Monday 29 December 2008

Plans to protect oldest monastery unveiled

Leading conservation architects have drawn up plans to protect and save Ireland’s oldest monastic site.

Four years after being named one of the world’s most at risk monuments, the impressive 800-year-old Athassel Abbey in Co Tipperary will undergo basic repairs to stabilise walls making it safe for visitors.

Experts have drafted plans to protect the once proud priory from accelerated deterioration from rain, freezing weather, overgrowing vegetation and flooding from the nearby River Suir.

The conservation report, commissioned by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and drawn up architect Margaret Quinlan, aims to protect what’s left of the four acre site and pave the way for it to be developed for tourists.

The detailed plan includes a footbridge over the Suir, lightning protection systems, flood controls and the closure of burial sites beside the abbey.

Billed as a roadmap to save Athassel, junior minister at the OPW Dr Martin Mansergh has warned limited finances may dictate the pace of work.

“This conservation plan now highlights those issues that the OPW can directly advance; and at this stage these involve the stabilisation of the structures and making the place safe for the visiting public,” he said.

“Other issues such as the footbridge are - in the current economic climate - aspirational but remain a goal to attain.”

Initial works which include stabilising the ancient walls and making the site safe for visitors may get under way in the New Year.

The 78-page plan also includes the option of CCTV to deter vandalism, an end to traditional cattle grazing on the abbey grounds and information points for tourists.

Dr Mansergh received the report last week. It states that the aim is to protect Athassel as a ruin as it stands and to maintain its authenticity, character of peace and improve access.

Athassel was included in the World Monuments Watch list of 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites in 2004.

Founded by William de Burgh in 1192, the priory remained a substantial religious centre for centuries, was home to two mills, held an annual fair and was widely regarded as an economic hub.

It has also been described as the finest achievement of the Augustinian monks in Ireland, who also built Christ Church.

Irish Times

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