“Almost slash and burn,” is how one of the people I am talking with describes the procedures they expect from Lisadell, the construction company employed by the Department of Heritage in Moore Street, to work on where the GPO Garrison retreated in the last days of the Easter Rising.
“The roof doesn’t need replacing,” says another. “It needs the hole in the roof fixed and the timbers carefully repaired, not replaced.” I remark that I’ve known people who’ve had water damage or dry rot and just had the timbers replaced. “Yes, of course, when conservation is not an issue. But when it is, the work is slow and painstaking, bit by bit, to conserve everything that can be conserved, putting in extra supports when needed.”
I am talking to people with expertise in the area of conservation of buildings of historical and/ or architectural value. They know what should be done to conserve the historic buildings in the Moore Street quarter and they feel certain that it will not be done. They feel impotent – they have the expertise, they care about conservation but they fear the combined powers of the State and big property speculators such as Hammerson, who plan to build a huge shopping centre over the whole Moore Street quarter. They will advise but if they go “too far”, they feel their professional lives will be seriously impaired. Perhaps they fear even more than that – who knows?
In 2007, just before Nos.14-17 Moore Street were made a national monument, TG4 in the their Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca program broadcast a remarkably in-depth exposure of the battle between Chartered Land and another firm of property speculators for control of the quarter and how Joe O’Reilly of Chartered Land, coming from behind, had been given an incredible advantage over his competitors with a preferential deal with the Planning Department of Dublin City Council. This took place among more than a whiff of corruption and of complaints by elected Councillors who were excluded from a secret meeting and at another, threatened with financial penalties. Joe O’Reilly of Chartered Land (and also joint owner with Irish Life of the ILAC shopping centre) gobbled up most of Moore Street and only a fierce campaign in the autumn of 2014 prevented the Planning Department getting authorisation to swap him two Council properties in the Street, thereby clearing the way for him to begin demolition of the terrace.
“THESE TIMBERS HEARD …. MACHINE GUNS … SCREAMS … THE PAINFUL DECISION TO SURRENDER …”
Another of the experts intervenes. “These timbers they are going to rip out are the ones that heard the discussion around whether to surrender or to go on fighting,” she says. I am a little surprised at such poetic imagery from a person whose work is in bricks and mortar, plaster, timbers and slates – but there is no denying the passion and there is more to come.
“Those timbers heard the chatter of British machine guns, the crack of their rifles, screams in the street, the occasional crack of a Volunteers’ rifle, perhaps an occasional groan from the wounded Connolly. They heard Elizabeth O’Farrell volunteering to go out under a white flag although civilians had already been shot down under such a flag. They heard the discussions upon her return, the painful decision to surrender, Pearse’s decision to go out with O’Farrell, Seán Mac Lochlainn’s orders to march out in military order ….”
Can damaged timbers and bricks be conserved? I ask. “Oh yes, they do it in England on historic buildings, even genuine Tudor ones. All kinds of damaged timbers can be conserved. But if at all possible you do it in place, in situ – removing timbers causes further damage.”
And bricks? And slates? “Well,” breaks in another, “you’d photograph everything carefully in advance or as you uncovered sections. Anything to be temporarily removed would be numbered, slates or bricks. Then the supporting timbers or brickwork is slowly treated, then everything put back in the same order.”
What about missing or broken bricks or slates? “Broken bricks can sometimes be repaired but otherwise you’d source bricks from the same brickyard. Or if the brickyard is no longer in business, you’d look for other buildings of the same bricks being demolished and buy the material. The same with slates.” I think of the descriptions by campaigners occupying the buildings of how they found timbers just thrown into a set-aside room, and all kinds of objects left leaning against plasterwork that was probably in need of conservation.
A woman shows me on her Ipad a section on restoration procedures on the website of Historic England, a body sponsored by the British Department of Media, Culture and Sports. I quickly record three paragraphs (I will look up the rest later).
“A conservative approach is fundamental to good conservation – so retaining as much of the significant historic fabric and keeping changes to a minimum are of key importance when carrying out repair work to historic buildings.
“The unnecessary replacement of historic fabric, no matter how carefully the work is carried out, can in most situations have an adverse effect on character and significance.
“The detailed design of repairs should be preceded by a survey of the building’s structure and an investigation of the nature and condition of its materials and the causes and processes of decay.”
I remark that doesn’t seem to be what is going to happen to Nos.14-17 Moore Street. They nod – they agree.
“It’s just a building site to them,” says one. “What they have already done in defacing a national monument is criminal – but who will prosecute them?”
“They put more holes in the front of those buildings than British soldiers did in 1916,” says another man angrily. “Then they just ripped out their Hilti bolts and filled up the holes with an epoxy resin, instead of pointing material.”
This is a reference to the drilling of holes for the erection of a banner without planning permission, across Nos. 14-17 Moore Street, officially a national monument since 2007. Judge Barrett agreed it was illegal in the case taken by Colm Moore, the nominee of some 1916 fighters’ relatives. Although she is appealing that and other decisions of Barrett’s, the Minister had it taken down recently — but again using questionable methods.
“No wonder Humphreys doesn’t want independent inspection and monitoring”, says another, a reference to the Minister of Heritage’s consistent refusal to allow any independent conservation experts in, or indeed the Lord Mayor of last year, or a number of TDs and Councillors, always under the guise of “Health & Safety requirements” that no-one not of the workforce should enter. Yet when they had their media exercise after the Government’s purchase late last year, RTÉ camera crews were in there as was Caitriona Crowe of Trinity College, praising the purchase of the buildings and the Department’s alleged intentions. It later emerged that the demolition of three adjoining buildings was part of that plan but a five-day occupation of the building by concerned citizens put a stop to that, before an injunction was granted by Judge Barret preventing further demolition until the case taken against the State had been decided.
While the rest of the buildings in the quarter and the streets themselves, uncared for and subject to constant assault of weather and with broken drainpipes, heavy traffic and so on accelerate in deterioration, and the Minister’s appeal against the Barret Judgement will not even open until December next year, an assault is imminent on the roof and parapets of four of the buildings of the historic 1916 terrace, those with the best-preserved original frontages and among those with the highest specific historic importance within that terrace. If this were a case of some greedy or careless private owner or company, a complaint could be made to the National Monuments Service. Many such cases have ended in heavy fines for the perpetrators.
But Terry Allen, the Principal Officer of that very Service baldly said in his evidence to Judge Barrett that Moore Street was not a 1916 battlefield. His office comes under the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, of which Minister Heather Humphreys is the boss. And the Government’s Cabinet stands behind her, if not actually pushing her forward. We tend to look to the State to protect national monuments from people damaging them. But who can protect them from the State itself?
NB: These conversations happened but not with all of the people present at the one time. I have put them together for the sake of a condensed narrative and for the protection of identities.
Principles of Repair for Historic Buildings from Historic England website:
The Facebook pages of the following campaigns:
Save Moore Street From Demolition
Save Moore Street 2016
Save Moore Street Dublin
The TG4 program Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx0Kah7dE80
And some of the Easter Rising Stories series of videos by Marcus Howard on Youtube
Description of Terry Allen’s responsibilities as Prinicpal Officer at the National Monuments Service http://whodoeswhat.gov.ie/branch/ahg/Monuments/terry-allen/641/