The shortlist for this year’s Irish Georgian Society Conservation Awards couldn’t have been more diverse: a private house, two houses renovated for business use, a converted barracks, a market house, a mill, a paved courtyard, a hotel façade, a national school and a museum.
But it was probably inevitable that a meticulous restoration of the decaying façades of Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel by conservation architect Alistair Lindsay and specialist contractors Acol would carry off the premier award, given that it now “adds to the glamour of St Stephen’s Green”.
That’s how jury chairman Dr Edward McParland put it when the awards were presented on Thursday evening in the presence of their sponsor, property developer Johnny Ronan, who now heads the resurgent Ronan Group Real Estate after being “in Nama” for several years with Treasury Holdings.
Dr McParland described the four days in August which members of jury – including myself – spent travelling around the country, from Mayo to Waterford to the Midlands, viewing all of the shortlisted entries and talking to the owners, architects and craftsmen involved in each project.
“Frequently, we met owners who were deeply informed and committed to doing a complicated – and often expensive – job well,” said Dr McParland. “And the opportunity of discussing the work with the architects revealed the seriousness of their theoretical approach and the complexity of their technical procedures.”
High commendations were awarded to Fancroft Mill, near Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and the Market House in Stradbally, Co Laois, with commendations for the main courtyard at Newbridge House, near Donabate, Co Dublin, and former Richmond Barracks, in Inchicore, Dublin.
“Each case told a happy story, of rescue from decay, of rehabilitation for use (often a new use) and often of resulting public benefit,” Dr McParland said. “Ancient building crafts are being valued and their methods revived. Decent buildings are being saved and given new uses.”
With the unhappy memories of Keogh Square fading, Richmond Barracks lives on as a vibrant and handsome part of the life of the area, as he noted. The restoration of two of its last surviving buildings was carried out by conservation architects Blackwood Associates and Margaret Quinlan.
The Market House in Stradbally, once derelict, is now one of the most attractive public amenities of the village, thanks to a community initiative supported by the Laois Partnership, and to the intelligent approach adopted by Dublin-based architect Richard McLoughlin, who is a native of the area.
Nothing could have prepared us for our first view of Fancroft Mill as we rounded a bend in the road and saw this vast structure, rescued from dereliction and brought back into use by Marcus and Irene Sweeney; it now welcomes the public to tours, teas and talks, as Dr McParland noted.
Equally, visitors to Newbridge House, one of the great country houses near Dublin, can enjoy its vast, beautifully paved courtyard and stables, now converted into a museum of 18th-century rural life, thanks to Fingal county architect Fionnuala May and conservation engineer Lisa Edden.
And it’s all in a good cause – giving a future to Ireland’s past.