Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, and one of the finest Georgian towns in the country. St Patrick is said to have founded the Christian Church in Ireland here in 445 AD, and the site of his church is occupied today by the Church of Ireland Cathedral of St Patrick, round which Castle Street curves.
The fourteen houses that make up Whaley’s Buildings get their name from the inscription on the base of a stone urn on the corner of Castle Street and Upper Irish Street. The Whaley family built up a fortune in Cromwellian times and had considerable property in the area.
Castle Street was on Hearth’s agenda for some years, but the size of the individual houses and sheer dereliction of the block made its restoration highly problematical. The roofs of many houses had collapsed, dragging down upper floors, and it was impossible to survey some of the houses properly as they lacked floors and staircases, and had basements of indeterminate depth full of sodden plaster and rotting timbers.
The houses are built of random rubble conglomerate stone known as ‘Armagh marble’. The four-storey houses at 48 and 50 Castle Street are the earliest in the group; the generally two-storey houses of Upper Irish Street and 52-58 Castle Street are dated 1773, although the stucco front to the former pub at no.2 is Victorian; and there is a pair of whitewashed vernacular cottages at 32-34 Chapel Lane which have been combined to form one house. A brick hall behind no.48 was demolished and a new entrance formed from Chapel Lane, while three new houses were built to form a terrace alongside the old cottages. Derelict outbuildings on what is now a courtyard were demolished and stone salvaged from them to provide a ‘quarry’ for rebuilding the facades of nos.10 and 12 Upper Irish Street, which had been demolished by a bomb. Behind no.10 had stood a curious group of three ashlar stone arches which were dismantled and re-erected as the yard wall behind nos.52-54 Castle Street. An extraordinary bow rising the full height of the back of no.48 was largely rebuilt as it was in poor structural condition. Internally, very little timber had survived, but fragments of stairs and cornices, together with shutters and architraves in nos.48 and 50, provided evidence to restore the main rooms.
The scheme was awarded a Diploma of Merit by Europa Nostra in 1995. The deter-mination to save the group was a major factor in the Housing Executive carrying out its excellent new-build scheme on the remainder of Castle Street, which in its turn facilitated the restoration of derelict buildings in Market Street.
Hearth Historic Buildings Trust
Francis Haughey, Keady
Kirk McClure & Morton
W H Stephens
Ulster Garden Villages, International Fund for Ireland, Architectural Heritage Fund, NI Housing Executive, Historic Buildings Branch DoE