The restoration of Castle Pook and the inclusion of a bespoke elevator, in Ballyhoura, Co. Cork.
Premier Lifts was called upon to work on a fascinating project in Doneraile, County Cork, the restoration of a ruined five story Norman castle. The castle was built around 1380 by ‘Geoffrey the Red’, on a rocky promonition at the base of the Ballyhoura mountains. A private owner acquired the building in 2012, and began the painstaking process of gaining planning approval for an ambitious restoration. We spoke to Brian Whelan, a Level 7 Conservation Expert, and project manager on Castle Pook.
Brian, how did you come to work on such an unusual project?
“Actually, this project was tailor made for me. I am qualified in stonemasonry, and I have a BA in Conservation Skills, so I specialise in historial building work. I would do a lot of plaster restoration also. All of these skills were needed for Castle Pook. Though of course, there were lengthy archeological surveys needed before work could begin, which has meant that this project is a particularly long one.
Can you tell us a bit more about conservation skills. What does a Level 7 conservation degree mean, from a practical perspective?
Waterford IT have an excellent course for engineering and construction professionals which teaches people how to manage change in protected structures in a way that retains the character and qualities of the original build. You also research the development of historical buildings, and to recognise materials, craftsmanship and techniques of previous generations and treat them according to conservation principles. This knowledge is required under Part IV of the Planning & Development Act (2000) for a range of conservation and heritage projects. The course is recognised by the Royal Institute of Architects Ireland (RIAI) as well as other professional bodies.
So lifts aren’t exactly in keeping with 13th century architecture. Why did Caste Pook need a lift?
The castle itself had been completely exposed to the elements for some time. Like most castles, it had been build with a winding stone stair. In the 1900’s, while the place was still a ruin someone fell down these stairs, and broke their legs. Locals knocked out some of the stairs, to prevent others injuring themselves. The original stairs would have been extremely unsafe, and completely unsuitable for elderly persons, or for those with mobility issues, such as wheelchairs. While we wanted to conserve every aspect of the castle, this building is also going to be a home, which means there are practicalities around safety and mobility that are solved by the addition of a lift.
What were the key concerns you had about the addition of a lift?
It’s crucial that work done doesn’t interfere with original masonry. We needed to install the lift, without any drilling! Premier lifts were able to advise on a platform lift, that was ideal for our project, that would have a completely self contained lift shaft and machinery. This meant there was no impact on the masonry. However, the next challenge was finding a straight line in a building where every wall is crooked. We had to allow extra space around the lift to accommodate the ebb and flow of the stone walls, and then to ensure that the works fitted well aesthetically.
Speaking of aesthetics, how did you address the finishes of the lift, from a design perspective?
The lift finishes are in brushed aluminium and glass. On the floor of the lift we laid stone, but then to enhance the look of it, we put a very soft light behind it. And on the ground floor, where much of the materials are natural and textured, we wrapped the lift exterior in oak so that the aluminium was covered. If I had any advice to others looking at a similarly complex problem, I would say it’s important to get the under-lighting of the lift shaft right. Also it’s a great elevator shaft to run all of the services needed to power up each floor as the panels at the back are easy to access.
How did you find working with the Premier team?
Premier were recommended to us, and we found the team on site to be very knowledgeable and responsive. We’re very happy with the work done, and how the lift has added to the overall project.
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