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Cork City and County Courthouse

Winner in the Heritage/Restoration Category of the Construction Excellence Awards 1999

Restoration Work

The Cork City and County Courthouse was originally constructed over 200 years ago and was destroyed by fire in the late 1890's. Retaining only the external façades the building was rebuilt and reopened in 1897. The current restoration work involved the complete refurbishment of the roof and the external stonework on the building.

John Sisk & Son Ltd. won the restoration contract, valued at approximately £3m, and commenced work in April 1997.

Cork City and County Courthouse

At commencement of the project, the City Architect outlined the objectives of the project as follows:

  1. To maintain the character, setting and material quality of the building.
  2. To ensure the historic position of the building as evidence within the millennia of a building's evolution in terms of environmental performance and design/aesthetic rationale.
  3. To protect the building's character as a living antique and thus as an object of economic value.
  4. To preserve the constructional efficiency of the building. More structures and details may be preserved and retained using historic techniques combined with simple, modern, informed repair, allowing a building to breath and perform as intended.
  5. To spend wisely in terms of investment. Less money may be spent on minimal adaptation of the structure to new use which adds to building's economic value by not diminishing its antique value.
  6. To adapt the building to new use with minimum intervention and a maximum of conservation over restoration, under the stringent guidance of the ICOMOS Venice Charter:

"Restoration …………. must stop at the point where conjecture begins".

In keeping with these objectives the Method Statement was developed:

"In terms of restoration, there can be no guesswork without diminishing the historical and financial value of a building. Without evidence, new insertions may/should take on a "distinct" character from the original and must bear a "contemporary", yet respectful, identity.

All repairs will, as closely as possible, reflect the original methods and materials used in construction, even when they may not be seen in the finished product. Anything that may reasonably be repaired over being renewed will be so. In the case of restoration, there will be use of salvaged materials where appropriate."

All new materials procured for the project underwent a rigorous approval system to ensure they were in keeping with the objectives. Natural slate was sourced from a quarry in Wales, all flashings and gutters were Code 6 or Code 8 lead.

The restoration of the roof involved the removal of slates and laths, the investigation of the state of the timbers (rafters, wall plates etc.), the cutting out of timber deemed beyond repair, the treatment of remaining timber and finally the rebuilding of the gutters and walkways and the reslating of the roof. The original gutters were quite narrow and damage was caused to the slates adjoining it by foot traffic. It was decided to widen the gutter and create a walkway wide enough for foot traffic.


Work on the façade involved the repair of damaged limestone by either full replacement of a stone, partial replacement (indenting) or minor mortar repairs. The building was completely repointed using a natural lime putty mortar and was then completely cleaned using a specified chemical cleaner which ensured no damage to the stone.

Tight budgetary control was necessary as the extent of much of the work could only be determined when old materials were removed. The full extent of the planned restoration was achieved within the original budget.

A major difficulty facing the contractor was that the building remained occupied during the construction phase. In a normal week four or five courts were in session all day, which meant no noise could be made by the construction team. Flexible working hours, shift work and staggered holidays together with tight discipline on site ensured the courts remained in session without interruption.

The location of the building and the nature of the work presented a lot of challenges for the team from a safety view point. The building is located amidst busy streets with the public in close proximity at all times. The building was surrounded by a hoarding and a netted scaffold. Particular care had to be taken when handling material with the on site tower crane. Not one accident or incident occurred on site during the construction phase.

Phase 2 of the restoration work, i.e. the internal refurbishment, will commence shortly. Phase 1 has been successfully completed in line with the objectives of the City Architect leaving a building which will proudly grace the streetscape of Cork City for the next hundred years.


Project Team

Client Cork City Council and
the Department of Justice
Main Contractor: John Sisk & Son Ltd.,
P.O. Box 602,
Capwell Works,
Kinsale Road,
Architect: Cork City Council Architect's Department,
City Hall,
Project Architects: Neil Hegarty
Michael Russell
Site Architects: Michael Hannon
Technicians: Gerard Horgan
David Ivors
Des O'Brien
Quantity Surveyors: P.F. Coveney Partnership,
Hanover House,
South Main Street,
Structural Engineers: John O'Donovan & Associates,
Model Farm Road,