Despite Financial Setbacks, Work to Restore the Roof of St Patrick's Cathedral Continues

The sun is shining on all sides of the city, visible from the top of the roof in St Patrick’s Cathedral on Tuesday.

In St Patrick’s Park a group of yoga enthusiasts bend and stretch in tandem while a line of traffic snakes up Patrick’s Street.

Directly below, workers are restoring the roof of the cathedral. Standing inside the church, it’s clear that a major project is underway.

Instead of tourists, mass goers or priests, builders, surveyors, project managers walk around in hard hats and high-vis vests.

After serious damage was done to the roof in a storm, plans were made in 2016 to renovate parts of St Patrick’s Cathedral. The work began last year.

“We knew that work would have to be done after two huge holes were blown in the roof after a storm,” says Cathedral Administrator Gavan Woods.

The wheels were in motion for a €9.2 million project, but this all came to a halt after Covid-19 put the country in lockdown.

Much of the funding for this project comes from tourism, which is way down, says Woods, who estimates they may lose out on €1.5 million this summer.

For now, the team must reassess how to plug the holes that have been left by the pandemic.

A Restoration

The 1860s was the last time a restoration project like this was undertaken in St Patrick’s Cathedral.

At the time, the restoration project was funded by the Guinness family, says Woods.

“They did an amazing job. To be honest with you many of the methods that they used we are using ourselves now just with stricter safety precautions,” says Ian Morrisey the contracts manager for Clancy, who are in charge of overseeing the restoration.

Dry wood, holes in the ceiling and falling slates on the roof are among the problems that need to be fixed in 12th-century cathedral.

But working on a building like this presents its own challenges.

“No hot work can be done on site. That means there is no welding or flames permitted on the building,” says Morrisey.

While this is a common practice, the fire which broke out at Notre-Dame in Paris in 2019 brought to light the importance of keeping this risk away from historic buildings, says Morrisey.

Setting up the scaffolding required a lot of planning. “You can’t bolt on any scaffolding to the medieval structure,” says Woods, the cathedral administrator.

So, the scaffolding was instead bolted across the windows, stacked one story after another forming a geometric pattern.

The windows have been taken out and shipped to England for maintenance.

“There’s about 30 or 45 of these windows,” says Wood.

They’re clerestory windows which have bars in the glass dividing the light.

Inside the cage of scaffolding, builders go about their work to restore the slate roof.

The tiles that are coming from the same quarry in Wales that was used in the 1861 restoration, says Woods.

Each tile is taken, tile by tile, by hand.

“No tools are allowed to be used on the tiles,” says Morrisey.

Once in the cathedral, it’s hard to escape the construction work.

Some of the slates that are in good condition, will be re-used on the lower roofs of the cathedral.

Along with stone restoration on the roof, cleaning on the upper levels of the cathedral has commenced.

“Plenty of old newspapers and pigeon carcass have been found up there,” says Morrissey.

An Unexpected Setback

The project was running for six and a half months when Covid-19 put a spanner in the works.

Restoration stopped for seven weeks during lockdown, but the project still aims to be finished by July 2021, which is the original deadline.

Some of that time was made back up inside the church while the general public were not able to access the cathedral, says Morrisey.

Yet, Covid-19 has had a considerable impact on the funding for this restoration.

Much of the restoration funding came from tourists visiting the cathedral, with over 600,000 visitors every year.

“We are easily going to lose about a million and a half that we would have hoped to gather for the roof so we have to plug that gap somehow,” he says.

Yet despite these setbacks, work continues on the roof.

“It’s one of Ireland’s absolute architectural jewels. It’s an extremely important structure,” says Woods.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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