The Restoration of Cor Castle
Cor Castle and the surrounding land has been in my family since the 18th Century. The building was passed down the generations to my grandparents who were living there when it was destroyed by fire in 1921. I grew up playing in the roofless ruin and the idea of restoring it became part of my DNA. Over time I built a successful property development business alongside a career as an airline pilot to the point that I eventually decided to leave flying and focus on property full time. The business had the secondary benefit of teaching me a great deal about old buildings, the various trades and materials to use etc. One of my projects in 1996 required lime pointing and plastering. My lime education was under way! and another important lesson logged for Cor Castle and Roundtower Lime. By 1998 I was in a financial position to start work. The 1921 fire had basically gutted the building and nature had taken its toll over the subsequent decades. We were left with a stone shell, of which some parts had collapsed, and a large sycamore tree in the middle of the drawing room growing through the building and out the top!
I put together a small crew and purchased a load of scaffolding, I decided to purchase as opposed to hiring as I was not sure how long this project was going to take! The scaffolding allowed us for the first time to evaluate the upper parts of the building and along with our initial evaluation of the structure we were able decide on the materials to use, most of the stonework which had collapsed was still on the ground so could be re-used. We could obtain quick lime in Ireland from the glass and sugar beet industries so we decided to slake our own fat lime and make Roundtower course stuff using a local sharp sand. We set up a small slaking plant, bought a mortar mill, and put together a large batch of course stuff for use on the project.
Very soon after we started making lime putty Jeremy Irons (the actor) arrived to enquire if he could purchase some for his restoration of Kilcoe Castle, a medieval structure further along the coast. I agreed and Roundtower Lime was born! We set about removing all the vegetation, the building had been virtually covered in ivy. As well as the ivy we had many crows and jackdaws living in the chimneys! We then raked out and re-pointed the walls both inside and out. For all the inside work we used Roundtower course stuff with brick dust and externally we used the same on the sheltered North and East elevations and Roundtower NHL 3.5 on the exposed South and West elevations. This was a major job as the entire building required re-pointing and parts of it are 4 stories high. Most of the window and door openings had timber heads with relieving stone arches above. Some of the openings had brick surrounds and arches. All the timber had rotted or was damaged by the fire so we had many opening which were unstable. The bricks used in the original building were very soft and these would crumble on touch. These openings and their stabilization was vital to securing the structure and in the areas where walls had collapsed it was mainly due to several openings over each other becoming unstable over the years of decay until eventually the wall collapsed. I managed to source a batch of bricks from a lime built house locally which had been demolished and these were used to replace the existing brick reveals where necessary. As the opening stabilization, parapet work and re-pointing progressed, we began to achieve a stable structure once more. Once an area was stabilized we constructed an internal scaffolding to roof level and installed the roof timbers.
We installed a flat roof similar to the original (lead) roof but this time I decided to use a modern roofing material with modern insulation. The system I settled on was Trocal Single Ply Membrane from Germany, the same roof that is used on parts of Gatwick airport! Once a section was roofed we dropped the internal scaffolding and worked our way up again installing the internal floors working off each new floor to install the next. We did not have any internal records of the building so we had to start from scratch as far as internal finishes were concerned. I visited many buildings of the same period both locally and nationally to begin to build a picture of what the internal joinery and plasterwork might look like. We studied the masonry very carefully internally and where able to establish details such as floor to ceiling heights.
We were able to see the door, window & fireplace positions and I engaged an architect to draw up very accurately a typical Irish box sash window from the period based on some original samples sourced locally. Internal doors were copied from another local family property of the same period. We had amongst the team a very good decorative plasterer and decided to run 3 special ceilings in the Drawing Room, Dining Room and Library. The Drawing room was based on evidence of the existing and the centre piece was copied from Bantry House, the Dining Room is a copy of the dining room ceiling in Birr Castle and the Library was taken from an old pattern book.
Just over 3 years after we started the project we moved in along with our 2 young sons and the project has evolved into a fantastic family home. The project was a very rewarding challenge and it is my sincere wish that many more generations of our family will enjoy it.