This piece was researched and written by Anne-Karoline Distel and is read by Sinéad Gibbons.
The room you are standing in used to be the reception room of the Rothe family, but is now called the Phelan Room. It is honouring one of the prominent members of Kilkenny Archaeological Society.
Margaret Phelan née Duggan was born in 1902 in 8 William Street, a house formerly owned by Medical Doctor and Mayor of Kilkenny Robert Cane. Her father Richard was a merchant who ran the Monster House at the corner of High Street and William Street. The old Townhall or Tholsel would have been a daily sight for little Daisy. After attending Loreto Convent and Our Lady’s Bower in Athlone, she enrolled at University College in Cork and graduated with a BA and B.Comm. in 1923. Not surprising for someone with such a passion for heritage, she met her husband William, a Kilkenny surgeon, at an outing to the Rock of Cashel and the couple got married in 1925.
Margaret Daisy Phelan was one of the founding members of the Archaeological Society, when it was re-formed in 1945. The original Society had been founded in 1849, but with the surge of interest in matters historical, it became the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in Dublin.
To bring the focus back to Kilkenny, a group of friends including Katherine “Kitty” Lanigan, Mary Kenealy and Hubert Butler, revived the society to save buildings like the Shee’s Almshouse in Rose Inn Street and of course Rothe House. As a side note, the room above this one is named in honour of Kitty Lanigan.
They had noticed the decay of historic buildings in town and wanted to preserve them for future generations.
Margaret Phelan was the driving force in purchasing what was left of Rothe House in 1962 and starting to restore it to become the headquarters of Kilkenny Archaeological Society and their museum. The restoration of the three buildings was complete in 1995. The efforts of restoring the Shee’s Almshouse and Rothe House led the way for other buildings like Kyteler’s Inn and Kilkenny Castle in later years. It was the vision and determination of local enthusiasts like Daisy Phelan which made Kilkenny the tourist destination it is today.
Margaret Phelan also wrote numerous articles for the Society’s annual publication Old Kilkenny Review on a range of topics from tombstone inscriptions, historic buildings, the streets of Kilkenny and the people who lived in them and of course Rothe House. It is a pity that she never got to see it in its present glory with the garden restored.
Daisy Phelan later became President of the Archaeological Society in the 1970s and again the 1990s and was given the title of freeman of the City in 1987 in recognition of her tireless work.
Daisy Phelan died in February 2000 and left the whole City mourning. Her lifetime achievements and personality were honoured by a ceremonial civic funeral.