St. Joseph’s Church in Castleconnell was originally built in 1863. The wrought iron railings which feature along the front elevation of the church were installed circa 1868 and were a gift from a travelling banker named George Peabody. The railings are a prime example of the level of craftsmanship that traditional Irish blacksmiths were able to achieve. The railings feature cast iron decorative features which are leaded in place. There is an arched wrought iron lamp holder spanning the entrance gates with four decorative scrolls. The railings are installed on a limestone plinth and leaded into place. Arched wrought iron stay-bars are installed behind the railings to help keep them upright.
Our initial survey of the railings highlighted various issues that would need urgent attention. The railings have been painted many times over the years and a significant number of paint layers were present. Many of the cast iron decorative features had been broken or completely missing. A number of the stay-bars behind the railing had detached due to movement of the rail and limestone plinth over time. Rusting at the joint of the stay-bars and railings was also a severe issue.
Paint Sample Analysis
Prior to any works commencing on the railings, paint samples were taken for analysis of the different layers of paint. Six samples were taken altogether from various elements of the railing and sent for laboratory analysis. With this information we were able to identify the earliest layer of paint present on the railings, its colour and probable composition. The testing showed that the railings were only painted approximately every 10-12 years and that the original paint scheme was present on all samples tested. The original colour of the railings was a solid “bronze” green.
Repair works to the railings commenced in July 2014 and included the initial cleaning down of the railings in situ. Repair works to the railings were carried out by Brendan St. John of St. John Forge and Ironworks, Drangan, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Brendan is a traditional heritage blacksmith who is very experienced in working with historic wrought iron. Repairs included:
- Recast and replace missing finials to original design
- Repair all broken joints using traditional materials and techniques
- Realign and straighten railing to vertical and reset stay-bars
New Lamp Holder
After repair works were completed the railings and gate were ready for painting. A new lamp holder was designed by Sheena Ryan (ACP). Sheena designed the lamp based on research of lamp holder styles from the period. The new lamp holder was constructed and installed by Vincent Warfield, a resident of Castleconnell. The lamp holder was constructed using mainly using copper sheeting and rivets and fitted with an LED light.
These wrought iron railings, having been installed for almost 150 years and are still in very good condition. With the correct maintenance and care there is no reason why they wouldn’t see another 150. Wrought iron has very good anti-rust properties due to the amount of slag and impurities in the metal which slow the rusting process. In comparison with modern mild steel, which will rust aggressively if not treated and exposed to the elements, wrought iron will last a lot longer if properly maintained.
The repair work to the railing in Castleconnell is a great example of where the correct care and maintenance of historic wrought iron is more beneficial and also more cost effective than the replacement of such with modern mild steel.