The Arts Interview-Ailish Drake
By John Rainsford
Architect who is committed to preserving our Georgian past
Born in the heart of Ballyhoura country, in Co. Limerick, I lived with my parents, two sisters and brother on a dairy farm. Having attended Kilfinane secondary school, in 1998, I graduated with a degree in architecture from the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Bolton Street. Subsequently, I worked in Amsterdam and in Dublin, before returning to Limerick in 2006. Finally, I completed my Master’s Degree in the History of Art and Architecture, at the University of Limerick (UL), in 2009.
My father, who sadly died in 2011, was an inspiring person, with a deep love for life, people and the landscape around him. I would like to think that his positive attitude and work ethic has rubbed off on me. When I was a child my parents took us on short holidays around Ireland, to many of the great houses, gardens and historic towns. Now I like to travel with my own children and we love to explore cities, buildings, museums and galleries together. Sicily and Sardinia are among my favourite places in the world.
My husband Conor Hourigan and I started an architectural practice together in 2007. Today, we live with our two young boys in a restored Georgian house on the banks of the river Shannon, just outside of Castleconnell. I am very lucky to have a flexible working life which allows me a great balance between family life and my career as an architect and landscape designer. With an abiding love of architectural history and heritage, I joined the Irish Georgian Society, whose vision is to conserve, protect and foster an interest and a respect for Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. Indeed, I was honoured to take on the role of Chairperson of the Limerick Chapter last October.
Bringing important issues to light (and finding solutions) is a big part of my job description. Newtown Pery has suffered much neglect over the years with poor public realm, heavy traffic, vacancy and dereliction, making it an unattractive place to live and work. Georgian Limerick has so much to offer. So, we need to raise awareness and to promote historic led regeneration. This certainly cannot be done overnight, but gradually we must change the mind-set of key stakeholders in our city. Limerick’s historic fabric is unique and distinctive and it should be valued, protected and invested in.
Historical research is hugely important to our work. As our practice works primarily with existing buildings and landscapes, there has to be a great emphasis on historic research. Indeed, this allows us to make informed decisions about how buildings should be conserved and what changes or additions can be made. Historical records such as maps, family records, census, archives and printed sources reveal much about the people who lived in a building and the timelines involved. The primary source of information is the building or landscape itself, which is examined by way of detailed survey of it’s fabric and design, revealing its age, how it was constructed, changed or altered over time.
The recent announcement of EU funding for the ‘enhancement of Limerick’s urban centre’, is welcome news. That said, the area earmarked for investment, which runs along O’Connell St., from Denmark St., to Barrington St., is the central spine of Newtown Pery, and as such, upgrade works need to be sensitive to the existing historic fabric. With this in mind, the Chapter would like to engage with Limerick Council, particularly in relation to the design elements of the public realm. For example, the correct use of hard and soft landscaping, improved street lighting, suitable furniture, and clear way-finding, using a ‘less is more’ approach.
Local authority conservation grant schemes for historic properties were discontinued over the last number of years, leaving many great buildings under threat of dereliction. Small grants for roof repair, windows, rainwater goods and maintenance can be the difference between a building surviving or not. In Limerick, few of our Georgian townhouses retain their existing windows, many of which were, unfortunately, replaced with PVC. Today, the ironmongery, which includes railings and decorative balconies, are badly in need of repair. Indeed, many buildings are defaced with wiring, inappropriate lighting, signage and footpaths in a disgraceful state. EU ‘enhancement’ funding, together with a reformed Living Cities Tax Incentive Scheme are vital if the mistakes of the past are to be remedied. As it stands, it is unlikely that historic properties in Limerick will be brought back to life without improved schemes.