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Last edited 31 May 2017

The conservation challenge facing Ireland's industrial heritage

Paul McMahon provides an insight into conservation principles and training in Ireland, with a particular focus on the role of the Dublin Principles in securing the future of Ireland’s industrial heritage.


Hapenny Bridge.png
Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin (Photo: iStock.com/Leonid Andronov)

The charters and conservation principles which the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has produced since its inception in 1965 are recognised throughout the world as best-practice guidelines. Most importantly, they can play an influential role in the adoption of state cultural protection policies.

The ICOMOS Ireland review of conservation education and training (Sustaining our Built Environment, 2009) noted the absence of a real profile for the industrial heritage sector within the ICOMOS 1993 guidelines. In response to the current ICCROM/ICOMOS International Training Committee (ICOMOS CIF) capacity-building agenda and the expanded definition of the cultural heritage, ICOMOS Ireland in association with the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland (IHAI) established an Industrial Heritage National Scientific Committee (IHNSC) to address the issues raised.

The IHNSC promoted the adoption by ICOMOS of The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage’s (TICCIH) Nizhny Tagil Charter for the Industrial Heritage. Following an ICOMOS Advisory Committee meeting in Ireland, the Dublin Principles (Joint ICOMOS-TICCIH Principles for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes) were ratified in 2011. ICOMOS Ireland and the IHAI have been actively engaged in promoting them. They have particularly targeted their adoption by government, local authorities and other statutory institutions as they provide a focussed framework for the strategic and operational management of our industrial heritage.

Following a number of seminars and workshops, the IHNSC, in consultation with the IHAI, proposed actions for capacity building within the heritage sector. In September 2015, adopting the COTAC ‘Understanding Conservation’ training model (see www.understandingconservation.org for details), the IHAI organised and delivered an introductory module on industrial heritage, which focussed particularly on the needs of professionals working in the built heritage environment. The course was run in partnership with ICOMOS Ireland, and was recognised as continuing professional development (CPD) by the professional institutes (the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, Engineers Ireland, the Irish Planning Institute, and the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland). The event proved very successful, with more than 60 delegates attending from the public, private and community sectors.

Following feedback from the participants, in October 2016 a second CPD module was organised by the IHAI in partnership with ICOMOS Ireland, titled Ireland’s Industrial Heritage: The Conservation Challenge. The event focussed on the challenges facing the heritage sector in the conservation of historic waterways and infrastructure. The projects selected were of local, national and international significance.

Lisa Edden, conservation engineer, dealt with site exploration challenges associated with the restoration of weirs, sluices and millponds and their subsequent management as recreation features; Susan Roundtree, conservation architect, featured Dublin City Council’s adaptive reuse of a former pumping station site for social housing; and Dr Miles Oglethorpe, Historic Environment Scotland, introduced delegates to the considerable challenge of managing the Forth Bridge UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With reference to the Dublin Principles, it is appropriate to highlight another contribution to the event: the materials conservation case study presented by Michael Phillips, Dublin City Engineer, which featured the conservation of the iconic Ha’penny Bridge on the River Liffey (summarised in the box below).

The individual presentations at Ireland’s Industrial Heritage: The Conservation Challenge were followed by a structured discussion, chaired by Sir Neil Cossons, on the application of the Dublin Principles as a common standard for industrial heritage conservation.

Perhaps the best way to conclude this short article is by giving an example of how the initiatives taken by ICOMOS Ireland and the IHAI are working within the government, local planning authorities and statutory and voluntary bodies and are playing a role in the conservation of Ireland’s industrial heritage.

Waterways Ireland is an all-island statutory body with responsibility for Ireland’s historic inland navigation systems. It participated in both of the industrial heritage modules organised by the IHAI and ICOMOS. It has now produced a heritage plan for 2016–2020 which, very significantly, references the guidance provided by the Dublin Principles in achieving its aims, objectives, and actions.

The Waterways Ireland heritage plan contains more than 70 actions including:

  • To collate and archive waterways heritage information and develop a heritage inventory and directory.
  • To identify gaps in research and develop an action plan to address these gaps
  • To pilot a waterways oral history project.
  • To provide targeted traditional skills training for staff.
  • To provide an education programme for staff on all aspects of waterways heritage including built, natural, archaeological and historic navigational infrastructure.
  • To provide information and training for staff, contractors and community groups to include heritage legislation and best practice.
  • To develop conservation programmes on selected heritage sites/hubs to be carried out according to principles of best practice and publish the proceedings and results.

The historic industrial landscape is often perceived as a dangerous, toxic and obsolescent environment. International conservation case studies, however, have demonstrated that sites can be maintained as significant historical and intangible resources. They can be adapted as tools for regeneration, offering an opportunity to reinforce community identity while creating commercial opportunities.

Conserving Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin.

The bridge was named the Wellington Bridge when it opened in May 1816. Associated with the Coalbrookdale Works of Shropshire, it was the first cast-iron bridge to cross the river. It was built as a toll bridge, hence the colloquial name ‘Ha’penny’. At the time, the development was controversial and the City Fathers decided that if the citizens found it to be objectionable within its first year of operation it was to be removed at no cost to the city.

In 2001 the number of pedestrians using the bridge on a daily basis was 27,000. The original design did not meet modern safety and accessibility standards. Due to its cultural significance it was agreed that alteration of the original cast-iron design would not be appropriate. The council agreed to construct a temporary low-level pedestrian bridge nearby which would provide accessibility, relieve footfall and not detract from the visual amenity of the historic bridge.

A detailed structural survey of the Ha’penny Bridge indicated that while the three original arched ribs were in sound condition there was evidence of decay in the deck superstructure and railings. In accordance with conservation best practice, the structure was carefully and systematically dismantled. Following laboratory analysis, a repair schedule and historic paint specification were prepared. Michael Phillips stressed that the project required focussed project management to meet the continuous unfolding conservation demands and the inputs from a multidisciplinary team. The project was completed in 12 months and a temporary pedestrian Bailey bridge was installed during the construction.

Mott McDonald EPO Ltd was appointed to carry out the structural assessments and to prepare contract documents. Irishenco Construction Ltd was the main contractor. From an industrial heritage perspective it is notable that Harland and Wolff Ltd of Belfast (famous for building the ships of the White Star Line) was the steel subcontractor. Conservation specialists included architect Paul Arnold and archaeologist Frank Myles.


This article originally appeared in IHBC's 2017 Yearbook. It was written by Paul McMahon MRIAI, a COTAC trustee, president of ICOMOS Ireland’s Education and Training National Scientific Committee and director of the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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