armagh

Castle Street is right in the heart of the ancient primatial city of Armagh, sitting just below Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral on the hill from which the City of Armagh derives its name – Ard Macha; the hill of Macha.

Immediately above Castle Street are the Cathedral’s walled gardens radiating out from the hilltop. The houses on Castle Street are highly visible not only to those who walk round the centre of the city but also to visitors in the Gardens of the former Bishop’s Palace, especially in winter when the trees have lost their leaves.

The street had formerly contained a terrace of two and three storey stone built dwellings which had become vacant and derelict; their space standards and internal layouts made restoration to give modern standards of accommodation impractical. Instead it was decided to demolish the terrace and to rebuild and special house types were designed respecting the character of the previous dwellings – stone from the demolished dwellings was stored on site and used in the rebuilding; the quoins of dwellings demolished in Railway Street Armagh were incorporated into the flats at the corner of Chapel Lane. Traditional detailing was employed to the more visible elevations including stone rubble walls brought to courses, timber vertically sliding sash windows, natural slate roofs and brick chimneys. Mouth-organ fanlights were used over some of the front doors and the original archway, which had been in the middle of the terrace, was recreated as a garage. Many of the houses now have PVC sliding sash windows and nearly all have double glazing but the dramatic effect of the sweeping terrace has not been lost and its appearance is much enhanced by flower filled window boxes. To the rear, there have been various alterations and additions and the choice of design for replacement window is sometimes questionable but with its simple proportions, plain rendered finish, slate roofs and rear garden walls the terrace sits well below the imposing silhouette of the cathedral. Although built as social housing by the Housing Executive, Northern Ireland’s strategic housing authority, many of the dwellings in the street are now privately owned.

The rather grander houses on Castle Street / Upper Irish Street corner were loving restored by Hearth Housing. Hearth Housing was set up by the National Trust and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society to restore historic buildings in Northern Ireland which are at risk of dereliction or loss. It comprises two independent charities managed by the same committee. Hearth Housing provides social housing for rent in restored historic buildings and some associated new buildings. Hearth Revolving Fund generally restores historic buildings for re-sale, but also manages some properties, and is not restricted to housing uses.

The houses are built of random rubble conglomerate stone known as ‘Armagh marble’. The four-storey houses at 48 and 50 Castle Street are the earliest in the group; the generally two-storey houses of Upper Irish Street and 52-58 Castle Street are dated 1773, although the stucco front to the former pub at no.2 is Victorian; and there is a pair of whitewashed vernacular cottages at 32-34 Chapel Lane which have been combined to form one house. A brick hall behind no.48 was demolished and a new entrance formed from Chapel Lane, while three new houses were built to form a terrace alongside the old cottages. Derelict outbuildings on what is now a courtyard were demolished and stone salvaged from them to provide a ‘quarry’ for rebuilding the facades of nos.10 and 12 Upper Irish Street, which had been demolished by a bomb. Behind no.10 had stood a curious group of three ashlar stone arches which were dismantled and re-erected as the yard wall behind nos.52-54 Castle Street. An extraordinary bow rising the full height of the back of no.48 was largely rebuilt as it was in poor structural condition. Internally, very little timber had survived, but fragments of stairs and cornices, together with shutters and architraves in nos.48 and 50, provided evidence to restore the main rooms.

The scheme was awarded a Diploma of Merit by Europa Nostra in 1995. The determination to save the group was a major factor in the Housing Executive carrying out its excellent new-build scheme on the remainder of Castle Street, which in its turn facilitated the restoration of derelict buildings in Market Street.

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