Margaret Quinlan scoops major award for Main Guard restoration

Eamonn Wynne

Eamonn Wynne

Clonmel-born Margaret Quinlan has received one of Ireland’s most prestigious architectural awards for the restoration of The Main Guard.

The award, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland’s (RIAI) Conservation and Restoration Silver Medal, is presented to an architect or architectural practice for excellence or exceptional merit in Restoration and Conservation. The refurbishment of The Main Guard was undertaken on behalf of Margaret Quinlan’s client, the Office of Public Works.

Speaking at the presentation of the award Paul Keogh, President, RIAI, said, “The Main Guard is possibly the oldest surviving classical public building in Ireland and was, like many other national architectural treasures, neglected and forgotten and had little chance of surviving in its original, purposeful and beautiful form. Urban development has swept away many similar building in cities and towns around Ireland. Miss Quinlan’s dedication and perseverance in restoring and conserving this building is as much a testament to her passion as to her considered and sensitive response to how an historic building can be restored and revitalised for the benefit of the wider community as a whole.”

James Butler, First Duke of Ormond, built the Main Guard in 1675 as the courthouse for the Palatinate of the administrative area of County Tipperary. In 1715 the Palatinate jurisdiction was extinguished. In about 1810 the ground floor, a loggia of open arches, was converted into shops, a basement excavated and additional floors inserted to maximise floor area to feed Clonmel’s commercial boom.

By the 1980s the building consisted of a spirit-grocery, a pub and living accommodation. It had fallen into a dangerous state and was acquired by Clonmel Corporation in 1986.

Research on the Main Guard was initiated in 1990 as part of a Masters in Urban and Building Conservation at UCD by Margaret Quinlan. Guided by documentary research, investigation revealed that substantial parts of the 17th century building had survived, concealed within the later

19th century fabric.

It was not until 1994 that the building was declared a national monument. The Office of Public Works began painstaking renovations at this stage. After ten years it was finally re-opened to the public, with the open arches again a feature of the streetscape of Clonmel.

Speaking at the presentation Margaret Quinlan said “It is a great honour to be presented with the Silver Medal. I grew up in Clonmel and remember the slow deterioration of the Main Guard. Before I began this project it was closed up for safety reasons, with a hoarding around it in case of collapse. Today, due to the input of Clonmel Borough Council and the National Monuments section of the OPW, this building, which is so important in the history of the town, is safe once again. As well as being a focal point for visitors to the area, it is now a meeting place and is being used in a contemporary way for recitals, lectures and exhibitions, all contributing to the arts life of the town. What I am most proud of is that the Main Guard, with its open arcade, is at the heart of Clonmel again - as it was when it was built in 1675.”

Margaret is daughter of the late Jack Quinlan and Nora (nee Walsh) of St. Patrick’s Terrace, Clonmel. She was educated at the Presentation Convent and UCD.

She’s married to Loughlin Kealy, Emeritus Professor of Architecture at UCD who was also involved in the Main Guard project.

She is based in Dublin and Clonmel and her practice, Margaret Quinlan Architects, covers an area mainly in southern and midland counties.