Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey MLA has formally re-opened the Great Tower at Carrickfergus Castle, following a £1million conservation project to construct a new roof on the 800-year-old landmark.
The Castle has been in State Care since 1928 and is managed by Historic Environment Division within the Department for Communities. It is one of the most complete examples of Norman architecture in Britain or Ireland.
Speaking today at an event at the Castle, Minister Hargey said: “This investment has secured the future of this important monument and prevented irreparable damage to the structure. Archaeologists and conservation architects within the Department worked together to design a historically appropriate roof. What has been achieved is an outstanding piece of architecture that safeguards this important and historic place.
“The project has been designed to be sustainable on many levels. The materials used are durable, traditional materials. The oak used for the roof is from a sustainable source.”
The Minister added: “Heritage forms a key component of our tourism economy. Carrickfergus is the gateway to the Causeway Coastal Route and I am keen that this iconic castle continues to be marketed as a must see destination which attracts additional visitors to the area.
“Monuments such as this also contribute to our health and wellbeing – walking around the sites, sharing of stories across generations about our history and heritage.”
On-site construction work got underway in March 2019.The main contractor, Dungiven-based JPM Contracts Ltd started works in December 2019, and began by sourcing the Irish Oak that would form the main timbers of the roof structure. The main trusses of the new roof are made from unseasoned Irish Oak trees that fell naturally in Storm Ophelia in 2017.
Colum McNicholl, from JPM Contracts Ltd, said: “Now that the works are completed on the roof, and the dust settles, we can stand back and look at this roof with pride. We hope that our work will become part of the history of Carrickfergus, and that people visiting the castle will enjoy this beautiful structure for years – if not centuries – to come.”
Welcoming this phase of the works, Councillor Maureen Morrow, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said: “Over the past year we have seen the bustle of activity on this project around the castle, and the public outreach work for the project captured people’s imaginations far and wide. The main building work happened behind the castle walls, and today we can now see first-hand the transformation of this space.”
Notes to editors:
1. Picture caption: Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey MLA was joined by Councillor Maureen Morrow, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, and the main contractor Colum McNicholl from Dungiven-based JPM Contracts Ltd for the formal re-opening of The Great Tower at Carrickfergus Castle following a £1m investment by the Department for Communities. The work, to construct a new roof, was overseen by the Department’s Historic Environment Division.
2. The Great Tower was founded by the Anglo-Norman knight, John de Courcey, in the late 12th century.
3. On-site construction work has been happening since March 2019, but before this there was a phase of archaeological investigation and preparation of the site, which included the re-opening of a late nineteenth-century tunnel into the Inner Ward of the castle complex.
4. Built using medieval techniques, the roof features 1,000m of Irish Oak timbers, which laid end-to-end would be as long as 10 football pitches. The roofing battens at 2,080m long would be the equivalent length of 115 gliders and 13 tonnes of extra strong grade Cumbrian stones slates, approximately the same weight as three elephants, will cover a roof area of 210m2.
5. A one-minute time-lapse of the work from start to finish is available at Carrickfergus Castle Works
6. The castle complex remained open throughout the project, with only the Keep and Inner Ward closed as construction works were carried out.
7. Images, including video footage of the works, were shared via social media, and tours were given as the works progressed. Further updates and images will also be posted to the LoveHeritageNI Facebook page.
8. 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.
9. Works in preparation for the construction phase of the project has revealed new information about how and when elements of the Great Tower were built, including about the form of its earlier roofs. This new information will be presented at the castle, and will continue to be studied in any other phases of work in the future.
10. Belfast-based Kennedy-FitzGerald Architects oversaw initial design works for the new roof, and the lead conservation architect was Alistair Coey RIAI.
11. The castle attracted approximately 49,000 visitors in 2019.
12. Media enquiries to DFC Press Office on 028 9082 3516 or email: Press OfficeOut of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.
13. Follow the Department on Twitter @CommunitiesNI