SPRING PLENARY MEETING REVIEW
Friday 12th – Sunday 14th May 2006
Friday 12th May
The weekend began on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon at the GMIT-Letterfrack campus on a beautiful sunny day. Janet and Sven generously supplied us with delicious sandwiches and soup and a large comfortable meeting room. After lunch the Chair welcomed Michael Gibbons, field archaeologist, broadcaster and mountaineer. Michael gave us a whistle stop introduction to the geography and archaeology of Connemara; from glacial landscape through to ring forts and stone crannogs to more recent settlement patterns. He also described the monastic site at High Island and what we could expect to see on our visit. The meeting then got down to the official business of the day – the SPM! The minutes of which are available from the Secretary and will be posted on the website.
Following the meeting, Henning Schulze, course co-ordinator, thanked IPCRA members for travelling to Letterfrack for the SPM to show support for the conservation course; which had been threatened with closure. Henning reported the good news that the decision to close the course had been reversed. A detailed report on developments is included in the newsletter.
On the wave of this good news Henning and one of his students, Oliver Prigoda, presented an investigation they had done into the use of low pressure in the consolidation of furniture using Regalrez 1049. Afterwards everyone was taken on a fascinating tour of the college’s workshops by Henning and Angelika where students showed us a number of interesting conservation projects in progress. Jason Clancy explained how he repaired the splits in a damaged chest of drawers and Thomas Flaherty talked us through the trials and tribulations of repairing a water-damaged table with inlays in mother of pearl, ivory, ebony, walnut and mahogany.
The day ended with a tour of the Conservation | Letterfrack workshop by Sven Habermann. Sven’s tour included some of the objects in the workshop for conservation and he also gave a short slide overview of the Davin Boat conservation project. The 38’ long rowing boat designed by Maurice Davin (the first President of the G.A.A.) in the 1860’s and destined for permanent display in the South Tipperary County Museum will undergo conservation in the Conservation | Letterfrack workshops during the Summer 2006 period.
Following heartfelt thanks to our tour guides, members strolled to the local pub to enjoy the evening sunshine, fresh air and a welcome drink. This was followed by a delicious meal at Pangur Bán and a final nightcap. It was a good chance to catch up with members and make new friends. The prospect of an early morning boat trip meant an early night for nearly all the intrepid voyagers.
Saturday 13th May
On Saturday plans were made for the group to visit High Island or Ardoileán, a small island about 3 kilometres off the north-west coast of Connemara.
Directions though clear, were not clear enough for those of us unfamiliar with the
area so there were some interesting detours down nearby country boreens. However all eventually assembled at the picturesque quay where our transport and intrepid guide Michael Gibbons awaited. Most locals and visitors have only ever observed the island from a distance as it is notoriously difficult for boats to land due to high waves and the lack of a pier. Yet despite various well-prepared contingency plans, the gods smiled on this enthusiastic group. The morning was dry and mild and the sea was remarkably calm to allow a safe 20 minute crossing for all three groups.
Getting onto dry land required a leap of faith onto a landing ledge and then a scramble up a cliff face with the agility of a mountain goat. All manner of mountaineering techniques were used to conquer the climb and all were assisted by shouts of encouragement from those above and below and the firm grip of Michael. Everyone was very game and there was great camaraderie throughout the day.
Michael co-ordinated the arrival of the three groups to allow everyone to enjoy the spectacular views across to Connemara, Croagh Patrick and other adjacent islands, while he explained the strategic location of High Island in Early Christian society. We then headed southwards past the second landing cove, shielded by sheer cliffs as the local seals mused at our presence from the water below. As the clouds cleared and a brisk north wind eased we bounced across spongy turf to the southern point of the island and the tenth to twelfth century remains of St Féchín monastery, founded in the seventh century, first stopping by a holy well and stone cross to hear about the importance of these wells for past Irish communities.
Michael continued to delight us with his constant flow of knowledge as we walked around the church, watermill and lakes. The group then rested and tucked into our well-earned packed lunch and then it was back to the boat, a group at a time. All were tired and some a bit soggy from close encounters with the bog but all of us amazed with our luck to have the opportunity to tour the island. Needless to say the trip down the cliff to the boats was done with the same finesse as the trip up. Once back on the main land, we reassembled at the pub for very necessary refreshments, all the climbing and bog hopping being very thirsty work.
The evening was spent, once again, fine-dining in Letterfrack, with a hearty three-course dinner at the local pub. This was followed by some lively discussions on the day events. It was a great way to meet new people and hear about member’s common conservation issues.
Sunday 14th May
It started to rain late on Saturday evening and continued as a deluge, for the whole drive up through County Galway to the Cathedral of St. Brendan, Clonfert. The journey was made more exciting by further detours and a flat tyre for one unfortunate group. Clonfert is situated close to the Shannon, and its location relates to crossing points on the Shannon, and other ecclesiastical settlements near the river, notably Clonmacnoise. It is thought that this site may have been chosen by St Brendan to found his church, circa 560 AD. The present Cathedral is stunning and dates from the tenth or eleventh century, it is famous for its magnificent Hiberno-Romanesque doorway an outstanding architectural feature of the cathedral.
In 1997, the Heritage Council commissioned reports on this doorway. These led to the commissioning of a conservation plan for the cathedral and site in 2000 - 2001. The conservation plan is a methodology for developing policies for historic places. The conservation plan for St Brendan's Cathedral is one of the first to be prepared in Ireland. The plan involves a four-stage process: understanding the historic place, and its heritage, built and natural; defining its significance; clarifying what could threaten the significance of the site; setting out policies to protect the significance of the place.
Our tour guides for the day were Dermot Nolan, conservation engineer and Jason Ellis, stone conservator. They were both involved in this project and very successfully and generously shared their experience and enthusiasm for the site with us.
It continued to rain on and off throughout our visit and during a dry spell we went further into the surrounding landscape, all of which was included in the conservation plan, down a cruciform walkway, made up of cross-shaped paths through huge yew trees, , towards the Bishop’s Palace. The palace was built about 1650 and became the home of the Bishops of Clonfert. The last occupant of the house, prior to its destruction by fire in 1954, was Sir Oswald Mosley, who took up residence in 1952. On our return from the Palace, the deluge began again and after sheltering under the Yew trees for some time a run was made for the cars. A group of very, very wet people left Clonfert that day. Some went home from there whilst others went on to Banagher for food and the opportunity to dry off before heading home.
All participants would like to thank all those who organised the weekend, particularly staff at Letterfrack, Jessica and tour guides, Michael, Dermot and Jason… we look forward to more bog trekking in the future!
Many thanks to Colin Fawcett, Jason Ellis and Louise O’Connor for the photographs of the weekend.
The committee and members would like to thank the Heritage Council for their generous grant of €300 towards the cost of the SPM and continued support of IPCRA.
Review taken from
IPCRA Newsletter August 2006