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, Co. Clare 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.
“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.
“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.
Visit www.irishnaturalstone.com for more on the first National INStone Symposium at on Wednesday September 6th.
Masonry tools at the workshop of Irish Natural Stone in County Clare, C: Eamon Ward.
TOP PHOTO: Frank McCormack, Founder and Director of Irish Natural Stone, pictured at his workshop in Boston, County Clare, with stone capitals to be used as part of the restoration and renovation project underway at The Four Courts in Dublin. C: Eamon Ward.