St. Muredach’s Cathedral Restoration

Phase One of the restoration of St. Muredach’s Cathedral is now complete. This work is focused on an examination of the source of the dampness which has damaged the ornate ceiling. The ornate ceiling was put in place some fifteen years after the cathedral was built in 1829. It rests on columns inserted into the cathedral walls. It is independent of and is about eight feet lower than the cathedral roof itself. With the passing of time and given the direction of the prevailing wind, dampness has penetrated the external walls and caused the timber supports for the ceiling to rot. Phase one of the work involved examining and replacing most of the timber supports which lie under the ornate plaster work. It also involved putting in place materials which will help prevent dampness in the future as well as extra support for the beams of the ceiling itself.

Accoya wood is being used as the replacement timber. Accoya is not a timber species, but a treatment for farmed softwoods. It’s based on a process called “acetylation”. Softwood treated in this way is unaffected by timber infestation and is particularly suited for damp conditions. This timber is the result of decades of research and development that has brought together a long-established, extensively proven wood modification technique and leading-edge patented technology – acetylation to create a high performance wood, ideal for outdoor use and challenging applications. It has properties that match or exceed those of the best tropical hardwoods and treated woods, yet is manufactured using wood from sustainable sources. Combined with exceptional durability and stability It is considered by many as the world’s leading high technology long life wood.

Local craftsmen are carrying out this work. O’Malley and Sons, Ballina, are the main contractors for this phase and Ballina Engineering Works have prepared all the new stainless steel pieces inserted for greater support. The nails used in securing the ceiling were all specially made by Ray Munnelly, Ross, Killala. Given the historic and artistic importance of the ceiling itself, the services of well known specialists have been secured. David Slattery, a highly regarded conservation architect based in Dublin, is the architect to the project. His restoration work includes projects such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the GPO, the Old Parliament at Bank of Ireland, College Green, etc. Restoration of the ornate plaster work has been given to George O’Malley, who has just completed all the plasterwork on the restoration of Longford Cathedral, which reopened last Christmas. A native of Newport, Co. Mayo, George O’Malley has been employed in all areas of plastering; residential, commercial, restoration and renovation, in Trinity College, Dublin; 9 & 10 Hume Street, Dublin; Ledwithtown House, Ballymahon, Co. Longford; Kilruddery House, Bray, Co. Wicklow; 47 Merrion Street, Dublin; The Dean’s Residence at Werburg Street, Dublin; ESB Credit Union, Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin; Hume Street Hospital, Dublin etc.

It was impossible to estimate the cost at the outset of phase one. It was only when the builders were able to open up the area under the ceiling that this became possible. The cost of this phase was €308,000. Phase two of the project will concentrate of the pointing of the external walls of the cathedral in this area and subsequent phases will continue this pattern; of pointing the outside walls and restoring the areas of the damaged ceiling. It is thought that the restoration may take up to eighteen months to complete. It has been decided that the painting of the cathedral should not be carried out until all the restoration work is completed.