Who saves buildings that fall derelict?
Organisations such as the Irish Georgian Society and An Taisce want to compile a national register of buildings at risk to drive policy to protect the thousands of derelict historic properties strewn across the country
Hazelwood House outside Sligo town, originally built for Owen Wynne in the early 18th century
Vernon Mount in Co Cork, which was placed on the World Monuments Fund list of 100 most endangered sites
Travel through almost any county in Ireland and you’ll find signs of historical dereliction. In some cases, it will be boarded-up shops and empty terraced houses on main streets of rural market towns whose heyday is long past. In other cases, it will be a country house, bought by a developer at the height of the economic boom with plans for yet another hotel with adjoining golf course and maybe a few additional houses off the stable yard.
Many of these properties are now embroiled in a protracted process between bankrupt owners, liquidators and receivers. There are many examples. Hazelwood House outside Sligo town is one poignant one. Situated on a scenic woodland peninsula jutting out into Lough Gill, Hazelwood was Richard Cassel’s first country house commission. Originally built for Owen Wynne in the early 18th century, Hazelwood House remained in the family until 1937 when it was sold to the Land Commission. Since then, its owners have included the Department of Health and an Italian yarn manufacturer that built a giant factory on the site.
It was purchased by a consortium of local Sligo developers in 2006 for whom planning permission for a development of 158 detached houses and four apartment blocks was refused. The 80-acre property including Hazelwood House and derelict factory buildings has been on the market since May 2013.
The square three bay, three storey over basement was linked by arcaded quadrants to three bay, two-storey kitchen and stable blocks. An estate map dated 1762 shows a formal Dutch style garden with two octagonal walled gardens.
In Co Cork, Vernon Mount, the 18th-century geometrical villa south of the city is also a building at significant risk of decay. The Irish Georgian Society has been campaigning for several years to prevent further exterior and interior damage. It was only when the house was placed on the World Monuments Fund list of 100 most endangered sites in 2008 that Cork County Council undertook minimal repairs.
In Dublin city centre, Aldborough House has faced similar neglect. Described by An Taisce as the last great town mansion built before the Act of Union, it was abandoned by a bankrupt developer and only recently had emergency repairs carried out by Dublin City Council.
As the latter cases illustrate, although each county council has legal responsibility (since the Planning and Development Act 2000) to protect buildings at risk, this usually only happens when the roof is about to cave in, the windows broken or the house is at serious risk of vandalism, theft of valuable fixtures and fittings or illegal inhabitation.
Efforts to protect significant historical buildings from dereliction instead falls to organisations such as the Irish Georgian Society and An Taisce – both of whom have campaigned furiously to save buildings such as Hazelwood House, Vernon Mount, and Whitfield Court in Co Waterford, which is currently for sale.