The preservation of historic stone buildings across Ireland is under threat unless urgent and efficient action is taken to develop standards of procurement, training and apprenticeships, a daylong conference taking place in County Clare this week will hear.
Conservation and heritage experts from academia, government, local government and the private sector will gather in Boston on Wednesday to discuss the need to improve the traditional skills which they say is required to prevent ongoing damage being caused to the country’s heritage buildings.
The inaugural National INStone Symposium is being hosted by Burren-based Irish Natural Stone (INStone), the company responsible for delivering the Irish Hunger Memorial in New York City, the restoration of the Four Courts in Dublin, St. Mel’s Cathedral in Longford, St. John’s Cathedral in Limerick, the O’Connell Monument in Ennis, the Irish Cultural and Learning Foundation in Phoenix (USA) and Hope House in Bath (UK).
Company founder Frank McCormack said the event will highlight the urgent need to educate public bodies about bringing vernacular buildings and derelict housing back into use in “a proper and correct manner with sensitivity towards their heritage aspect, ensuring the use of natural materials.”
“All stakeholders involved in the preservation of our built heritage need to know and understand about what natural materials should be used and their appropriate application, whilst ensuring best conservation practice is adhered to and achieved. Unfortunately, we are at a concerning stage where there is a widening gap in traditional skills within the heritage sector,” he explained.
Mr. McCormack said traditional skills once commonly deployed in the conservation of old buildings were being lost and that intervention at the national level would be required to ensure that the heritage value of Ireland’s vernacular properties is not undermined.
The event features keynote addresses from a range of experts, including Dr. Patrick Wyse Jackson, Associate Professor of Geology and Curator of the Geological Museum at Trinity College Dublin (TCD); Barry O’Reilly of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; Hugh Kavanagh, coordinator of the All-Ireland Heritage Skills Programme for the Prince’s Foundation; Dr. John Treacy of Clare County Council; and Alan Micklethwaite, a renowned stone carver with many years of experience in the conservation of historic monuments and sculpture.
“With a pressing need to preserve our built heritage and upgrade our building stock to modern-day comfort levels, all stakeholders involved need to understand traditional building methods and how we can incorporate suitable modern materials to achieve the required energy efficiency rating in the building,” explained Mr. McCormack.
He continued, “We need to close the gap in both traditional skills and the understanding of historic buildings. To achieve this, a standardised national quality rating and assessment process should be introduced so that local authorities and public bodies, most of whom will be participating in the symposium, present can better understand the process of properly conserving and restoring old buildings, from the methods of construction adopted to the appropriately specified materials. Furthermore, additional investment and support are required to ensure traditional skills and conservation training allows for the new generation of craftspeople to learn and hone our ancient skills, and aid in the preservation of our built heritage.”
Mr. McCormack, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) who has more than 50 years of experience working as a master stone mason; sculptor; businessman and entrepreneur in Ireland; across Europe and in the United States pointed to the need for a significant increase in the resources available under various government-funded schemes to refurbish Ireland’s old buildings.
“Schemes such as the Built Heritage Investment Scheme (BHIS), Historic Structures Fund (HSF), the Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant and GLAS Traditional Farm Buildings Grants Scheme are very much welcomed, but a substantial increase in the support provided at local government level in conjunction with the training of those engaged in restoration and conservation work, is necessary if we are to maximise the numbers of successfully procured and finished products of older properties being brought back into use,” he added.
Among the topics being discussed at the conference will be ‘Understanding Carbon in the Built Environment’ by Peter Cox (FRSA) of Carrig Conservation; ‘Craftsmanship in Stone – CRAFTVALUE – IRC Advanced Laureate Project, by TCD’s Professor Christine Casey, Dr Andrew Tierney and Dr Melanie Hayes; ‘STONEBUILT IRELAND Research Project, by TCD’s Professor Patrick Wyse Jackson & Dr Louise Caulfield; ‘The ethics and ethos of Architectural Sculpture Conservation’ by leading restorative carver, Alan Micklethwaite; ‘FABTRADS – Moisture and Thermal Properties of a Range of Irish Stones and In-Situ U-Values of Stone walls’ by UCD’s Dr Rosanne Walker; ‘National Vernacular Strategy’ by Barry O’Reilly of the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage; ‘All-Ireland Heritage Skills Programme’ by Hugh Kavanagh of The Princes Foundation; and ‘Preservation of the Historical and Heritage Value of our Historical Burial Grounds and Graveyards’ by Dr John Treacy of Clare County Council’s Burial Grounds Division.
Other speakers include INStone’s Jamie Forde, MCIOB Building Surveyor, and also INStone’s Colin Grehan, Lead Sculptor who will provide a special presentation on ‘The Intricate Hand-Carving of the Replacement Four Courts Capitals’. An open questions and answers session will be chaired by Dr Brendan Dunford of Burrenbeo Trust at the close of the conference.
Visit www.irishnaturalstone.com for more on the first National INStone Symposium at on Wednesday September 6th.