In April 2008, North Tipperary County Council gave the go-ahead to plans for conserving and refurbishing Killahara Castle. Work commenced immediately and were completed 7 months later in November 2008.
The granting of permission was preceded by two years of planning and consultation with the experts and the relevant authorities. The process was then undertaken with expert oversight, and a high standard of workmanship.
The Starting Point
The castle, until April 2008, stood as a shell. It had had no roof, probably since the mid sixteen hundreds when Cromwellian forces 'slighted' the building. It had no floors or windows - absent since 1921, when the building was burnt out by the 'Black & Tans'. Only one burnt wall plate remained. The lower level window openings were wider than originally, courtesy of the 1853 restoration attempt.
The surrounds of some of the widened opes were crumbling owing to the fact that, as that (1853) restoration had run out of steam, some openings had been hastily patched up with poorly supported brickwork rather than with stone mullions, transoms, and lintels. At the top, the parapet crenellation and machicolation was absent. Like the roof, these were proabably missing from the early years of the castle. (The Cromwellian 'slighting' process, logically, included toppling defensive features of castles.)
All around the wall walk was a very old and most unusual concrete barge. It had been created as part of the 1904 restoration. Trees and ivy were growing on top of the barrel vault and were encroaching on the stonework at the top. The inner parts were continually saturated. The damp and lichen had caused many patches of the lime render to crumble. Birds nested throughout.
However, standing on a rock with all of its quoins still in place, the overall structure of this building was exceptionally well preserved. Furthermore, the barge on top had helped stem the decay of the decapitated walls from the top.
Conservation rather than Restoration
The co-owners, at the outset, planned to restore the Castle to as near as they could bring it to its original state. That would have meant restoring, amongst other things, the castellation, the original window configuration, etc.
Conservation consultant, Ivor McElveen, suggested a different approach. Ivor pointed out that unless detailed drawings of the original structure are available, restoration work can be regarded as too speculative. The efforts in this project, he suggested, should be to conserve rather than restore.
The Conservation Plan
The central ideas guiding this project were to:
- make the castle habitable to a high standard – to make it dry, warm, and comfortable
- respect and preserve the full ‘story’ of the building – the original structure as well as the works done in 1853 and 1904
This meant that the Castle would need to be roofed, insulated, damp-proofed, floored, patched, furnished and have modern comforts such as electricity, heating, and bathrooms installed, while observing the following constraints:
- avoid all speculative restoration
- undertake only those repairs necessary for preserving structural integrity
- ensure all materials used in necessary structural work, were compatible with the building
- keep invasive work to the minimum
- ensure that all works done were ‘reversible’
The Conservation Team
For more information on the 2008 conservation project at Killahara, contact the relevant person from the team involved.
Heritage Construction, Dovea, Thurles. Tel. (087) 193 8600
Noel Ryan (co-owner) undertook all of the works (carpentry, roofing, masonry, services, finishes etc.) through his specialist enterprise, Heritage Construction. Noel has worked on many castles and historic buildings, first in his years as a stone mason with Dúchas, and latterly as a private contractor.
CEng Tel. (053) 925 5977 – (086) 831 4772
Ivor McElveen, probably Ireland’s foremost conservation engineer, was the conservation consultant who guided the project from pre-planning through to completion. Ivor’s input was critical as he successfully aligns his knowledge of current best practice in conservation with an understanding of the owners’ budget constraints and the technical practicalities that one confronts in a project like this.
A detailed record of the Castle, as it stood before works commenced, was undertaken by Phelim Manning, of Obair. Phelim is very experienced and very thorough in creating detailed visual records of historic structures.
Ryan Architectural Solutions, Thurles. Tel (0504) 90244
Seán Ryan prepared the detailed drawings and planning application packs. The requirements for an application of this sort are more extensive and complex than those governing standard restorations or new builds and Seán managed the whole application process with care and patience.
(May be contacted through Ivor McElveen)
David Sweetman guided the team through the archeological considerations and oversaw the necessary assessments. David is the leading expert in his field. He is the author of the definitive book on Irish Castles.