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Irish News

Damaged Olympia canopy on mend as original plans found

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JEROME REILLY A SCOTTISH craftsman is using century-old plans torestore the Olympia Theatre's badly damaged Victorian wrought iron and glass canopy back to its original splendour.

The 110-year-old stained glass canopy outside Ireland's oldest theatre came crashing down in Dublin's Dame Street when it was hit by a reversing truck.

While the canopy, widely regarded as one of Dublin's architectural gems, was badly damaged, restorers have had one crucial piece of luck.

Original engineering plans for the canopy with its intricate ironwork including columns and spandrels have been found in Glasgow.

The Sunday Independent has learned that the accident happened just days after a report by An Taisce warned of the dangers to the structure posed by traffic on Dame Street.

The report by Kevin Duff and noted campaigner Michael Smith, suggested a range of measures including widening the pavement in front of the Olympia Theatre.

They said it would reinforce the theatre's focal point presence and curb "traffic dominance". But as the report was published a lorry delivering goods in the area reversed into the canopy, causingsevere damage.

According to Olympia architect Siobhan Sexton, plans to restore the canopy will come under the estimated overall cost of ?100,000 to renovate the entire theatre.

In his book Decorative Dublin historian and conservationist Peter Pearson noted that the colourful stained glass porch of the theatre, formerly called the Empire Theatre, was erected around 1900 and manufactured by the Saracen Ironworks in Scotland.

Walter McFarlane's Saracen foundry produced highly decorative architectural elements which the architects of the time could readily select from manufacturers' catalogues to fit into their designs.

McFarlane's ironwork was shipped to places as far away as India, Brazil, South Africa and the West Indies. Examples are also found in the US as well as Ireland.

The Saracen foundry is long gone, but the McFarlane name was purchased by Heritage Engineering also based in Glasgow which continues a proud Scottish tradition in engineering and ironwork.

In buying the name, Heritage also took possession of the precious catalogues.

Craftsman and engineer Jim Fleming is guardian of the plans and has been involved in restoration work all over the world using the original McFarlane drawings.

"We were aware that work needed to be done on the canopy even before this unfortunate accident. Fortunately we have the pattern books and the back catalogue which should mean a full and accurate restoration is entirely possible," he said.

McFarlane's Saracen foundry on the outskirts of Glasgow was once a huge concern employing 1,400 workmen and exporting its products all over the world. It continued in operation until early in the 20th century but the industry gradually declined. Jim Fleming recently completed a project involving a very similar canopy that stood outside the King's Theatre in Glasgow.

He revealed that original McFarlane plans were also used to restore the original Victoria fountain in Dun Laoghaire that was destroyed during an anti-British demonstration 23 years ago.

The green iron fountain originally commemorated the visit of Queen Victoria toIreland in 1900.

That ?90,000 restoration project was not completed without difficulties. Building workers who were involved in the project to rebuild the fountain and canopy were threatened by individuals who didn't want the "British" monument reinstated on Queen St.

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