November 29: Curraghchase House deserves to be rescued

The once magnificent Curraghchase house, now sadly neglected. But Henry Hayes has called on the people of Limerick to rescue it from ruin
My wife and I are occasional visitors to Limerick from Australia. As a retired Sydney architect I was impressed on a recent visit by the interactive display at King John’s Castle, the fabulous pedestrian bridge at the university, the café attachment to the art gallery adjacent People’s Park, and the timber walkways at the quays. A visit to Curraghchase with its beautiful lakes, forest and mansion is always a special treat. What an astounding public asset to enjoy.

My wife and I are occasional visitors to Limerick from Australia. As a retired Sydney architect I was impressed on a recent visit by the interactive display at King John’s Castle, the fabulous pedestrian bridge at the university, the café attachment to the art gallery adjacent People’s Park, and the timber walkways at the quays. A visit to Curraghchase with its beautiful lakes, forest and mansion is always a special treat. What an astounding public asset to enjoy.

The 2013 publication by Patrick T. Fitzgerald on the history of Curraghchase House reveals that it was actually gutted by an accidental kitchen fire. As an architect it is sad to see the neglect shown to the building structure which internally is overgrown with invasive weeds, trees and ivy which are left unchecked to damage and gorge away at the brick and stonework. This is a beautiful eighteenth century building and it deserves to be rescued from ruin.

Any rebirth of the building may perhaps take years and it desperately needs local community involvement now. Coillte, judging by the recent interior photograph in the booklet, appear to know little about the correct methods to conserve historic buildings. The mass concrete infill as an attempt to stabilise a weakened wall is disgraceful. Maybe the controlling authority does not have the appropriate expertise or incentive to manage this beautiful building and perhaps should step aside from any restoration work.

Correction work to rescue the building from further neglect should be prioritised. The history of the manor building, its plans and design, requires detailed research. The original architect for this manor needs to be identified and examination and documentation of their previous works made. This research may reveal how level 1 was partitioned, and more precise information on the layout of Levels 2 and 3 which were the entertaining and accommodation levels.

Initially this work could be compiled by volunteer local architects and architectural students. The existing structure then needs to be studied by architects and engineers. Part of the Level 2 flooring remains intact and may be of brick-vaulted construction.

A plan of action should be formulated to remove all vegetation from the walls (both sides) and floors of the mansion, and this work supervised by these professionals so that accidents and further damage are avoided. The existing bat colony on Level 1 must be protected but that floor area is large and the area occupied by them is small. They need to be studied and flight corridors constructed. The removal of accumulated debris could then proceed.

Following on from this work, archaeologists and surveyors need to record the building for the preparation of architectural drawings. Architects and engineers could then produce a document of staged building restoration. A photographic record of the entire building must be made; the Limerick Leader could provide this essential task. Copies of photos on DVD would be a vital tool for the preparation of appropriate documentation and for Engineers to identify any weak building structure requiring urgent attention.

After the building is made safe and secure, and public interest grows, guided tours – including school excursions – could be conducted to further appreciate the architectural and engineering feats of the 18th century. This would also be a great opportunity to hold open days, with historical re-enactments, and introduce some commercial aspects, with refreshment and specialist food stalls, music recitals, and photo sales to generate funds for further works.

The Limerick Leader could promote those building professionals who have volunteered their time and services, with acknowledgement in their newspaper articles of the conservation work. Companies that extend charitable sponsorship, such as free insurance cover, scaffolding, weed sprays, brickwork, etc. could be publicly acknowledged in your paper.

On our visit to Curraghchase we noticed a large stockpile of logs, the result of a storm. Some of that timber, if a suitable species, could be retained and stored for timber roof framing, floor beams, joists, and partitioning for the restoration of the manor house.

Limerick people, please protect your heritage building now. Serious decay is occurring from the inside out. Show the authorities that you yourselves have the capacity to combat the incompetence shown by them.

HENRY HAYES

Clovelly NSW 2031 Australia

henryhayes1@optusnet.com.au