VIDEO:

Watch the historic St Peter's gates in Portlaoise being taken away for restoration

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Email:

lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie


They say that St Peter guards the gates of Paradise, well in Portlaoise county Laois, St Peter's gates have come down, and that paradise is a tranquil corner of nature that is now being restored as a public garden.

St Peter's graveyard in the centre of old Portlaoise town is the atmospheric resting place of many a soul, from Highwayman Jeremiah Grant, the last man to be hung in Portlaoise, to the father of Barthelomew Mosse, founder of the Rotunda Hospital.

Its tower dates back to the mid 16th century and is one of the oldest structures in Portlaoise. The site has been chosen for the 2017 Adopt a Monument Scheme run by the Heritage Council.

The first step to restore the site, was the removal of the 200 year old wrought iron gates last Friday morning July 7.

Dublin restorers Bushy Park Ironworks had the delicate job of removing the gates one by one with a hoist, as seen in the attached video by the Leinster Express.

"It is a major restoration job. Some of the wrought iron has gone completely, they are in bad condition, from years of neglect as we understand they were not opened, they were just left," explained fabricator Stephen Maguire.

The gates will undergo sandblasting and reconstruction, expected to take up to five weeks, to cost €12,000. The Heritage Council is funding €8,000 of that cost, the rest paid by Laois County Council.

Portlaoise Tidy Towns group had applied for the Adopt a Monument Scheme.

Its chairperson, Cllr Jerry Lodge was looking anxiously on as the gates came down.

"We hope this will be a haven, to read, to research history. The restoration will take two years. This year we will trim back the ivy, we can't remove it completely because that would damage the walls. We will also do a bat survey," he said.

Restoration will include making all the gravestones and tower safe, and raising the height of a stone wall on the north side, where rubbish had been thrown over the wall in the past. Information boards and seating will be erected, and further studies done on the gravestones. Vegetation will be trimmed but some wildflower areas will be left to the bees.

The graveyard will be securely closed each evening to deter anti-social behaviour.

Catherine Casey is Laois Heritage Officer.

"We are waiting on detailed specifications for the masonry work before going to tender for contractors. Tree surge and vegetation management will take place in September after the bird nesting season," she explained.

"There is a good bit of work to be done to some of the graves themselves before the site can open to the public, but accompanied tours have already taken place this year and that will continue," she said.

For now, Portlaoise Men's Shed have carefully boarded up the gateway, leaving the little paradise in perfect peace for one final summer.