MEMORIALS & WALLS
'An historic place such as St James’s Graveyard, with its many layers of development and its profound social significance, requires that each aspect of its cultural heritage is treated with the same level of care and respect. Our task is to guide the sensitive repair of the monuments following decades of neglect, making it more accessible to visitors as well as the local community.'
Howley Hayes Architects
The conservation works undertaken by Howley Hayes looks to re-establish St James’s Graveyard as a place of repose and connection with relatives and ancestors. The conservation of St James’s Graveyard will be a significant contribution to the cultural heritage of the city and will allow better public access to the site as well as ensuring that it can be effectively maintained by parks staff in the long term.
This phase of work include the conservation of grave monuments and boundary walls, making the environment safe and pleasant for visitors. They will review the settings of the monuments, devising ways to improve their presentation and stability, while also seeking opportunities for planting and park surfaces for amenity areas. Part of their conservation philosophy and approach involves good design and finding innovative ways to breath new life into buildings, making landscapes more accessible and visible, enhancing yet respecting their qualities. Their success on repairing historic structures is based on in-depth research and understanding of their cultural significance and the characteristics that make them special.
The works to the grave will proceed through a number of phases. The first, is recording the memorial in its current state and the condition of its setting. About half of the memorials require some level of repair, approximately 200, at varying levels of complexity. The conservation architect and engineer devise a scope of works to ensure that the memorials are stable and protected from the effects of the weather or encroaching vegetation.
Before the works commence on many of the memorials, the loose soil and debris that has built up over the decades is cleared under the supervision of the archaeologist. Sometimes, fragments of stone or metal are identified that once belonged to the memorial, or one close by, and these too are recorded. Where possible, the fragments are reunited with their memorials, or provide valuable evidence for creating a replacement.
The repairs use traditional materials and techniques to repair the masonry; lime mortars, lime wash and putty, stone wedges. For more complex repairs, we will use stainless steel dowels or cramps to stitch the broken stones back together so that fragments do not become lost. In some limited instances, new stone carefully sourced to match closely the original stone is introduced to reinstate the integrity of the monument. Timber crosses will be treated for decay and re-set in a way to avoid further risk. Metal memorials or tablets will also be conserved, but as for the rest of the memorials, where stable they are left as they are found. The concrete crosses in the very worst state are recast from moulds after assembling what fragments can be found.
We have avoided the use of chemical treatments that can provide some protection for porous surfaces, while not affecting the appearance of the stone. However, we have reservations about how well some inscriptions will survive in the longer term. For that reason, we will treat a sample of a number of different treatments on badly eroded inscriptions, to see whether over time they are effective in providing protection, and to ensure that they will do no further harm to the stone.
Finally, we are rebuilding sections of wall that are missing, and repairing parts that have decayed over time. Along with the clearance and landscaping, these works will enhance the setting and accessibility of the graveyard.
Howley Hayes have wide experience in working in sensitive landscapes with Dublin City Council, having prepared conservation and management plans for six historic parks to date, and are completing a phase of conservation repairs to twelve historic follies in St. Anne’s Park, Raheny. They are also acting as conservation architects with Dermot Foley Landscape Architects who are designing the landscape and ecology and biodiversity management plan for the graveyard. They will also be joined by archaeologist Claire Walsh, who has been involved in several previous phases at St James’s Graveyard.
Images from recent conservation work and repairs on site, September - Dec 2018
"Our approach is always to ‘touch the ground lightly’, and devise solutions that enhance rather than detract from their settings."
Their design response and conservation strategy takes the sensitive context of the graveyard into careful consideration. The repair of monuments looks to reduce or remove the agents of decay or instability which has taken shape to the memorials over time through overgrown vegetation and weathering but only to the extent that the historic character of the ancient graveyard is not lost by over-restoration. Their strategy aims to bring a “light touch” approach to the project, consolidating and repairing the memorials to the standards set during previous phases of the conservation works on site.
"The greatest skill of an architect working with old buildings and monuments is not about how well they can re-create, sham historic fabric, but how well they can retain and conserve real historic fabric."
Their practice has a very clear approach to conservation that favours retention and repair to restoration and renewal. For the care and repair of stone monuments, their approach is to leave as much of the original fabric in place as is reasonably possible, and to repair honestly, only where necessary, using the correct materials. Their guideline is – to do as little as possible and as much as is necessary.
It is important that the monuments be first stabilised without resort to restoration; reassembling fallen stone but only introducing new stone as a last resort, finding ways to present their former extent to the public that allows them to appreciate the difference between authentic historic fabric and reconstruction. The approach to consolidating the monuments recognises that restoration is a last resort.
Understanding the patterns of decay and stress will inform the nature and extent of any structural repairs to the stone monuments. Consideration is given as to how temporary and permanent propping may be integrated, so that the historic character is maintained as far as possible, and impacts on buried archaeology is minimised. Understanding the local ground conditions is an important consideration for a number of the monuments, as this is a significant risk to their stability and future preservation. Intervening in these locations may remove the necessity to carry out intrusive repairs to the structure. Repairs will be ‘honest’, lightweight with minimal impact on the historic fabric, avoiding speculative restoration. They look to seek solutions that protect the stone memorials and the buried archaeology below.
In June 2017 Carrig Conservation along with Dublin City Council Survey and Mapping Division undertook a condition survey and measured survey for two ‘At Risk’ Monuments in the graveyard - Memorials ‘384’ and ‘391’. You can view these 3D Models and learn more about these monuments here.
The landscape setting of the memorials will be carefully considered, including how to improve interpretation, access and safety for those who wish to explore the graves further.
The monuments will be a source of curiosity for local families. Their repair and improved presentation and wayfinding could enhance the meaning of the site for the residents of the Liberties where it has been long obscured by neglect. These monuments could also act as a learning resource and opportunity for engagement with local school children and the history of their area. To read more about the future landscape and design plans click here.