Margaret Phelan receives the Freedom of the City in recognition for a lifetime devotion to preserving the built heritage of Kilkenny and making its historical buildings available to everyone.

Kilkenny is a city known for its unique personality and character, largely as a result of its historical buildings and the care that is taken of them.

Margaret Phelan, now 85-years old,  is one of the people behind the push for conservation in the city, and as a result of her hard work, the city has granted her its highest honour. 

Margaret Phelan was born in William Street, Kilkenny, in 1902.  With a small group of people, she revived the Kilkenny Archaeological Society in the 1940s, bought the ancient Rothe House in the 1960s, and began to restore it. A momentum developed from there, which led to the preservation of Kilkenny Castle and the Shee Alms House. St Canice’s Cathedral, among many other buildings, benefited from this renewed interest in the history of the city. Margaret Phelan’s work wasn’t limited solely to bricks and plaster work, as she was also instrumental in raising public awareness of the city’s heritage. 

The Freedom of the City ceremony begins with Mrs Phelan inspecting a Guard of Honour drawn from the 9th Infantry Battalion, FCÁ (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil), just down the road from Rothe House, where it all began.  

At the ceremony in the Corporation Chamber, the formal motion to grant the Freedom to Margaret Phelan is read by the Mayor, Councillor Margaret Tynan, 

The depth of her commitment and dedication to the advancement of Kilkenny is clearly evident to all.  Now in her 85th year, her energy and vitality are truly incredible, and are an example to us all...This evening’s ceremony is an exceptional historic event also, in that it is the first time in Kilkenny’s long history that the Freedom has been conferred on a woman, by a woman mayor...

Margaret Phelan is then invited to sign the book of record and is presented with her certificate of Freedom, being the third woman to receive the honour, along with Countess Markievicz, and Ellen, Lady Desart, another benefactor of the town, who gave it its theatre, library, and hall.  

Modest in referring to all she had done to preserve the city’s built heritage, Margaret Phelan thanked the Mayor and Corporation, 

I would like to say once again, how thrilled I am to be here, how thrilled I am to have this great honour...What I did for Kilkenny was never work to me, it was a joy, an honour, and a privilege.  I never expected to be thanked for it, or anticipated such a thing, but indeed, Madame Mayor and everyone, you have thanked me very graciously and splendidly, and I am really most, most grateful.  

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 15 June 1987. The reporter is Michael Ryan.