Funding of €200,000 has been awarded for conservation works to Birr Courthouse under the 2021 Historic Towns Initiative and will be used to secure the fabric of this significant building in the town.
The special heritage fund will see much-needed work carried out to the town's 19th century courthouse, which closed its doors in 2013. The building, which is situated along Townsend Street, is a protected structure and improvements are necessary to the roof, windows and some of the walls.
It's hoped the building will be brought back into use as a community arts hub with existing plans headed by Birr 20:20 to use and develop the building for use as a 'Creative Hub'.
Ten towns in Ireland have been awarded funding under the Historic Towns Initiative, administered by the Heritage Council and the conservation and ultimate re-use of Birr's courthouse building will be significant for the town's built heritage.
Closing its doors in 2013 as a court, it was later agreed to transfer the ownership from the Office of Public Works (OPW) to Offaly County Council, who are working with Birr 20:20 to facilitate the development of an arts hub.
This funding will go towards securing urgent roof repairs to prevent water ingress and for works to the facade of the building. Additional funding will, however, be needed for the next phase to restore and adapt the interior for use as an arts hub.
The application focused on the importance of this building in the town's streetscape, its reuse, the very strong community engagement and the existing plans headed by Birr 20:20.
A Conservation Master Plan has been commissioned by Offaly County Council and architects Howley Hayes are in the process of developing this document, which will scope out all the work needed for viable reuse and this will inform all the works to be carried out at the significant site.
Following the funding announcement, Cllr John Carroll, an Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, welcomed the news of what was described as “significant funding to secure the fabric of the Birr Courthouse and developing it as a creative hub”.
“This funding under the Historic Towns Initiative 2021 administered by Heritage Council is a recognition of the wonderful heritage of Birr and their willingness to work with councils and communities to ensure its preservation."
“Birr 20:20 identified this as a key building in a key location that could not be allowed to descend into dereliction,” the chairman said.
Cllr Carroll then complimented the Council's Chief Executive, Anna Marie Delaney, the management and the local authority's Heritage Team for their commitment and efforts in securing this funding and “willingness to take a lead role in promoting this project”.
“I would also like to thank the subcommittee of Birr 20:20 under the guidance of Michael Hanna for their contribution including work on the original scoping study and being willing and ready to work with all agencies to promote the Town. This is a huge step forward for the project and gives hope in a time of negativity.”
Michael Hanna, Birr 20:20 said they were delighted with the announcement as it represented a “real tangible start to the project”. “The conversation master plan is now completed and things are in place on this project,” he said.
According to Mr Hanna, the funding meant that work could begin on the building and it would be spent on “protecting the fabric of the building”. “We are really so pleased,” he added.
Elsewhere, the funding for the renovation of the Birr Courthouse was also welcomed by Minister Pippa Hackett. “As a heritage town, Birr deserves to have its exceptional courthouse building protected and put to good community use. It’s a protected structure, which is worthy of investment. The plan to convert it into the Birr Creative Court, as a hub in which artists can live and work, is inspired. The additional intention for the Boxing Club to use the yard space ensures that it would be used to its full potential. The first step is to refurbish it, so I’m delighted to see €200,000 being allocated.”
The Historic Towns Initiative is a joint initiative between the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Heritage Council and this year’s scheme follows on from highly successful programmes in 2018, 2019 and 2020. This announcement follows a competitive process inviting local authorities to propose projects for heritage-led regeneration in one historic town in their area.
Birr Historical Society was delighted with the announcement as it would have been a “major loss to the town's history if this building was allowed to decay any further”. “Well done to all concerned in ensuring its preservation,” they said.
Deputy Barry Cowen also welcomed the news, saying the project for Birr will carry out works to “conserve the building envelope of the nineteenth century Birr Courthouse, which is a protected structure, by focusing on the roof, windows and render”.
Local councillor, Clare Claffey was thrilled to welcome the investment and paid tribute to the Offaly Heritage team in Offaly County Council and the Birr 20:2- team, who “have put so much work into this project so far”. “I am really looking forward to seeing the results of this massive investment in the historic core of Birr,” she added.
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