Robertson a deserved place among the pantheon of our great architects.
An exciting addition to the book is the inclusion of twenty previously unpublished colour and black and white illustrations.
Michael O’ Dwyer’s book is a boon for anyone interested in architecture, anyone that enjoys detailed sketches or those that simply love all things Kilkenny.
Again, with characteristic style, Michael O’ Dwyer has delivered an extraordinary insight into Kilkenny’s past.
NOTE: Check with Kilkenny bookshops and Rothe House regarding availability.

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