Although Drumbeg Lockhouse was the first project carried out by Hearth Revolving Fund, its sister building at Ballyskeagh was being investigated by Hearth in the early 1970s, and was surveyed in 1979 with a view to possible restoration.
At that time, its owners were not interested in selling as they wished to demolish it to put a bungalow on the site, but listed building consent was refused by the DoE. Eventually it was possible to re-open negotiations, but by the time work commenced on site nearly twenty years had elapsed since the first contact was made.
Ballyskeagh was built at the same time as Drumbeg, and Omer’s distinctive cuboid design with arched recesses on each elevation and Gibbsian doorcase is unmistakable; however their locations could hardly be more different, with Drumbeg down by its weir and Ballyskeagh up on a hill above the Ballyskeagh High Bridge commanding a view northwards across the river valley. It was also built of different materials, being of soft local red sandstone with brick gables, mostly covered in a thin cement slurry. This was the Number Eight Lockhouse, and was last occupied by a retired lock-keeper, William McCue, who bought it in 1955. On his death it lay empty, became vandalised, and was a burnt-out shell for about fifteen years.
The lack of original timber in the building would have made restoration difficult had it not been for the experience gained at Drumbeg, and details of doors and windows were derived from the other building. A modern fireplace on the eastern gable was removed and the original fireplace in the SE corner of the living room reinstated; however a steep staircase on the south wall was not replaced, a new right-angled staircase being inserted at the NW corner. The original roof truss was retained, but virtually all other timbers had been burnt out. Electricity and drainage were brought in for the first time, the latter involving a complex series of drop-manholes to negotiate the steep change in levels down to the road. It was decided to replace the brick gables, which had decayed badly and did not appear to be original, in stone. Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch architects were also keen that the building should be limewashed, and when the old render was removed a colour-wash was applied. In 1998, Hearth was presented with an Award of Merit from the Historic Buildings Council for Northern Ireland for the scheme.
Hearth Historic Buildings Trust
Annadale Building Contracts, Belfast
Architectural Heritage Fund, NI Housing Executive, Historic Buildings Branch DoE