Working in Partnership to Restore Century-old Heritage

Working in Partnership to Restore Century-old Heritage
Project team members from NI Water, GEDA Construction, RPS Consulting Engineers and Mourne Heritage Trust were joined by representatives from Newry, Mourne and Down Council, NI Environment Agency and the Historic Environment Division at the Department for Communities to launch this exciting project.

Northern Ireland Water commenced work to restore parts of the historic Mourne Wall in early May 2017: this restoration project will significantly benefit the scenic Mountains of Mourne located in the south-east of Northern Ireland.

The heritage site began life in 1904 when work started on building the impressive wall which was designed to define the boundary of the 9000 acres catchment area for the scheme.

The wall was referred to as “The Black Ditch” by the stone men who built it, but now is commonly known as the “Mourne Wall”. The wall crosses 15 mountains across the Mourne range and took approximately 18 years to build, with completion of the original wall in 1922.

The recent first phase of work, saw the restoration of a 2.5km section of the Mourne Wall between Slieve Loughshannagh and Slieve Meelmore which is surrounded by NI Water land. The positive press for this work in conjunction with early stakeholder and trustee engagement permitted the Project Team to progress the Phase One work and complete a further 8km of wall restoration as far as Slieve Donard.

RPS was commissioned to undertake a feasibility study of the Silent Valley Catchment following on from the implementation of NI Water’s ‘Recreation and Access Policy’, as it is the most popular and high profile area of recreation which is owned and must be maintained by NI Water. Within the Feasibility Study there was particular attention paid to the ‘Protocol for the Care of Government Historic Estates’ which lead us to complete a condition survey of the Mourne Wall. The rapidly degrading condition of this listed monument within such a dynamic, often harsh environment was detailed in the RPS Business Case. This allowed NI Water to secure the funding to implement a planned programme of repairs.

GEDA Construction have been awarded the Construction Contract under the NI Water Framework, with RPS fulfilling the role of Project Manager, PR coordinator and Technical Lead for Design Development.

Local experienced stonemasons carried out the repairs under the management of NI Water contractor, GEDA Construction with advice and guidance from Mourne Heritage Trust (MHT). This project is part of NI Water’s commitment to the ‘Protocol for the Care of the Government Historic Estates.

As Alice Whittington from RPS explains “So far no mechanical equipment has been employed with men walking the mountains daily and carrying out all repairs by hand. The stone needed for the repairs in the first two sections has been found lying adjacent to the wall and the team have been employing age-old construction methods, such as using planks to roll the stones into place.”

Dermott McCurdy NI Water’s Project Sponsor added: “During this first phase of the restoration of the wall, NI Water worked closely with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, our contractor GEDA Construction, local stone contractors and the Mourne Heritage Trust to assess the sympathetic construction methods employed, with a view to developing a wider four-year programme of work.”

To repair certain sections of the Mourne Wall, it will be necessary to transport stone and other material to site where it is not readily available. This was done through carefully planned helicopter drops to agreed locations within the Mournes area.

“This is a significant investment by NI Water and we look forward to working with and gaining the support of all our stakeholders, as we strive to protect the integrity of one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic listed monuments.”Councillor Garth Craig, Deputy Chair of Newry Mourne and Down Council said: “The council is delighted that work has commenced to repair parts of the historic Mourne Wall. This important project will carefully restore and improve parts of the wall, enhancing environmental protection and tourism in this beautiful scenic area.”

Phase One repair works have progressed across eight peaks and are awaiting the next helicopter lift of capping stones to complete the restoration. Phase Two is currently being scoped by the Project Team with restoration works predicted to recommence in March 2018 and be completed by March 2019. There will be two more helicopter drops of granite and replacement hardwood stiles completed in April and June 2018.

This work was originally profiled to take four years, but with positive trustee negotiations and the local stone masons’ rapid progress, the project has been condensed into two years.

Upon completion, the final element of the ‘Protocol for the Care of Government Historic Estates’ will be put in place with ongoing condition surveys and maintenance works actioned on an annual/ biennial basis to prevent such an iconic piece of heritage falling into such disrepair again.