More than 14,000 roof slates have been replaced on Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and essential fire protection systems completely upgraded as part of a major renovation project, which, according to Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, The Very Revd Dr William Morton, has been the Cathedral’s most significant renovation in 160 years and will secure the 800-year-old medieval building for generations to come.
The completion of the building works, announced by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral today, marks the end of a two-year conservation project, which cost €9.4m and included the replacement of roof slates, gutters and walkways, as well as the repair of masonry, glazing and carpentry.
“This is a wonderful moment for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral,” said Dr Morton. “The conservation project has been extremely wide-ranging, and there are many different factors which had to be considered for a heritage restoration project of such a scale.
“All slates, for instance, were hand cut individually, and come from the same quarry in Wales as those used for the last major roofing project, 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. The custom-made scaffolding and specially designed temporary roof took eight months to erect, and the temporary roof structure was the biggest of its kind ever built in Ireland.
“We have been lucky to work with a highly-skilled and dedicated team of architects, engineers and craftspeople. The whole team has been extremely responsive to the challenges of the restoration of this unique heritage building, and the high level of knowledge, skill and craft has been critical in securing its future.”
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has so far raised €6m out of the €9.4m total building cost. This includes a grant of €1.25m from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as well as €1.25m raised through a public appeal for sponsorship.
However, to make up the balance and meet the total building cost, the Cathedral also had to borrow €3.4m to ensure the completion of the project. The shortfall was caused by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen visitor figures plummet.
“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% 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.
“We have therefore decided to continue our ‘Sponsor a Slate’ fundraising campaign and invite anyone with an interest in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to become a part of its living history. We are so grateful to all of those who have already become sponsors. Their generous financial support of nearly €40,000 to date, as well as the significant grant we received from the Department of Heritage, have been crucial in bringing the project to fruition.”
To mark the end of the building works, and to give its visitors a unique insight into the heritage conservation project, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has opened a pop-up exhibition in its south transept, which can be seen as part of a visit to the Cathedral.
The exhibition includes large-scale photographs and video footage captured during the building works, as well as samples of roof tiles and interpretive panels, which provide information about the conservation process.
Dr Morton said: “The idea behind the exhibition is to offer visitors a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of the conservation works. While the works have been very visible to the local community and visitors to the area through the cranes, scaffolding and temporary roof, we hope the photos, video footage and panels will provide a different insight into the project.
“The Cathedral re-opened to visitors several weeks ago and we invite anyone, be they locals, staycationers or international tourists, to visit us, see our exhibition and experience a fascinating microcosm of 800 years of history.”
For more information, visit stpatrickscathedral.ie.