While very welcome, it is also gratifying that a new advisory work on conservation of buildings is no longer an unusual event. In the last twenty years or so the scenario for those of us concerned about these matters has greatly improved. Information has been widely disseminated by public bodies and concerned private institutions. Research, identification and recording of the built heritage, training and conservation works have become commonplace activities. Committed public servants backed by solid legislation and targeted grant aid have encourage all of this. The understanding of what conservation actually is and what it involves has become much more sophisticated and substantive. In former times building conservation, if considered at all, was restricted to attempting to restore the large houses and palaces of the the landed gently to their ‘former glory’. Conservation of buildings and other structures is now seen as as essential element of safeguarding for future generations the real, if sometimes intangible general cultural heritage. We attribute a character to buildings and that character resides not just in the physical structure but also in all the things we know about them – why they were built, how they were built, who lived or worked or passed through them. Consequently every component of the built heritage from monastic ruins to modern structures, and from simple vernacular houses, to enormous country houses may be assessed for the particular contribution they make to the national patrimony and cultural heritage and so be considered for conservation.
The Dublin Civic Trust through seminars, publications and its revolving fund for conservation projects has made a significant contribution to encouraging and popularising conservation. Frank Keohane’s book Irish Period Houses – a Conservation Manual is a completely updated and much expanded version of his book of the same name published in 2001. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has made available the very useful Conservation Advice series of the pamphlets that deals comprehensively with particular aspects – roofs, windows, ironwork and so forth. Mr. Keohane’s book has the great advantage of comprehensively addressing all aspects of repairing and maintaining period houses under one cover – in effect a one-stop shop. This book is targeted at owners, craftspeople and professionals and is pitched at a level that will make it accessible to an interested owner while also being of great assistance to practising conservators. While dealing, for example, with the history and development of all types of housing in Ireland and with the relevant statutory provisions its real value will be as a guidance manual for those who may be planning or undertaking conservation or maintenance works to historic buildings.
The chapter heads provide a handy list from which those seeking to solve particular problems which arise from time to time can choose, or a comprehensive schedule for those who need to carry out an extensive once-off conservation. Chapters deal with, for example, the statutory regulations, obtaining professional advice, and appointing a builder as well as comprehensive description of the various parts of the buildings – their materials, how they are put together, the defects and problems which occur and appropriate solutions. There is a particularly useful and enlightening chapter on bricks which clearly explains the difference between the traditional ‘wigging’ pointing used in Dublin and ‘tuck’ pointing common in England and puts an end to a controversy which has existed among the professionals.
The writing style is incisive and economical, the many illustrations are clear and informative and the editing is of a high order. This is an excellent book which I myself as a conservator will use and which I will heartily recommend to my clients and to all those involved in the repair and conservation of historic buildings.
Dermot Nolan has practised as a conservation consultant for more than twenty years working with The Heritage Council, Local Authorities, OPW and private clients.