Rev. James Graves was born on the 11th of October, 1815, clergyman, antiquary and archaeologist.
A native of Kilkenny, James's father, the Revd. Richard Graves, kept a school in the city, and James himself was born on St. Canice's day, the 11th of October. He later regretted that he had not been named Kenny after the patron saint to whom he thus had a double allegiance. He went to Trinity College, Dublin in 1834, from where he graduated with a BA in 1839. Appointed curate to Skeirke, in Co. Laois, he rapidly obtained preferment, and as curate of St. Patrick's Kilkenny, was attached as Treasurer to St. Canice's Cathedral, before gaining a living in the county. Although married, he had no children.
His fame rests in his antiquarian and archaeological interests, rather than in his clerical pursuits. A close friend of John O'Donovan, he was also acquainted with George Petrie, and like them devoted his life towards the preservation of the antiquities of his native country. His main point of interest however was the architecture of his own city and county, and his interests therefore were focussed not on the pre-Norman period of Irish history but on the period from circa 1169 onward. In particular, he was responsible for the careful conservation work on St. Canice's cathedral in Kilkenny city, while he was treasurer, and in the 1860s and 1870s he worked through the Kilkenny Archaeological Society (later the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland), of which he was himself a founding member, towards the conservation of several important ruined medieval churches.
Although he is never accorded the degree of fame as a founding father of Irish archaeology which is given to Petrie, his effort towards the preservation of medieval Irish buildings was highly significant. In particular, as a respectable Anglican clergyman, he was able to gain the ear of the establishment more easily than some of his Catholic contemporaries. This proved of importance after the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland left many then ruinous church sites in an ambiguous position, which was rectified by their being taken into state care as National Monuments.
James was one of the few that during times of much destruction of historic monuments, set aside religion and politics for the important preservation of the archaeology of Ireland and the preserving of many national monuments. His importance to Kilkenny cannot be underestimated. It is a certainty that we would have lost much our rich heritage if not for his work and fortunately, some of what we have lost was recorded by Graves through his sketches and writings.
Below are three of Graves' drawings. In all three drawings, the scene he depicts are extremely different to the present day, showing how important Graves was in recording Kilkenny heritage.
Vicar Choral Lodge, Vicar Street c.1900
Bull Inn, Dean Street