Preserving history on local ancient monastic island

DEVENISH Island conservation project leader, Stefanie McMullen is delighted to have had little feedback on her efforts.
McMullen, 44, an archeologist from Carryduff, came over to Devenish Island as part of a £122,000 Department for Communities conservation project to preserve the medieval monastic site there.
Although the work on the site took three months to do, a year’s planning and research had to be done in order that the job itself would be properly done.
Now one of the biggest tourist sites in the area is back to its full glory although McMullen has received little praise – and is pleased that she hasn’t.
She said: “Regarding feedback, the good thing about conservation is that the best feedback is when people do not notice that you’ve done anything.
“That’s the sign of a good conservation project. If you’ve done a really good job of conserving a ruin, it shouldn’t look drastically different.
“It should be conserved to how it was – and that’s a good sign.”
The job itself involved a great attention to detail to ensure that the public did not see any obvious signs of repair work – thus preserving the original stonework as much as possible.
McMullen added: “We identified a few years ago that a high level of stonework on some areas of the monument were quite loose and needed some conservation work just to stabilise them.
“So we had to close off certain areas and procure some specialist contractors to come in and erect some scaffolding to consolidate the stonework.
“In this case with Devenish, as far as scaled conservation projects go, it was isolated areas that needed attending to – not a full-scale project.
“But what he had to do was repair stonework with like for like materials. They (the original builders) used lime mortar. In conservation, we have a lot of research to do beforehand, a lot of preparation work and a lot of specifications drawn up with conservation engineers.
McMullen also insists that despite the inconvenience for the visiting public, the site needed urgent conservation work done to it otherwise the ruins themselves could have decayed to an even worse state.
“When we got to Devenish,” she continued, “one of the things we encountered was that although we knew the various areas of the site were built in different time periods, despite the techniques of build being similar, we found the quality of stone in certain areas was very different.
“St Mary’s Priory, for example, was really well-built with good quality stonework and has stood the test of time. However, other parts – such as the Refectory – the stone was of a much poorer quality and was quite brittle.
“Had we left the conservation any longer then yes, we would have had more issues with the site. If you don’t do continued maintenance, then you end up with larger-scale issues.”

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