The 19th century castle – Castellated Baronial style

The next rebuilding, and perhaps most relevant to the castle we see today, was hat which began shortly after 1825. In that year Grace Louisa Staples, (1779-1860) Countess of Ormond, was reportedly walking with the architect William Robertson (1770-1850) when it was noticed that the courtyard wall of the central block of the castle was leaning outwards at a dangerous angle.

However, it is probable that this story is apocryphal and that a decision had already been taken to renovate the castle buildings in the then fashionable Castellated Baronial style. Robertson had exhibited architectural designs for the castle in that style at the Royal Academy, some twenty years previously.

Such a ‘Gothick’ remodelling, in common with many other buildings in Ireland, would have been fashionable and also have served as a reminder of the family’s long ancestry. William Bartlett, a topographer, made an amusing comment at the time when he described Kilkenny Castle as ‘being modernised within and unmodernised without’.

The use of the Baronial style by Robertson was not entirely successful, considering the extent of his reconstruction; it was more a superficial application of motifs rather than a robust rebuilding, although it should be said that some of his architectural drawings for Kilkenny show a more coherent approach than was finally utilised. Robertson submitted building accounts for the period 1824-1843 and one such bill ‘for the total account of William Robertson’ came to £30,815.

Huge amounts of money were also spent on the interiors and on refurnishing the house in the newest styles. More paintings were added to the existing collection and others were sent for cleaning and restoration. While the extensive building works were being carried out under Robertson, the family moved, with most of their belongings, across the road to the remodelled and renovated Butler House. They lived there for almost twenty years.

The many changes made to the castle by Robertson included the building of the impressive Picture Gallery on earlier foundations, the replacement of the old roofs on the circular towers where battlements were added, and the insertion of new windows. Various other towers, also crenellated were added. On the courtyard elevation of the central block a porte-cochère was built; this was later extended to form the existing glazed entrance corridor.

It was also during this phase of building that the classical entrance gateway was remodelled. Robertson had described the gateway in 1812 as being ‘enriched by Corinthian pilasters carrying a pediment, is Roman, and was intended to have been a splendid entrance’. The gateway had remained unfinished since the early eighteenth century and according to Robertson there were ‘bosses of Portland stone, probably intended to have been chiselled into swags of drapery and festoons of flowers’.

His early designs show a castellated style of gateway but these were not used, instead the Corinthian capitals and pediment were retained, while the swags and festoons that were added complement the classical style.