WATERFORD’S Medieval walls and towers are to become more accessible to visitors through a programme that has been initiated by the City & County Council.
Speaking to the Waterford News & Star, Council Conservation Officer Rosemary Ryall said the project will serve to emphasise and honour the ancient city’s surviving perimeter.
“The Heritage Council have been really good to Waterford over the years, giving grant aid, as have the Department (of Heritage), for the repair of the towers and the walls and this has been ongoing for the better part of 20 years,” she said.
“In the past few years, the towers have been restored, the roofs have been fixed but the towers have remained closed, so last year, the Council commissioned a study from Chris Southgate & Associates (Conservation Engineers) made possible with Heritage Council funding regarding access to the towers themselves and the walls. So we looked at the towers we have in the city that belong to the Council – there are also some that belong to the Office of Public Works (OPW) – and we said we’d work on the ones that belong to us initially.”
Ms Ryall continued: “We then had to work out what we needed to do to make them accessible. Structurally they’re fine so we then devised what works we’d have to do and then beyond that, we’ve given thought as to how we make sure they’re used properly. This isn’t just about the towers, this is also about the walls because when people drive from the Cork Road every day, approaching the city centre and entering the Manor, thousands of us pass through the Medieval city and I suspect a lot of us don’t even realise we’ve done that – we’ve got a habit of taking older structures for granted, I feel. We’ve got three towers along that section, running down from Castle Street and flanking Railway Square but if you take the time to stop, whether you’re down by the Watch Tower looking up Castle Street or looking down the hill from Brown’s Lane, you’re talking about a wonderful asset, a distinct feature of our city and something we should all be very proud of. So we picked the easiest tower with which to get this project off the ground – the Watch Tower – it’s very accessible and just off Manor Street and we also thought there wouldn’t be too much work to be done in it.
“That work is ongoing, it’s a collaborative approach and it’s multi-phased because this is not something which can be done with anything other than great care. We’ve engaged with our Engineers and the Roads section when it comes to lighting, so in terms of the ongoing (widening) works at Brown’s Lane, we’ve put down the wiring for the lighting of the city walls running parallel to the lane – now the lighting itself will be part of the project’s next phase but at least we’re set up for that now.”
The long-term plan also includes lighting the towers from the interior which will also serve to discourage anti-social incursions, which have bedevilled some of the towers over the years.
“We’ve cleared out the debris around the Watch Tower,” said Ms Ryall. “Would you believe it, there was a whole lot of cat food in front of the tower, down the steps off the street. Now, people had obviously been breaking into the tower itself too as there were lots of beer cans in there. There’s a grill going in on an upper level of the tower which will mean people visiting will be able to look up the hill from here and also see the other towers.”
The prospect of a permanent walkway running inside the Watch Tower wall, which would provide visitors with a view similar to what those guarding the city would have faced over 700 years ago, is also being considered.
However, it is believed that the access works within the towers themselves will be prioritised before ancillary elements such as walkways and medieval signage/dressings are added in due course.
(See next week’s Christmas Week edition for further details).