As well as providing a boost to the tourism sector, investment in heritage sites means more jobs for the trade and an opportunity for specialists like Conservation & Restoration to showcase their skills through the refurbishment of the Lady Chapel at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
The Lady Chapel, located at the rear of St Patrick’s Cathedral and built in the 1270s, has just re-opened to the public after undergoing a €700,000 conservation facelift over the last six months. The refurbishment process for the Chapel was a painstaking one; certain sections of the stained glass were dismantled, cleaned and remounted and the stone work was thoroughly cleaned. A new lighting scheme was installed and new communion tables and seating were designed and commissioned from an Irish manufacturer; particular emphasis was placed on procuring craftspeople based in Ireland, both for the restoration and the development of new furniture for the Lady Chapel. All work was funded through the income generated by visitors to the Cathedral and also by the fundraising efforts of Friends of the Cathedral.
The Main Contractor on the prestigious project was Conservation & Restoration (I) Ltd, a firm that specialises in historic restoration. Alan Mc Grath a director explains; “We employ very experienced crafts people and conservators who have learned their trade over the years. We have completed several projects similar to this so have a lot of experience in the restoration of the fabric of old buildings. The standards of quality demanded by our Clients are well recognised by our crafts people. Clients know that when we undertake the work the highest levels of workmanship will be achieved..”
Before any restoration work was attempted though, the area had to be secured to ensure the public had no access to the Chapel. “We also had to ensure that no dust from the works entered into the main body of the cathedral; this was an essential aspect of the work,” says Alan. Once the area was secured, a scaffolding system by Scaffold Elevation Ltd had to be carefully erected to ensure all areas were accessible for safe working, after which several cleaning samples and trials were conducted to ascertain the most effective methods of getting the old paint off the walls and the ceiling. Now, the 345,000 paying visitors to the Cathedral each year can enjoy the newly restored bright cream interior that contrasts so greatly with the dark walls of the rest of the cathedral. John Beauchamp, a conservation architect with Benjamin and Beauchamp who also worked on the Lady Chapel, used a carbon-starved latex formula that sucks in carbon when it’s brushed onto stone, thereby removing stains without damaging the walls.
Restoration work carried out by Conservation & Restoration and his team also included substrate work such as stone and render repairs. Repairs were undertaken to the carvings and where required new stone was carved to match the existing. The most challenging aspect of the process, says Alan, was working in the environment of the existing church. “We were in a situation where we had to carry out the work in a safe, compliant manner, ensuring the safety of the public at all times.” Perhaps the most tedious element of the work was the cleaning of all the windows, both on the outside and the inside.
Complex projects like these that require a deft touch and painstaking attention are nothing new to Conservation & restoration and their team of subcontractors who have worked on several projects for the OPW and are currently working on St Catherine’s Church on Meath St, Dublin. “Our policy is to use the least obtrusive technologies possible so the patina of the façade we’re restoring is maintained. When it comes to cleaning, we use the most up-to-date techniques and products that are available. Before starting on a new project, we carefully investigate it to make sure the best possible solution is presented to the client.”
Commenting on the completed work Gavan Woods, Cathedral Administrator, said the years spent planning the refurbishment have been well worth it. “All of the work carried out by the various teams involved in restoring the Lady Chapel to its former glory is of the highest quality. Everything came in on budget and this is down to the highly skilled people involved in the project, Alan McGrath and his team carried out truly excellent work. I hope that more historic projects like the Lady Chapel will be similarly restored; without support, our built heritage could fall into serious decline.”