Sigginstown Castle

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Tower During Construction

A Green Oak Idea is Born

Doing the tower roof and floors in green oak was Ed Byrne's idea.  He had done this for a castle in Slieve Rue about 20 years ago. At first we resisted, telling he we could not afford oak. Ed gently insisted that if we had it cut from trees at nearly the cost of firewood and worked it ourselves, it would be appropriate and cost-effective. We roped in a few more people into the journey of green oak, which will be documented separately.

The Tower before Construction

We have posted a number of photos of the tower before construction. Inside will be the most dramatic change, from an empty shell open to the sky, to a structure with roof and floors, hopefully drying out in a couple of years!

Archeology comes first

We decided to tackle most of the archeology up front so that we could continue building as needed with periodic monitoring. The floor above the vault had been tested in 2016 with nothing found. David Sweetman monitored the clearing of dirt above the vault. The earlier clay floor was found in the corner where Larry is kneeling. We used it to determine the level beyond which we did not clear. We had to be careful not to disturb the remaining mortar in the vault as we did not want more water to come through to below! The floor was covered with multiple plastic tarps to protect it from the weather. See more about 2019 Archeology here.

Archeology & The Pit of Despair

Inside the vault there was a lot of rubble stone, our collected stuff in storage, bits of tile, mortar. Beneath this there was clay, clay, clay. A test pit had been done in 2016 with only a clay pipe stem found. The The plans called for excavation to 400mm, about 16". We did not realize until we started how much higher the tower was from the house - about 18" higher! So the concept of having the same floor levels throughout house and tower had to be revised. When we dug down to the 400mm level in the center of the room it was found that the threshold and interior wall were not supported all the way down.

After conferring with David Sweetman and our engineer, it was decided to take down the floor to a shallower level, about 8" or 200mm below the Hobbit door threshold. We did not want to destabilize any walls and taking out the clay through the one tiny door was grueling work, hence the "Pit of Despair"!  Each bucket of clay weighed about 30 lbs and we had to take out about 300 buckets! See more about archeology here.

Scaffolding goes up

In order to safely work on the tower and get a roof on, we purchased galvanized scaffolding that would not rust in the sea air. Since we knew we would need it for several areas of the castle over a few years, this was the most cost effective approach. David Dwyer of Summit Scaffolding took on our project as an interesting diversion from normal modern construction. The combination of internal and external scaffolding allows us to haul up materials first to the upper level above the vault and then to the top of the tower.

Safe Access at the Top!

Despite owning the castle for three years, we had never been out to the watchtower because of our healthy respect (fear) of heights!  Now with a triple safety rail firmly anchored and a platform at the top, we can work on the parapets in preparation for a roof in summer 2019 (we hope!) The watchtower is in decent condition but has a missing large stone inside, and some of the mortar was gone from key areas so we did initial structural repairs to keep it safe.

Bracing the Upper Embrasures

Before sod removal could occur, there was some concern about the stability of the uppermost embrasures, or arches.  In our test patch of sod removal, we found more dirt than mortar on top. That combined with a difficult view from below made us take the more conservative route of bracing the upper embrasures plus one below. This required more scaffolding, as we had not planned to put a platform at each level, rather work our way down after the roof was on.  David Dwyer of Summit Scaffolding came back and gave use a platform to the next level. 

Fintan Carroll built the braces which will stay in place until the masonry above is repaired and probably the roof is put on.

Tower Stairs Before Repair

Our stairs in the tower were in pretty good shape overall, but intentional damage had been done to the first few steps by a prior owner. This is common when towers are used as areas for livestock and prevent them from climbing the stairs.  There is a local story of a donkey at the top of the tower!

Unfortunately this also makes the stairs really hard to climb for humans too. This photo shows the steps lighted because if you forget them in the dark it could be the end of you! Luckily no such mishaps occurred, and we always warned people to be careful.

Tower Steps After Repair

The steps have now been repaired using stones reclaimed from outside the tower. We found a couple of useful pieces from cleaning the ditch. The stones were fixed with St. Astier NHL 3.5 lime mortar with Inish sand from Wexford.  This photo shows all the mortar in very bright lighting. You can see the layers of rubble stone carefully laid under the larger stone on top of each stair.

LECA Lime-crete Floor

After the archeology was done in the tower, we decided to do the limecrete floor. First we prepared it by filling the Pit of Despair (see above) with gravel. Then we covered the surface with geotextile.  

LECA Lime-crete Floor continued

The floor is primarily insulation and prevents the damp from rising. Since we were going to be away from the set for a couple of months we had time to let it dry undisturbed. In this photo Paddy is tamping down the lime and LECA mix which looks a lot like grey popcorn! The floor is the subfloor layer upon which a finished floor of either tile or slate will be laid. We would like to use some underfloor heating mats to help raise the temperature one or two degrees and drive out the damp.  We will do the same on the upper floor.

Parapets ready for the roof

Mick Carroll worked on the parapets after the sod was removed and monitored by David Sweetman. He took a lot of photos of his progress and it is easy to see the old and new due to color of mortar. This will fade over time. Mick enjoyed finding little secrets the tower had to tell as he uncovered various stones. The wall walk will need to be covered with a damp proof membrane before flagstones are eventually laid. The north wall could not be raised to a safe level as we needed full external scaffolding on the outside.

Prep meetings before the roof install

Before the roof was installed we had a last meeting on top to check measurements and do any last minute prep. We had to figure out how to deal with the scaffolding - we needed safe access to the roof level, but needed to remove the scaffolding down below the corbels. We ended up taking it down a full level, and then building a temporary work platform for installation.  Here is a great photo of Dylan (our young architect friend from US), Gordon, Ed Byrne, James Grace and Mick Carroll - a meeting of the minds!

The Green Oak Roof Goes On

The project initially suggested by Ed Byrne to create and install the green oak roof frame came to fruition in August 2019. James Grace did most of the work, although we helped in the initial crude trimming of the timbers at the Traditional Lime Company yard earlier in the year. Unfortunately Ed was not there on the day of install, and James led the assembly with a small crew assisting. Our friend Tom Justin got to be there too! We were blessed with a calm day for the crane. We ended by frantically closing it in with roof felt before the wind and rains came later that evening!  The roof will have proper parking boards, felting, insulation, glass and slate in 2020.

Beams start going in 

This work started in late August when Ed Byrne brought down the remaining green oak beams that would be the floors. We only wanted to put in two floors, so the top level would have the height open to the lovely roof.  This was a challenging exercise since we had to remove the scaffolding entirely out of the tower, but still get the beams up onto the corbels. There was a lot of cursing, especially since we had a pile of stone still in the vault to work around! Our friends Gari and son Aidan got to visit and help with a long cold day.  

Cross beams and joist are installed

After a couple more deliveries from Ed Byrne, all the main timbers were in place, and we asked Fintan Carroll to install the joists and plywood flooring that would serve as the temporary floors until we are ready for real oak floorboards later. Here are Ed, Fintan and Fionn Carroll discussing the process/

Upper Floors are Accessible

This was the last bit of work to be in in 2019 and means that we can now safely access the upper floors to fix any stonework and clean walls in 2020.  Here you see Mod, JP and Holly being the first visitors to stand on them. Hurrah!