Religious order agrees to reinstate Bessborough folly in full

A religious order which sanctioned the near total demolition of an historic structure in Cork has agreed to reinstate it in full within four months of the rebuilding work starting.

The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary have now appointed JCA Architects as the conservation architects to oversee the reinstatement works at the Bessborough folly on the southside of Cork city.

A spokesperson for the city council’s planning department says drawings of the proposed reinstatement works have been submitted to the planning authority and the order has given an undertaking that the folly will be reinstated to its “original form” within four months from the time the works start on site.

However, some further documentation is required before council planners, its enforcement officers and its heritage experts can sign-off on the works.

There was outrage in March when it emerged that the top two storeys of the semi-ruined three-storey Pike family-built folly, located on the grounds of the former Bessborough mother and baby home, had been demolished.

The Order had argued that the folly presented a “major health and safety hazard due to crumbling mortar and loose stones” and that “repair work” was required.

It also said it had sought “professional advice” and established that the building was not on the Record of Monuments and Places and it said it had notified the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of its plans.

But when the extent and nature of the work became apparent, City Hall stepped in, called a halt to the work and opened an enforcement file.

The structure which dates from 1870-1890 was described as an “important surviving landscape feature associated with the gardens of Bessborough House”.

While not a protected structure, it was the subject of a preservation order request from local historian Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil.

The latest update on the reconstruction timeline follows a meeting between representatives of the planning authority and the architectural firm working on behalf of the order earlier this month.

The meeting was held to discuss the submitted drawings and the timeline for the completion of the works.

The planning authority also requested the submission of extra details, including a formal planning drawing detailing the site compound, the haul route and ground mitigation works, and a complete “dated schedule” outlining the phases of the development.

Local Labour election candidate, Peter Horgan, who has been following the case closely for months, welcomed the update.

“I’m glad that the formal process has identified a strict timeline of four months to be followed in restoring this piece of historical significance,” he said.

Vigilance on the restoration and the area around the folly, especially given the recent report from the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes will be crucial.

I’m satisfied that the city council has acted properly here but we do need to have a system of historical protections fast-tracked to prevent a similar situation happening again.

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