More needs to be done to preserve some of Birr’s most historic buildings.
That’s according to the president of Birr Historical Society Brian Kennedy, who says that unless preservation work is carried out on Birr Workhouse and the courthouse, both buildings will be lost to future generations.
Much of the workhouse was damaged in a fire last April. Mr Kennedy says that the building, which was designed by architect George Wilkinson, is of national significance.
“It’s very much under threat. What we want is the state to take control of it. They should make it a national momument, take it under their control like Portumna Workhouse and restore it.
“It was open in 1842 and is a prefamine workhouse. It held 800 inmates, which would have swelled to over 3,000 during the typhoid outbreak at the end of the famine.
“The workhouse building itself is also very significant. The only part that is owned by the public is cemetery where about 4,000 people are buried. We would like to see the whole plot in public ownership.”
If the workhouse was restored, Mr Kennedy believes that it would have huge potential as a tourist destination.
“Over 100,000 visit Birr Castle each year and there is nothing else to keep them in Birr. If we had that people would travel right across town to the workhouse. It would bring considerable business to the town’s restaurants, hotels and shops.”
Mr Kennedy says that its important that something is done to save the workhouse before it is declared a dangerous building. Deputy Carol Nolan says that the state has a “moral obligation” to preserve the workhouse.
“The purchase price of the building is a mere €267,000. We do know that the restoration would come to a lot more. I think that it is essential and there is a moral obligation on the state to intervene now before the building deteriorates further.”
Another of the town’s historic landmarks that is under threat is the Courthouse. The Birr 2020 group is currently organising what Cllr John Carroll describes as a “scoping study” to make the case for Offaly County Council to take it in charge from the court services.
On a post on the historical society’s Facebook page, Cllr Carroll says that it is hoped that the building can be “utilised to the benefit of the people of Birr”.
“It is a building that is very much part of our heritage and must be preserved at all costs.”
Mr Kennedy agrees that it is important that the courthouse is preserved for the people of Birr.
“It’s a very significant building. It was open in 1811 an it is where Michael Crotty was tried after the schism. It’s a building that is definitely in danger. Old building without heat can only decay. “