Architectural Report on the Lambert Tomb, Moor Abbey, Athenry, Oct. 2002

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Prepared for “The Lambert Project Society” October 2002

Gerry McManus, Architect, B Arch. Sc (Bldg Conservation) MRAI

Claregalway, Galway

Introduction

Mr Finbarr O’Regan, Principal of Carnaun National School and chairperson of “The Lambert Project Society” contacted me in September 2002 and asked me to do an architectural report on the Lambert tomb at Moor Abbey. This is to be part of much larger study of the Lamberts and the whole local area which is on-going in the school and local community. The book “The Lamberts of Athenry” has already been published.

l visited the site with Mr O’Regan and some of the school children on 10 Sept 2002. I  photographed the building, noted its construction and condition, and did a measured survey.

Description

The site is a graveyard approached across the fields by a right of way. The graveyard is enclosed by a well-constructed dry double stone wall with capping of stones on edge. It contains several other graves and the remains of a church.

The graveyard and church are marked on OS l of 1838 as ‘graveyard’ and ‘Moor Abbey (in ruins)’. The site is listed in the SMR (sites and monuments record) and is marked on map 83 for Galway:

Monument No. – GA 083-060

Townland Moor – (Clare by)

Classification – Ecclesiastical Remains

The tomb, of c. 1870, consists of a semi-basement chamber approached by steps and a short sunken pathway’. It is a classical style gable fronted building, with broken pediment.  A ball, decorated with swags and mounted on a square pedestal with recessed panels crowns the apex. There are finials at eaves level on the four corners and at the apex of the rear gable.

The tomb was probably built for Walter Lambert who died in 1867. There are three inscriptions recorded on a small framed manuscript in the tomb:

Walter Lambert – died 10th August 1867 aged 72 years

Anne Lambert – fell asleep in Jesus 2nd July 1879 aged 87 years

Jane Lambert – died July l868 aged 37 years

See photographs and drawings on following pages

Construction

The walls are faced in cut stone externally, but lined in red brick internally, The mortar used appears to contain cement, All the decorative features are of beautifully cut and carved stone. The roof is double pitched with stone slabs forming the root covering. The roof drains to a cut stone string course at eaves level. There is no gutter.

Inside the ceiling is formed by a stone barrel vault. The floor is of Liscannor flags. A cut stone shelf is cantilevered from the walls on three sides. The coffins rested on these shelves until recently when the bodies were reinterred in a temporary tomb of concrete on the ground, as the coffins had disintegrated and the bones were at risk. The door is a four-panel solid iron door. There is a tiny pointed arched window in the rear wall for ventilation.

Condition

ln general the tomb is in reasonable condition considering its age. However, there are problems with water getting into the structure and building up in the fabric. This in turn encourages the growth of vegetation and this leads to the dislodging of stones. Some of the cut barge stones have fallen off both front and rear gables, roof slabs and eaves stones are dislodged and two lacing stones have fallen out of the wall.

Inside, the build-up of water in the fabric has caused much leaching of salts and the formation of stalactites suspended from the root vault. This leaching of salts and the appearance of the mortar suggests the presence of cement. Up until about 1910 cement was not in common use in Ireland. However, presumably, wealthy families would have known about and had access to the latest technologies, and this would explain this early use of cement in the mortar. (Traditional mortars contained only a mix of sand and lime).

It is the design of the root at eaves level which is a principal cause of water getting into the walls. The roof slopes down to a cut stone eaves course which looks well but it does not throw the water clear of the walls as it should. It effectively drains all the water onto a flat ledge on the top of the wall. This slows down the rate of flow of the water very much and allows some (probably a substantial amount) to penetrate into the wall. This tends to make the wall unstable and encourages vegetation to grow.

Proposals for Conservation and Repair

Firstly, it is necessary to carefully remove all vegetation and organic debris from the building. This should be carefully done by hand. If the growth is stubborn, rather than risk doing damage, a suitable weedkiller should be applied. Then the growth can be removed when it dies off. In general, the use of weed-killer should be kept to a minimum as it can cause staining of the stonework, or it may react with lime in the mortar.

When all the vegetation is removed the dislodged stones should be reinstated. This should be done by someone competent working with stone. The stone should be bedded in mortar similar to that used originally. It would be interesting to have a sample of the mortar analysed to find out if it has a cement content as I suspect. However, depending on the proportion of cement used it may or may not be wise to replicate the mortar for use in repairs. At the time when the tomb was built people were experimenting with different mixes. Portland cement was quite new then and the mix used might not be ideal.

It might be safest to use a feebly or moderately hydraulic mortar with no cement content at all for repairs. This would mean we would not be adding to the salt leaching problem which is caused by the cement content as l referred to above.

To fix the problem at eaves level it will be necessary to change the way the water is draining off the roof. Usually when a building is conserved like this such changes are not made. It is considered correct to repair it like with like and use the same material and as were used in the original building

However, if something does not work because of the way it was designed, it may be justified to change the design. This can be carefully considered and the pros and cons weighed up before any works are undertaken.

The options for the building are:

l. To repair it as it was and accept that it will deteriorate again at a certain pace – or

To alter the detail at the eaves as discreetly as possible to eliminate the water problem at eaves level and thus reduce the rate of decay of the building, this could be done by introducing a secret gutter at caves level. This would entail the introduction of a lead gutter and probably, the shortening of the last course of stone ‘slates”.

2. The door should be carefully wire brushed, cleaned down to sound metal, primed and painted.

3. The ground around the tomb should be tidied up. The ground level has probably risen a little around the building – it should be reduced to its original level. This can be determined by looking at the building, where the cut stone starts will indicate what was meant to be ‘seen’. It would be desirable in the long term if a more permanent and more attractive ‘coffin’ than the present concrete box, could be made to contain the three bodies.

When all repair works are complete, regular maintenance is essential to prolong the life of the building.

Notes – If it were decided to make a change to the building – eg; introduce a gutter, – planning permission from Galway Co. Council would be required. Any proposed repair works, even if no changes are to be made to the building, in must be approved by Duchas, National Monuments and Architectural Protection Division. Duchas must be notified of proposed works at least 2 months in advance.

Any works undertaken should be carried out in accordance with the principles of the Charter of Venice, the Burra Charter, and other documents. which provide the framework for the best practice in conservation.

Some recent publications maybe useful: Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, (2001) ‘Guidelines for the Conservation of Buildings’ Duchas, The Heritage Service, (2001) ‘Draft Architectural Guidelines for Planning Authorities’ Dublin Civic Trust, 2001). ‘Period Houses a conservation guidance manual’.

For  Extra Photos and Drawings, for this report  please contact the Editor!

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About this record

Written by Gerry McManus, Architect

Published here 31 Jul 2023 and originally published October 2002

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