175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works || Future Challenges for the Opw

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  • Irish Arts Review

    Future Challenges for the OpwAuthor(s): Peter PearsonSource: Irish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works(2006), pp. 46-48Published by: Irish Arts ReviewStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25503519 .Accessed: 17/06/2014 21:07

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    Future Challenges


    PETER PEARSON suggests some new routes for heritage

    development and for the imaginative use of latent resource materials

    Ireland has inherited an architectural heritage of

    great diversity, ranging in scale from the humble

    cottage to substantial cathedrals to large historic

    complexes like Dublin Castle. The citizen has the

    right to expect the State to maintain and make accessi

    ble a wide variety of these buildings, the state, here

    represented by the OPW, has for the most part, an

    honourable record in this respect.

    Despite some confusion caused by the various

    reincarnations and divisions of responsibility; Duchas

    and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and

    the Islands, and now OPW again with the Department

    of the Environment; the state has minded and contin

    ues to care for a vast cross-section of monuments, his

    toric buildings and other structures. In the capital

    alone, Dublin Castle, the Four Courts, the Custom

    House, the GPO, Collin's Barracks (Fig 5), the Royal

    Hospital (IMMA), Leinster House, Iveagh House, the

    Botanic Gardens, the Phoenix Park and its buildings,

    would be obvious examples of the state's care for some

    of the finest set pieces of our architectural patrimony.

    Clearly, the care of a nation's built heritage cannot be

    left to a single public body, the responsibility is too vast

    and there is the added complication that many struc

    tures are used or lived in, and are not merely monu

    ments. This means that private owners, be they insti

    tutions such as churches, clubs, societies, local author

    ities and the state share in the enjoyment and the

    responsibility of looking after such places. The state

    has the advantage of having resources, which might not

    be available to individuals, and it has public service and

    the common good as its only motive for owning such

    properties. It can also guarantee, through its owner

    ship, an indefinite and long-term security of tenure.

    Though such important houses as Ballyfin,

    Castletown Cox and Lissadell have been sold in recent

    years and bought by private owners who have the best

    intentions for these estates, some thought that the

    OPW should for instance, have acquired Lissadell and

    some of its fascinating contents, if only to have a state

    owned landmark in an area of the country which does

    not already have one. Though its primary aim is to pro

    tect and physically preserve our heritage, the OPW also

    plays a very important part in tourism, where the vital

    role of places like Muckross to Killarney, Glenveagh to

    Donegal, are obvious. Though Clonmacnoise is well

    known (Fig 2), the restoration of Portumna Castle (Fig

    4) provides an important attraction to visitors on the

    river Shannon and a further reason to linger there.

    While the Department of the Environment has

    through the local authorities allowed our once unspoilt

    landscape to become ever more suburbanised, we must

    at least provide something real, for both ourselves and

    tourists to look at. Minister Dick Roche, for the same

    department, made a surprise and welcome announce

    ment last March, when he allocated over 18 million



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  • PW

    to twenty-two different and important historic land

    marks in the state. This represents the largest one-off

    allocation of funds to heritage conservation ever made

    by government. Though most of the properties are in

    state ownership, others are not, such as Waterford

    Cathedral and the great 18th-century mansions of

    Headfort House and Westport House which require

    large sums for re-roofing and other essential works.

    There is simply no other adequate source of funding.

    The Heritage Council, the local authorities and

    the Department of the Environment administer gener

    ous, but smaller grants schemes whose resources would

    barely pay for the scaffolding in the case of such huge

    buildings. The Minister's substantial grant aid to such

    places as Headfort, Westport and Russborough along

    with the cathedrals of Ennis and Christchurch in

    Dublin and to Duckett's Grove in Co Carlow, are espe

    cially important. As the Minister noted, it is not just

    money well spent, it is invested in the future. We have

    come a long way from the 1990s when small sums were

    eked out for essential repairs.

    Over the years, the state has received gifts of valu

    able properties, including Muckross House and Park,

    Glenveagh Castle and Estate and the Johnstown Castle

    and Estate in Co Wexford (Fig 1). Castletown House

    and Doneraile Court came to the state from the Irish

    Georgian Society, while Emo Court in Co Laois and

    Mount Congreve in Waterford are also held in trust for

    ^m the nation. Altamount Gardens were also gift

    ^m ed to the state and Russborough, though its

    ^m priceless art collection is now in the National

    ^m Gallery, is administered by a trust. It remains to

    ^m be seen how the new Irish Heritage Trust, also

    m funded by the government, will fit into the overall

    W scene and to see how its safety net will operate to *

    save vulnerable historic properties from being bro

    ken up or from falling prey to commercial demands.

    Fortunately the era of flashy interpretive centres,

    where often the architectural statement almost out

    weighs the significance of the site itself, appears to be

    over. In the late 20th century the state adopted these

    heritage tourism projects in an extraordinary way.

    Extraordinary because other European countries have

    never seen the need for them. There is no interpretive

    centre in Venice or even at Pompeii, nor is there any

    clamour to have one. People seem to enjoy contact with

    real and authentic objects and buildings from by-gone

    ages. Why, for instance, would a collection of paintings

    by Yeats in a Georgian house in Merrion Square not

    make a valuable addition to cultural tourism in Dublin?

    The idea that historic buildings are unsuitable for cer

    tain museum use is one that needs to be challenged.

    Paris makes a virtue of such projects, combining spe

    cial collections with historic houses.

    Why have we no museum of Dublin? The full

    story of our capital city needs to be presented to the

    public, but unlike most other European city adminis

    trations, Dublin City Council do not see it as their

    responsibility to provide a comprehensive 'Museum of

    Dublin'. Perhaps this is a project for the OPW in col

    laboration with the council, given that the OPW own

    a number of appropriate sites, such as Kevin Street

    Garda Station, which was the Archbishop's Palace, next

    to Marsh's Library and St Patrick's Cathedral.

    Alternatively a more novel 'city museum' might

    be developed incorporating eight or ten venues includ

    ing Dublin Castle, City Hall vaults, a business and

    traders' display in the Rates Office (former Newcomen

    ?i m

    17S? OPW

    The Office of PubUc Works OtftgnanO?machaPotbt?

    1 Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford

    2 Clonmacnoise, Co


    3 Tyrone House, Co Gal way

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  • 4 Portumna Castle, Co Gal way

    5 Collin's Barracks, Dublin


    Bank), Reads the Cutlers (Dublin's oldest shop),

    Shipping and Post history in the Custom House, an

    industrial site, tenement house, paintings, prints and

    ephemera in the presently closed Civic Museum in South

    William Street, a theatre museum with the re-construct

    ed Abbey Theatre facade (currently lying in a garden in

    Dalkey), or a 1916 and Irish nationalism collection in the

    GPO or Boland's Mills. A great deal of fascinating mate

    rial lies languishing in private and public collections and

    all that is needed is the drive to make it happen.

    In the reclaim of heritage the OPW should be able

    to remain outside merely commercial criteria. Many of

    its tasks cannot be immediately measured in account

    ing terms. Caring for ruins and great houses like

    Castletown doesn't generate money for the OPW, but

    is vitally important for the tourist industry in Ireland

    generally. It is very good to hear that the OPW have

    purchased the old farmyard adjacent to Castletown

    House, Ireland's most important 18th-century man

    sion. But what of other important properties around

    the country? Doneraile Court was substantially

    restored by the Irish Georgian Society and was gifted

    to the state some years ago; but the house remains

    closed to the public with the garden and house in


    ruins. The house needs a focus, perhaps telling the story

    of the rise and fall of the Anglo-Irish. Further recogni

    tion of Ireland's multifaceted history and diversity will

    be revealed when the OPW's imaginative Battle of the

    Boyne site at Old Bridge House is finally opened. With

    exhibitions and construction work still at the planning

    stage, work is expected to commence shortly, and will

    include refurbishment of Old Bridge House.

    There have been plans to re-roof Moore Hall in Co

    Mayo for some time and though the ruin is in the hands

    of Coillte, the Minister's grant of .25,000 may help to

    launch this project. Many of Ireland's great ruined hous

    es and castles should perhaps be left as ruins, but they

    should be afforded the same protection as other monu

    ments - Woodstock House in Co Kilkenny is the focal

    point of the refurbished gardens there and should be

    stabilised as a ruin. Others like Tyrone House, Galway

    (Fig 3) stand dramatically in the landscape, stark monu

    ments to 18th-century Ireland. In Co Wexford,

    Johnstown Castle with its beautifully kept desmesne

    Lifliii^HHHHHHHHHHHHHI was gifted to the state in 1945. Now that Teagasc has

    acquired modern offices, the castle is vacant. There are

    hopes that the castle and its agricultural and vernacular

    furniture museum will be transferred to the OPW.

    Apart from the very fine Kilkenny Castle, this part of

    the Southeast has no important historic building avail

    able for prestigious events, nor is there any great house

    of this type open to the public. Aside from the loss of

    Caring for ruins and great houses doesn't generate money for the OPW, but it is vitally important for the tourist industry

    the grand staircase, its interiors are substantially intact

    and much original furniture remains. The refurbished

    Gothic Revival castle would make an outstanding con

    tribution to the cultural life of the Wexford area.

    Until quite recently many of Ireland's harbours were

    under OPW control, the body which originally built so

    many fine stone piers and jetties at places like Dun

    Laoghaire or Howth. The transfer of these facilities,

    which could be classified as monuments, to companies

    or boards with an overriding commercial brief has

    resulted in a loss to heritage. Were the OPW to be sub

    jected to commercial consideration only, there would

    always be a threat of developments such as apartments,

    hotels and facilities which the commercial sector is well

    able to provide. The OPW is a keystone of Irish culture

    and its policy of charging the citizen little or nothing

    to visit the state's museums and properties, underlies

    its commitment to making heritage accessible to all.

    Peter Pearson is an architectural historian with a special interest

    in conservation.

    4 8 I


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    Article Contentsp. [46]p. 47p. 48

    Issue Table of ContentsIrish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works (2006), pp. 1-48Front MatterForeword [p. 1-1]OPW 175th Anniversary Edition [p. 2-2]The OPW a History of Service [pp. 3-5]Art of the State: Inheritance, Development, Legacy [pp. 6-11]Building for the Nation: Architectural Services at the OPW [pp. 12-17]Weaving Heaven and Earth [pp. 18-21]Preserving the Past [pp. 22-25]A Glittering Legacy [pp. 26-29]Conservation at OPW: Policy, Protection, Partnership [pp. 30-33]Cultural Collaborations [pp. 34-39]Engineering Success [pp. 40-41]Kilmainham Gaol: Confronting Change [pp. 42-45]Future Challenges for the Opw [pp. 46-48]Back Matter


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