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Work to start on historic Mourne Wall project

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Work to start on historic Mourne Wall project thumbnailPictured ahead of restoration work are Dermott McCurdy, Michael Sleator, Niall McGovern, Michael Donnelly, Alice Adams, Iain Greenway, Helen Anderson, Brian Rooney and Desmond Patterson

WORK is expected to start this week on the significant project to repair the historic Mourne Wall.

The Mourne Wall was constructed between 1904 and 1922 by the Belfast Water Commissioners and has had no significant repair works carried out since.

The wall is 22 miles long and crosses 15 Mourne mountain ranges so a project of this scale takes careful planning and consideration.

NI Water, which owns the land, will oversee the work alongside the Mourne Heritage Trust.

Martin Carey, from the MHT, is "delighted" work is beginning and praised NI Water for the conscious and sensitive manner in which they have approached the project.

"We have had feedback over a number of years from people who are up the mountains, be they walkers or farmers, about the extent of the falls in the wall," he said.

"In working closely with NI Water, they have recognised that once this big investment is made, there is a need to continually maintain this structure.

We are happy this long-term plan is in place." The first phase of work will see the restoration of a 2.5km section of the wall between Slieve Loughshannagh and Slieve Meelmore, which is surrounded by NI Water land.

The wall was known as 'The Black Ditch' by the stone men who built it, however it is now more commonly known as the Mourne Wall.

Three stone towers were also built as part of the original project, and it is believed they were built as shelters to protect the stone men. Each tower has a date engraved on it - 1910 Slieve Donard, 1913 Slieve Commedagh and 1921 Slieve Meelmore.

Experienced stonemasons will this week begin work, carrying out the repairs under the management of NI Water contractor, GEDA Construction, with advice from the Mourne Heritage Trust.

"Our role will effectively be to ensure that the contractors have the benefit of our experience of working in that open environment and in old stone wall repair," said Martin.

"Our staff will be available on a consultancy basis for quality control to make sure that repairs are appropriate.

"After this, we will periodically look in on the works as they continue." While Martin and staff at the MHT do not have any concerns about the project, he said NI Water would be working in a "dynamic environment".

"They have made their approach to the contract very appropriate," he said. "They are doing it in bitesize chunks.

"After each part they do, they will review progress. They will learn and use that to plan for the next phase.

"We are content they have not gone into this naively. They have divided it up and will monitor each process as they go." As part of the work it will be necessary to transport stone and other material to the site, where it is not readily available. It is anticipated this will be done through what has been described as "carefully planned helicopter drops" to agreed locations within the Mournes area.

This project is part of NI Water's commitment to the 'Protocol for the Care of the Government Historic Estates'.

"The other thing we have been pleased with is that NI Water are very conscious about the need to communicate and engage with the project," said Martin.

"Obviously through the media, but as well on location with signage and branding.

In the future there will be some events which will engage people with the project.

I feel that there is ownership of this all." Dermott McCurdy, NI Water's project sponsor, said: "During this first phase of the restoration of the wall, NI Water will be working closely with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, our contractor GEDA Construction, local stone contractors and the Mourne Heritage Trust to assess the sympathetic construction methods employed, with a view to developing a wider four-year programme of work .

"This is a significant investment by NI Water and we look forward to working with and gaining the support of all our stakeholders, as we strive to protect the integrity of one of Northern Ireland's most iconic listed monuments." Councillor Garth Craig, deputy chairman of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said the council was "delighted" to see work begin.

"This important project will carefully restore and improve parts of the wall, enhancing environmental protection and tourism in this beautiful scenic area," he said.

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