Concern over work on heritage site

THE state has been accused of neglecting one of the country’s most iconic heritage sites.

An expert on the history of the Rock of Cashel in Co Tipperary said he has real concerns that the latest restoration project on the historic site will take years longer than it should, will have a negative visual impact on the site, and will further damage the struggling tourism industry.

Tom Wood is an independent councillor on South Tipperary County Council.

He worked on the site as a teenager and was for decades its chief supervisor.

“If you look at the Rock from any angle today, you will see a massive amount of scaffolding around Cormac’s Chapel,” he said.

“We have been told it is going to be up there for four years. But it will be a miracle if it’s gone within that time scale given my experience of the site.”

The Office of Public Works (OPW) has begun a major project to save wall paintings in the 12th century chapel.

They have been described as the earliest and most important of their type in Ireland.

“However, the sandstone fabric of the chapel and the conserved wall painting fragments are deteriorating as a result of water penetrating the building envelope and the unstable internal microclimate,” the OPW said.

“A temporary roof and access scaffold has been erected over the chapel to facilitate the conservation work.

“This roof will allow the chapel dry out and conservation and repair works to be carried out on the sandstone.”

It is hoped that these measures will achieve a microclimate that is stable and beneficial to the long-term conservation of the wall paintings.

But Mr Wood said he fears the project will drag on and that the Rock has effectively been a building site since 1974.

“Cormac’s Chapel was built in the 13th century in eight years with stone hauled by hand from a quarry 10 miles away,” he said.

“In one period of the 20th century, there was scaffolding up for 12 years with very little to show for it.

The OPW restored the 15th century Hall of the Vicars Choral in 1974.

Scaffolding was put up again in the 1980s for work on the chapel. It remained in place for 12 years.

“The amount of physical work was limited but the scaffolding was there for so long people, wondered had it taken root,” Mr Wood said.

He said major restoration work has been done very efficiently and in a matter of years on Kilkenny Castle and at Newgrange.

“I can’t remember an occasion since the 1970s when there hasn’t been scaffolding on the Rock. It’s been a partial building site ever since,” he said.

He has also expressed concerns about the state’s decision to include the Rock under the “royal” category on a draft list for inclusion on the State’s World Heritage Site Tentative List.

His wife, Maribel is a Cashel town councillor.

“It has saddened me how much the Irish authorities have simply neglected the Rock of Cashel,” she said.

The Rock of Cashel served as the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years – from the 4th century to 1101 when it was handed over the church.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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