VIDEO: When time stands still - restoring the national monument

Eoin English looks at the skilled conservation work now underway to restore the National Monument on Grand Parade ahead of the Easter Rising commemorations planned for Cork in 2016

A MAJOR conservation and restoration project on a city landmark is set to safeguard it for at least another half-century.

Expert sculpture conservator Eoghan Daltun has begun a crucial phase of the mammoth project to clean and repair Cork’s National Monument, which was unveiled at the turn of the last century.


All of the cement has been raked from its joints and it has been cleaned from top to bottom using a special stone-cleaning technique — millions of tiny glass beads designed to shatter on impact were fired under low pressure at the stone to clear decades of dirt and grime.

Now, working on seven-storey scaffolding installed around the 14.6m-high monument on the Grand Parade, Mr Daltun is using a tiny trowel to fill miles of narrow joints with a special lime mortar flecked with fine sand.

The painstaking process, which progresses inches at a time, is expected to take several weeks to complete.

Once it’s finished, the monument, which features four types of stone — Cork and Kilkenny limestone, Connemara marble, and Midleton red marble — will be coated in a special sealant to protect it.

“It’s important that it’s done right so that when we walk away from here, we can say it’s done properly, and it should stand up to the elements for another good 50 years, if not more,” says Mr Daltun.

While the monument will need some care over the next 50 years, it shouldn’t need a conservation project this big for another century, he adds.

The monument honours the Irish patriots who fought in rebellions, including the United Irishmen who rose in 1798 under Wolfe Tone, the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848, and the Fenian Rising of 1867.

An inscription on it reads: “To perpetuate the Memory of the Gallant Men of 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867 who fought and died in the wars of Ireland to recover her sovereign independence and to inspire the youth of our country to follow in their patriotic footsteps and imitate their heroic example. And righteous men will make our land A Nation Once Again.”

Several lists of names are recorded on the monument, which features five statues — Mother Erin; Wolfe Tone, the leader of the 1798 rebellion; Fenian leader Peter O’Neill Crowley; Young Irelander Thomas Davis; and Michael Dwyer.

It was designed by well-known architect DJ Coakley, and built by Ellis Coakley, who designed the façade of nearby Holy Trinity church. The neo-Gothic design bears a striking resemblance to the front of the church.

John Francis Davis, a Kilkenny man with a studio in Dublin, sculpted the statues.

The Cork Young Ireland Society, a successor to the Cork ’98 Centenary Committee, raised funds for its construction.

Its foundation stone was laid in 1898, close to where a statue of George III on horseback once stood.

But the finished structure wasn’t unveiled until St Patrick’s Day 1906 by patriot Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, from Rosscarbery, Co Cork.

The landmark monument was a regular meeting place for many nationalist political meetings over the years.

Ahead of the Easter Rising centenary celebrations, Cork City Council commissioned a full survey of the monument.

Mr Daltun prepared a detailed report, which found that the original lime mortar used in the stonework joints had deteriorated, and joints filled with mortar cement in the 1960s had opened up, allowing water to seep in.

He found significant plant growth in the joints, with moss, lichens, and algae present in damper areas.

Rainwater flowing out of joints had left brownish deposits of calcium carbonate — so-called ‘black crust’ — an unsightly mixture of dirt, eroded limestone, and calcium sulphate.

The council then commissioned him to undertake a full cleaning and conservation project ahead of the 2016 commemorations.

Senior executive architect Neil Purkiss said the council wanted to have the monument looking its best for whatever commemorations may take place in Cork at that time.

Part of the work will involve the repainting by hand of lettering in the inscriptions at the base of the monument.

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