175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works || Preserving the Past

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  • Irish Arts Review

    Preserving the PastAuthor(s): Grellan D. RourkeSource: Irish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works(2006), pp. 22-25Published by: Irish Arts ReviewStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25503513 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 14:42

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  • I PRESERVING THE PAST

    Preserving the Past

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    Since its foundation in 1874, the National Monuments Service has developed and

    adapted to meet the needs of monuments preservation, writes GRELLAN D. ROURKE

    The establishment of a National Monuments

    Service can be dated to 1874, although the

    first historic sites were handed over to the

    OPW five years previously. There are now

    about 740 National Monuments in state care and it is

    the job of the conservation staff within the National

    Monuments Service to protect and preserve them.

    There is a huge variety of monuments, from decorated

    stones, early archaeological sites, monastic abbeys,

    medieval castle complexes, simple churches, military

    fortresses, 18th-century buildings, to industrial heritage,

    vernacular cottages and even bridges. Some monuments

    are more vulnerable than others and a balance must be

    achieved between preservation and visitor access.

    These diverse monuments present a range of chal

    lenges and the OPW has a network of workshops and

    a skilled workforce around the country to undertake

    this work. To ensure continuity of expertise and pass

    on specialist skills, an innovative apprenticeship

    scheme was set up in 2001 - for the first time it

    included formal apprenticeships in stone masonry

    and thatch. To date, more than fifty apprentices have

    been accepted, and a small number have qualified.

    Specialists are also employed from the private sector.

    2 2 I

    OPW 175TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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  • j^^^^H [Tj^^^^HH??HHHHIHI^^^^H?Gm?

    HIHI W????B????HB???S??S^^iS????itn Coastal erosion can present serious problems of

    preservation, as in the case of Dunbeg promontory fort

    on the Dingle Peninsula where a major fault runs

    through the site. It has not been possible to halt the

    damage; however, the site has been fully excavated and

    published and safe access provided for visitors. But there

    have been successes: the dry-stone oratory on Church

    Island, Valentia, has been saved and at Carrigaholt

    Castle in Co Clare a major rock shield was put in posi

    tion to take the brunt of the wave force. This work was

    carried out with expertise from the Department of

    Communications, Marine

  • Il PRESERVING THE PAST ^^^^^H?l HHH^^^I

    It is important that sites with high visitor numbers are managed appropriately to

    preserve the site while still permitting access

    --W *-Mq

    I 1

    7 Aerial view of

    Portumna Castle, Co Galway showing the restored formal

    garden layout

    8 Removal of the

    Cross of the

    Scriptures at

    Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly

    - this high cross is now located

    in the visitors' centre

    and a cast replica stands in its place

    9 Repairing a stone

    window in situ at

    Portumna Castle, Co. Galway

    10 Fresco

    fragments in the

    early 12th-century Cormac's Chapel in Cashel,

    Co Tipperary

    It is very complex building made up of parts dating from

    at least eight different periods stretching from the 11th

    to the 19th centuries. Analysis of samples gave a remark

    able picture of how the mortars had developed over time

    and formed the basis for the re-creation of historic mor

    tars for use in the conservation project. Structural inter

    vention can play a major role in the preservation of a

    large monument where serious deformation has taken

    place and the structure begins to fail, sometimes over a

    considerable period of time. At Ardfert the first inter

    ventions to preserve the structure took place during the

    19th century. A more recent innovative approach has

    resulted in the entire south-east wall being cantilevered

    off the rock beneath, allowing for the removal of the

    large disfiguring stone buttress. Now for the first time in

    over one hundred years the fine south lancet windows at

    Ardfert can be appreciated in their entirety (Fig 3).

    Many historic buildings are in a ruinous state and in

    recent years a series of restoration projects has brought

    a small number back into use, such as Parke's Castle on

    Lough Gill in Co Leitrim and Ross Castle (Fig 2) on

    Lough Leane, Killarney. Traditional crafts were used in

    both castles - at Ross, wicker work was used in the

    repair of the vaulting and all the oak members were

    adzed and the entire roof and floors pegged together.

    With Clonmacnoise in mind, trainees have studied

    casting for making replicas of decorative stones at the

    Centre for Restoration in Mainz. Clonmacnoise is

    home to a wonderful collection of high crosses and dec

    orated commemorative stones. Many of these had suf

    fered greatly over time. The high crosses have been

    brought indoors (Fig 8) and cast replicas positioned out

    side when archaeological investigation was satisfied

    that the locations were original. Replicas have been cast

    of some of the more vulnerable decorative slabs.

    Ireland has a small collection of wall-painting frag

    ments - much has been lost, so it is important to record

    and preserve what remains. On the Rock of Cashel

    stands the remarkable early 12th-century Cormac's

    Chapel where frescoes had long been hidden beneath

    layers of limewash (Fig 10). Conservation work has been

    underway here for many years. This work must progress

    very slowly - little by little the adverse internal envi

    ronment has been turned around and the fresco frag

    ments have been uncovered, conserved and document

    ed by wall-painting conservators from Britain, commis

    sioned with the advice of the Council of Europe. Since

    work began conservation expertise has developed in

    Ireland and projects have been undertaken to preserve

    wall-paintings in St Bridget's Church, Clare Island, Co

    2 4 1

    7 I

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  • Mayo (Fig 1) and in Ardamullivan Castle, Co Galway. Work on Clare Island is now completed and the project

    has been published by the Royal Irish Academy. It is important to bring interiors alive and in the last

    two decades furniture has been purchased for particu

    lar projects. There is now a fine collection of early oak

    furniture housed at Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir and Ross

    castles. Also on display at Cahir and Ross is a range of

    vessels recreated by a ceramics artist and an archaeo

    logical specialist in mediaeval pottery, based on frag

    ments uncovered in excavations throughout the coun

    try. There has also been the opportunity to make fac

    simile furniture and a number of such pieces are on dis

    play at Barryscourt Castle in Co Cork. A specialist con

    servator was employed to repair and conserve a wattle

    screen partition and some very early 17th-century tim

    ber panelling at Tintern Abbey, Co Wexford.

    There is a strong decorative plasterwork tradition in

    Ireland and early surviving examples include the

    Elizabethan mansion at Carrick-on-Suir, where a sec

    tion of the decorative ceiling in the great hall has been

    restored. Brick is a more recent material -

    Jigginstown

    manor house in Co Kildare dates from the 1630s and

    displays a remarkable level of skill and craftsmanship.

    The bricks were made in the locality and 'cut and

    rubbed' to make elaborate decorative elements. It was

    never fully completed and had suffered serious deterio

    ration. Detailed research and examination have been

    undertaken and, with the help of expert advice, a pro

    gramme of conservation has now been put in place.

    Projects are not just confined to the structures

    themselves. Portumna Castle in Co Galway, a fine for

    tified Jacobean mansion, has been a major project (Fig

    9). The curtilage of the castle forms an integral part of

    the project and excavation and research has informed

    the recreation of the formal gardens (Fig 7).

    There are unique monuments, too, like the Swiss

    Cottage in Cahir, one of the earliest cottage orn? (Fig 6).

    This was in a very poor condition when it passed into

    State care and a major restoration project was undertak

    en fifteen years ago. The entire building was re-thatched

    with repairs to the stick-work verandahs on the outside,

    and the exotic original wallpaper was conserved and, in

    places, restored. Newmills in Co Donegal is one of the

    few monuments of industrial heritage in care. The build

    ing has been restored and the combined corn and flax

    mill mills are fully operational. Conservation plans have

    been prepared for places like Poulnabrone portal tomb

    in the Burren, Ennis Friary in Co Clare and Durrow

    Abbey in Co Offaly. It is important that sites with high visitor numbers are managed appropriately to preserve

    the site while still permitting controlled access. A five

    Aighleann O'Shaughnessy Aighleann O'Shaughnessy studied Architecture at University

    College Dublin and joined the OPW on graduating in 1971. In

    1973 she moved to the National Monuments Service, and has been

    Senior Architect since 1988. She is Senior Conservation Architect, in

    charge of two of the six regions into which the country is divided,

    which covers an area roughly defined by drawing a line just south of

    Glendalough, across almost to Limerick city and down to Bantry Bay.

    Aighleann and her team are currently

    completing a project at Tintern Abbey in Wexford,

    which came into state care in 1963, when initial

    works were carried out under Percy LeClerc.

    'Cormac's Chapel on the Rock of Cashel is anoth

    er ongoing project that is very important. It is a

    Romanesque chapel, with 12th-century frescoes,

    unique in Ireland. While much work has been

    carried out, we still need to stabilise the environ

    mental conditions in the building and do some

    more work on conservation of the stone.'

    There have been changes during Aighleann's time with the OPW,

    not only in organisational and financial respects, but also in conserva

    tion techniques and approaches: 'When I started in Monuments there

    was a standard mix for mortar, for example, which included use of

    cement. Now we carry out careful analysis of existing mortars, and

    replicate historic mortars using lime. We don't use cement anymore.

    Also, there are better tools available for carrying out the very fine

    work. And there are more possibilities in terms of careful structural

    intervention, for example in the use of stainless steel ties. Laser

    technology has become increasingly useful in recent years. Laser

    scanning is used for surveys of both buildings and objects, and to

    create a replica of an existing object without having to take a mould.'

    To Aighleann, a very important development in recent years is the

    OPW's introduction of apprenticeship schemes, to train young people

    in traditional skills: 'Even if they leave us and go out into the greater

    world, those skills, and the awareness of materials, are still going to

    be there for everyone's benefit.'

    Apart from her work in the OPW, Aighleann maintains her interest

    in heritage through membership of groups such as the Royal Society

    of Antiquaries of Ireland, the Institute for the Conservation of Historic

    and Artistic Works in Ireland, and ICOMOS Ireland.

    year management plan is now in operation at sites like

    Clonmacnoise and Portumna Castle. It may even be

    possible to manage a site without having a full-time

    presence there. Adare Castle complex in Co Limerick

    will be fully open to the public next year following a

    major conservation project and visitors will be taken to

    the site by minibus from Adare so there will be no need

    for additional construction at the site.

    Grellan D Rourke, Senior Conservation Architect, National

    Monuments Service, Heritage Services, OPW.

    OPW 175TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION |

    2 5

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    Article Contentsp. 22p. [23]p. 24p. 25

    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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