Context 156 - September 2018

42 C O N T E X T 1 5 6 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 8 An AACO member at the IHBC school Tom Cassidy, architectural conservation officer for Limerick City and County Council and founding chair of the Association of Architectural Conservation Officers (AACO), provides a personal account of the IHBC Annual School from south of the border. The AACO is the representative organisation for professionals with architectural conservation expertise who have been appointed in a number of local authorities in Ireland. And so to Belfast, a city I first visited in my university days as a member of the Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, and often since. Travel by train, tram and train again saw me arrive in time for the Thursday tours. Friday’s presentations and talks ran like clock- work. For a person from, technically, a foreign country it was interesting to hear mention of the ‘Decade of Centenaries’, which is all-embracing of our differing traditions and shared histories on the island of Ireland, and is just over half way through the relevant time span. Comments from the podium, and general discussion throughout the three days, revealed concerns about the general state of architectural conservation in the UK. One particular presen- tation, by Mona O’Rourke, focused on the plight facing Irish conservation specialists at local level. Even for one in the role since the first year of the protected structures legislation, the facts set out relating to numbers on the ground were sober- ing.While the vast majority of us are one-person operators, it is staggering to see that over 40 per cent of local authorities in the republic have no conservation expertise on their payroll. Personally, I welcome the IHBC’s interest in the role and work of the conservation officer in the republic and hope that the institute can assist in bringing about a less bleak situation. Throughout the school it was interesting to note the number of now British-based, Irish conservation experts in attendance who were driven from our shores by the fallout from the financial crisis. While it was wonderful to talk and catch up, it is clear that Ireland’s loss of these single- minded, ambitious, knowledgeable people has been Britain’s gain. Let us hope that there will be future opportunities for them to return with enhanced CVs and knowledge to benefit conservation in the republic. Some of the glories of Belfast’s architectural heritage featured prominently throughout the school, each with its own resonances of shared history. In the Lanyon Hall, Queen’s University Belfast, the noted conservation architect Dawson Stelfox formally launched the school in his capacity as deputy lord lieutenant of Belfast. As well as overseeing works at Queen’s in the past, he has recently been involved in a major project in my own area, where some €25 million of conservation and restoration work at Adare Manor was covered by declarations issued by the council, rather than through the planning permission process. The opportunity to exchange thoughts and compare projects was not missed. We were sur- rounded by portraits of distinguished academics and noted alumni, more than one reflecting the theme of ‘our shared heritage’. In City Hall a practical example of the results of communica- tion, negotiation, and transformation was seen. Deirdre Hargey, the newly elected, Sinn Féin, lord mayor welcomed us to the conference din- ner in a building once seen as a monument to the supremacy of unionism. The Saturday tours were eclectic in choice and destinations. I opted for the Ards Peninsula and found further insights to our islands’ shared his- tory. Our guide in Portaferry, Philippa Martin, brought us several examples of recent conserva- tion work, including projects aimed at reducing levels of dereliction and vacancy. These were all relevant to a person seeking to achieve the same objectives in Europe’s most westerly red-brick Georgian city. I will certainly be back for further annual schools, knowing that there is much to be learnt, and willing to contribute – even if only from the floor. Conservation Office, Limerick City and County Council Tom Cassidy: we look forward to the exiles returning. (Photo: Shone Cassidy)