A £1 million conservation project at Carrickfergus Castle has taken a major step forward with the award of the construction contract for a new roof to the castle’s Great Tower.
The Great Tower, also known as ‘the Keep’, is a familiar landmark of the town of Carrickfergus and will soon be bustling with activity as work gets underway to construct a new roof.
The contract, which starts this month and is expected to last approximately six months, will see JPM Contracts Ltd of Dungiven carry out the dismantling of the existing flat roof and the construction of a new roof that has been designed to be in keeping with the late-medieval architecture of the Castle.
The roof will be made from Irish Oak used ‘green’ and work to shape and assemble the new roof will be conducted on site.
The project will be managed by the Department for Communities’ Historic Environment Division.
Its Director, Iain Greenway, said: “This is the largest capital investment by the Department for Communities in one of our State Care Monuments in recent years.
“The works, which are now moving into the construction phase, will safeguard and enhance this internationally-important castle and ensure that heritage delivers for the social and economic prosperity of the whole area.”
Colum McNicholl from JPM Contracts Ltd said: “We are delighted to be working on this unique construction project at Carrickfergus Castle.
“The new roof, which draws from medieval architecture, will be a show-piece of good conservation, practice and skills.
“The work, involving stone-masons, carpentry and lead workers will ensure the integrity of the Keep for generations to come.”
Welcoming this phase of the works, Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said: “Excitement is building around this project as the enormous potential of Carrickfergus Castle is being realised.
“Through continuing a close working partnership with the Department for Communities we will be helping to facilitate the works, and look forward to seeing the new roof take shape over coming months.”
Carrickfergus Castle has been in State Care since 1928 and is managed by Historic Environment Division within the Department for Communities.
The castle complex will remain open throughout the project, however the Keep and Inner Ward will be closed as construction works happen.
Images, including video footage of the works, will be available shortly after the project starts so that the visitors and the wider public can keep up to date with progress. Regular updates will also be posted to the LoveHeritageNI Facebook page.
The castle was founded in the late twelfth century by John de Courcy, a young Anglo-Norman knight who led a military expedition into Ulster, and who established Carrickfergus as his principal town and castle. 2019 is believed to be the 800th anniversary of John de Courcy’s death.
Carrickfergus Castle has been enlarged and reinforced over the centuries, and remained a military site until 1928, when it passed into State Care. It is one of the most complete examples of Norman architecture in the UK or Ireland.
A flat roof was put on the Great Tower (the Keep) in the 1930s. For many years, however, there has been persistent leaking of rainwater into the upper floor of the 12th-century tower.
In order to achieve a lasting solution to this issue Department for Communities officials have developed the roofing project, to construct an historically-appropriate green-oak roof, made of open timber trusses, oak boards and finished externally in Cumbrian stone slates and lead.
Due-diligence works in preparation for the construction phase of the project have revealed new information about how and when elements of the Great Tower were built, including new information about the form of its earlier roofs.
This new information will be presented at the castle once construction work on the new roof have progressed.
Belfast-based Kennedy-FitzGerald Architects oversaw initial design works for the new roof, and the lead conservation architect was Alistair Coey RIAI.