The fifth and final phase of the restoration work on the Hevey building is ready for construction. The final phase involves building a link corridor between the 1971 building and the original Hevey Institute of 1856. The school administration will move to the Hevey building and the Secretary’s office and Principal’s office will be converted into another classroom. When the work is completed, the 1856 building will be back in full service.
This restoration is a work of great importance to us but also to Mullingar as the Hevey building is perhaps Mullingar’s most beautiful building. We are presently seeking funding from the Department of Education and Skills for this final part of the project.
The magnificent restoration of the Hevey Institute building continues apace. Principal Mr. Joe O’Meara has been driving this project ahead. He has been greatly encouraged by architects Pat Weafer and Bernadette Solon of Westmeath County Council. So far €550,000 has been spent on restoration of over 100 windows, refurbishment of the basement, conversion of the old bedrooms on the top floor into classrooms. We have lately opened a music room, library and two tuition rooms in the old building. Westmeath County Council has, incidentally, helped us with some heritage grants. The latest stage of the restoration involves a very ambitious construction of a glass link corridor between the old Hevey Institute and the newer school. €700,000 will be spent on the glass
corridor, refurbishment of the ground floor with commissioning of parent meeting rooms and a new administration suite. The new stage will also involve the demolition of the rooms built in the old Hevey yard in the 1980’s.
The completion of this stage will mean that the Hevey building of 1856 will be reborn and will once again serve the over 700 pupils who now attend Coláiste Mhuire.
The architectural restoration of any protected building can be a painstaking business, but for the staff at Coláiste Mhuire, returning the famous Hevey Institute to its former glory is an act of love.
Now at phase three of the restoration process, which includes work on each of the 103 windows of the old building, which was first constructed in 1856 for the education of the poor children of Mullingar, excitement is growing in the school as the work takes shape.
The Hevey Institute, the original name of Coláiste Mhuire, was established as a result of the benevolence of local brewer and landowner James Hevey who left his lands at Bryanstown, Ballinea “to support and educate in literature, science and theology, such poor children as they should select in the parish of Mullingar, and for that purpose to build and keep in repair a schoolhouse”.
The Hevey Trust, the body established to administer Hevey’s will, had John Bourke design and build the imposing Hevey Institute with its variety of classical features including an impressive Italianate belfry, making the Hevey one of the finest buildings in Mullingar.
Principal of Colaiste Mhuire Joe O’Meara explained how the restoration was coming along: “Each window has to be taken out individually and be completely restored as they were back in 1856,” he says.
“Any glass that was in them has to be saved. The wood has to be stripped down, it is what you call an architectural restoration job, which makes it extremely costly. Even when they were doing all the plastering inside, they actually had to plaster the walls with the same process that was used in 1856 with lime and lath,” he explained.
Another feature of the Hevey Institute which the staff at Coláiste Mhuire hope to see working again is the old clock located to the front of the belfry, which he believes hasn’t worked for hundreds of years: “We would like to see that clock ticking again. I don’t think any one has heard it strike in living memory,” said teacher Joe Murray.
“We would be hoping that we could get someone to come on board and sponsor it, maybe even a past pupil,” he said.
Since its opening in 1856 thousands of Mullingar boys have passed through the doors of the Hevey Institute and gone out again into the wide world.
The intervening years have not always been kind to the building. The interior has been much altered with the original rooms being partitioned to cater for the greater numbers attending, particularly in the 1950’s. The construction of a new primary school in the late 1950’s and of a new secondary school in the early 1970’s meant that the Hevey Institute which had been swarming with pupils gradually fell into disuse. The building is now showing its age and is in urgent need of conservation.
“The building is made of cut limestone so they cannot sandblast it, they have to let the natural weathering process take place because it is a protecting building,” continued Joe Murray.
Phase One and Two of the restoration process have already been completed, which included work on the mechanics, electrics and roof of the building.
“Our main aim would be to integrate that building back into the school,” explained Principal Joe O’Meara. “Once upon a time there were hundreds and hundreds of pupils in it, so we would generally like to see it back to the way it was, with students in and out of it so that it will be a central part of school life again,” he said.
Architects Patrick Weafer and Westmeath County Council’s Bernadette Solon have been involved in the project, on how to best restore the Hevey Institute to its former glory.
“Both Pat Weafer our architect and Bernadette Solon of Westmeath County Council have been hugely supportive, and we would like to compliment them on that,” added Joe O’Meara.
Since its opening in 1856, thousands of Mullingar boys have passed through the doors of the Hevey Institute and gone out again into the wide world. The intervening years have not always been kind to the building, which is now showing its age and is in urgent need of conservation. The interior has been much altered with the original rooms being partitioned to cater for the greater numbers attending, particularly in the 1950’s.
The construction of new primary and secondary schools in the 1950’s and 1970’s meant that the Hevey Institute which had been swarming with pupils gradually fell into disuse.
Speaking this week, Mr. Joe O’Meara, Principal of the Secondary school, spoke of the need to conserve the historic building while at the same time to ensure that it continues to serve the community as it has done since 1856.
Work has been continuing at Coláiste Mhuire on restoration of the Hevey Institute building.
School Principal Mr. O’Meara has worked closely with Westmeath County Council’s conservation architect Ms. Bernadette Solon and with the school’s own architect Mr. Pat Weafer on the best way to maintain the original character of the building. Ms. Solon visited the site on several occasions and greatly facilitated the difficult project. The school also received some financial support from Westmeath County Council. The first part of the restoration work involved a survey of the building. “Despite searches in the archives, we were unable to locate any original architectural drawings of the Hevey Institute” said Mr. O’Meara.
Past pupil T.P. McKeon conducted a detailed survey of the building. The ceilings are a lath and lime plaster conglomerate and the specialist company “Living with the Past” advised the school on the best way to conserve the plaster work and ceilings. The main contractors for the works are Lynam and O’Boyle.
Following the survey of the building and development of a restoration plan work began on restoring the fabric of the building and on putting the space to constructive use. “Our overall plan involved three stages. Stage one which involved rewiring and installation of a heating system. Stage 2 which is now underway involves a fitting out of the east wing of the school. The old oratory has been restored and the original stained-glass windows featuring scenes from Irish history have been restored. The windows depict the Ardagh Chalice, Carraig an Aifrinn (Mass Rock) and Teamhair (St. Patrick lighting the fire on Tara).
The Christian Brothers have generously offered funding for the establishment of a liturgical centre and counselling rooms in this part of the old building and we hope to develop it during the summer months” added Mr. O’Meara. This area will be named for the founder of the Christian Brothers: The Edmund Rice Centre. “We will also open a Language Centre before the end of the year”, added Mr. O’Meara. “The teaching of languages has been greatly facilitated in recent years by use of the internet. Pupils can now have regular contact with native speakers in the target language through this medium. I’m sure the original founders of The Hevey Institute would be astonished to see this fabulous tool in operation. I like to think that they would approve of the uses our languages classes can put it to in Colaiste Mhuire. In any case we are going to open a state-of-the-art language centre before the end of this school year in the revamped old building”
“This phase of the development costs over 200k and we are actively fundraising to pay for this. The people of Mullingar and our parents and past-pupils have always been very generous. I like to think they understand the very important part Colaiste Mhuire has played in the life of Mullingar and are anxious to help us develop this role in the future”.
“We are very aware” continued Mr. O’Meara “of the importance of the Hevey Institute in Mullingar and indeed nationally. We hope to gradually restore it and to use it to benefit future generations of Mullingar people. Given the funding available to schools it will be a slow process but we are prepared to stay with it so that the beautiful old building which has served Mullingar so well will continue to do so”.