Eight hundred years after it was built, Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral has been renovated with 14,000 new slates and new fire prevention systems.
At a cost of €9.4 million, the renovation project also included new gutters and walkways, as well as the repair of masonry, glazing and woodwork.
The two-year project, which ended in August, was the medieval cathedral's most significant renovation in 160 years, and will, according to the dean of St Patrick's the Very Rev Dr William Morton, secure the building "for generations to come".
All slates for the renovation were individually handcut and come from the same quarry in Wales as those used for the last major roofing project for the cathedral, undertaken under the stewardship of Sir Benjamin Guinness in the 1860s.
The oak beams in the roof of the cathedral date from 1320 and are the oldest in-situ roof timbers in Ireland.
Built in honour of Ireland’s patron saint, St Patrick’s Cathedral stands adjacent to the famous well where, tradition has it, St Patrick baptised converts on his visit to Dublin.
The original parish church of St Patrick on the site was granted collegiate status in 1191, and raised to cathedral status in 1219. The present cathedral building dates to the mid-13th century. The cathedral is today the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland and also serves as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland. The cathedral welcomes more than 600,000 visitors in a typical year.
The cathedral remains a place of worship, and charges are made for those visiting it for sightseeing, and these contributions directly support the future of the cathedral.
So far, the cathedral has raised €6 million out of the total cost of the renovation. This includes a grant of €1.25 million from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as well as €1.25 million raised through a public appeal for sponsorship. Money was also sourced from visitors, but a shortfall was encountered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen visitor numbers plummet.
The cathedral borrowed €3.4 million to make up the remainder of the cost and ensure the completion of the project.
“The works on the cathedral started in early 2020, just a few weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic brought many sectors in Ireland – and across the world – to a complete standstill,” said Dr Morton. “As one of Ireland’s major tourist attractions, we would usually welcome around 600,000 visitors per year, however, due to Covid-19, our number of visitors in 2020 dropped by almost 90 per cent and we’re expecting similar figures for 2021. This means that, unfortunately, the tourist income which we had intended to use to fund a portion of the building cost did not materialise and the unforeseen borrowings will place a financial strain on our operations for many years to come.”
Dr Morton said the cathedral will continue its “Sponsor a Slate” fundraising campaign, inviting “anyone with an interest in St Patrick’s Cathedral to become a part of its living history. We are so grateful to all of those who have already become sponsors.”
Completion of the project was “a wonderful moment for St Patrick’s Cathedral”, said Dr Morton.
The conservation works were undertaken by Clancy Construction and overseen by cathedral architect John Beauchamp. A pop-up exhibition has been opened in the south transept.