Project feature: St. Mary’s Hall – A jewel in the crown

01 Feb 2017

There is no typical Heritage project, but there are typical challenges that present during the course of carrying out major works on an historic building or other structure.

Confined spaces, undoing inappropriate repairs and finding contractors with the right skills and ethos were all in a day’s work when the Duggan Brothers worked at St Mary’s in Kilkenny. As were the conditions of the Public Works Contract and even a visit from storm Barney, who put in an appearance along the way in November 2015.

Seamus Duggan John Butler and Evelyn

(L-R): Seamus Duggan, Joint MD of Duggan Brothers Ltd, John Butler, Contracts Manager with Duggan Brothers Ltd and Evelyn Grahan, Project Liaison Architect for Kilkenny County Council.

Among the secrets to the team’s success, in what has been hailed as a hugely significant project that forms a major hub on Ireland’s Medieval Mile: a knowledgeable and understanding client, a strong design team, a passion for the work and being prepared for lots and lots of archaeology.

So says John Butler, Contracts Manager with Duggan Brother’s, who knows the history of St. Mary’s well.

“You have to have a particular interest,” said John. “It can be rewarding and it can also be challenging on a project like this. Throughout the project McCullough Mulvin Architects, Carrig Conservation and our own highly experienced site management team were always very cognisant of how it was all done hundreds of years ago. It did make you appreciate the work. You can see how it was done and the pride that was taken.”

“We can’t talk about the work in St Mary’s without recognising our two key personnel, Paddy Byrne and Pat O’Neill, who between them oversaw every aspect of the works and took great pride in ensuring that the works were completed to the highest standard,” John added. “Paddy was responsible for the structural conservation works and then Pat took over to oversee the completion and finishing of the project.”

Like many major conservation works, St. Mary’s Hall, presented a number of challenges along the way.

“The façade was re-pointed in the 1960s with sand and cement pointing. So the problem was that it was trapping water within the structure,” John said. “We had to remove all the existing sand and cement, over all elevations and replace with a lime mix.”

This aspect of the works took five months to complete. However, a greater challenge still was the fact that the St. Mary’s site is of huge archaeological importance.

“There are around 30,000 people buried here,” said Seamus Duggan, joint Managing Director at Duggan Brothers. “So the archaeological side of things was a big challenge. It took a lot of time.”

According to Evelyn Graham, Project Liaison Architect for Kilkenny County Council, the project has been celebrated by the local community. “People didn’t realise just what a gem we had here,” Evelyn said. “The roof was one of my favourite parts of the job. It is one of the best preserved mid-17 century roofs in the country.”

Most of the key skills required for the project, such as stone pointing and roofing were sub-contracted out.

“It’s great that the skills are there,” Seamus Duggan said. “However, there are only a certain number of contractors that could carry out this work and hence the selection of the key subcontractors was critical.”

On this note, Seamus Duggan found the Register of Heritage Contractors, of which Duggan Brothers are a member, very helpful.

For more on this project, check out the upcoming issue of Construction magazine…

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