Work so far

Ivy Removal
The ivy growth and other vegetation was removed from all buildings.  Five of the buildings were completely covered in ivy.  This was causing serious damage to the structures and to the roofs in particular. First, the ivy was cut at the base and allowed to die back for one year.  It then came off relatively easily.  A bat survey was carried out prior to this work commencing.  Care was also taken not to remove ivy when birds were breeding.



Five of the seven buildings have now been re-roofed/reslated.  The single storey laundry building was in very poor condition and none of the existing roof could be saved.  The roof vent was re-constructed from the original.  The single storey former chapel and dining area was also re-roofed.  This roof was in much better condition.  About half the original slates were re-used.  All the buildings are roofed using Killaloe slate. The laundry building slates were 24 inches in length by 10 inches in width.  The former dining and chapel building, as well as the former girl’s dormitory were roofed with a slightly larger slate, 24 inches in length by 12 inches in width.  Killaloe slate is no longer quarried so salvage Killaloe slate was used.  In general, where water was not getting, the roof timbers were in excellent condition.  Repairs had to be carried out to structural timbers in the former chapel/dining area. During 2011 and 2012, the women’s block was re-roofed.  The roof timbers here were in excellent condition and approx. two thirds of the existing slate was re-used.  The infirmary roof is also finished.

A breathable roof membrane, Solitex plus, was used.  The chimneys on all buildings were in fair condition.  These were repaired and re-rendered using Natural Hydraulic Lime (NHL) 5.




Window restoration

 This extract is from a report on the windows by Conservation Letterfrack.

In total there are 280 windows in the entire complex.  26 are sliding sash windows.  All the others are casement windows opening from the side or top with cast iron hinges, latches and stays.  The photographs below show the different window types.

This report focuses on the windows and frames of block C, the former women’s dormitory, which were selected as the first group of windows to be treated. During the investigation the following appeared:

All windows were placed in the building during the construction of the brickwork instead of placing the frames in the opening of a completed wall. This indicates that all windows were manufactured off site and placed in position during the erection of the walls. This method indicates a very fast construction period. The spacing between frame and wall is so tight that later insertion of the windows into the wall would have not been possible.













A small group of windows showed signs of previous repairs. Some joints were replaced and an additional coat of orange coloured primer was applied on the repaired areas and on top of the third original layer.

  • The degree of rot on most of the window sills, stiles, rails and frames is still within the tolerances to justify the conservation of the original frames and casements. Most timbers used in the construction of the windows belong to the group of Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
  • Most glass panes are original and are cut out of crown glass disks with the characteristic circular lines .Almost all original linseed putty is cracked or missing.  Only the areas with the replacement glass show sound putty.
  • The replaced panes are made with modern glass without any imperfections.
  • Few windows are properly working and most of the windows are seized up and show signs of rot, wear and lack of maintenance.
  • All paint on the frames and casements is in very poor shape.  Test spot with a lead indicator kit have shows that the original primer contains lead oxide, as almost all primers before 1950.
  • Most of the original metal fasteners are present but caked in paint or seized because of corrosion.
  • The window frames have been installed during the erecting of the building and are so deeply imbedded that removing the frame by removing the stone underneath the lintel would structurally weaken the window and additionally damage the wall too much.

At present, in terms of conservation work, we are concentrating on the roofs.  We cannot afford to conserve the windows just yet.  In the interim, we are boarding up the windows of the buildings that are not in use.  We are fitting clear perspex to the windows in buildings that are open to visitors.  In this way, water and birds are kept out.  Also the perspex allows the daylight in.  Care needs to be taken when fitting board or Perspex not to damage the original window frames.

The Rural Social Scheme (RSS)

 The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) is an employment programme for farmers and fishermen.  It is administered by Galway Rural Development Ltd.  Since November 2011, workers on this programme have been working at the workhouse complex.   This help is invaluable. Buildings have been cleared out, the entire site tidied up and the interiors white washed.  Future work will include repairing the stone wall that surrounds the complex and re-instating the lime parging on the underside of the slate in the former women’s dormitory.  Training will be given regarding lime and stonework.

Lime Washing

Limewash dominated the interior of the workhouses.  It was applied to walls, ceilings, structural timbers and floors.  Lime has an antiseptic quality and so helped to slow the spread of infection.  It brightened up the interiors of the buildings and the application of limewash, gave the inmates something to do.

Over the years, some of the interiors were painted with non-permeable paints.  In damp weather, this resulted in condensation on the walls, as the stone could not breathe.  The first job was to remove these impermeable paints and also prepare other walls for limewashing.  On the ground floors, we used a powerwasher to wash the ceilings and the walls.  This worked well.  On first and second floors, we did not want to use the powerwasher, because the amount of water used could damage the floor boards.  So here we used a paint scraper, slow but it did the job.  It is important to wear a mask as this is very dusty work and lime is an irritant. In some sections of the buildings, in particular staff offices, the walls were not limewashed but painted with some showing stencil like decoration.  Care was taken to conserve these sections.

To make the limewash, we simply put one bag of hydrated lime (e.g. white rhino obtainable in any builders’ suppliers) in to a barrel and carefully filled with water.  The longer this can be left, the better.  Stir every now and again and before use.  The limewashshould be the consistency of buttermilk, no thicker or when it dries, the lime powder will come off when brushed against.

When applying it, it seems not to be making any difference.  However, it then dries to a lovely white finish.  We had to give walls and ceilings three coats.   We also mixed the limewash slightly thicker for the ceilings.  Note that this limewash worked very well on the walls but was not a success on the timber ceilings and has begun to flake off.   We will need ot find an affordable solution for this.  It is important to wear protective spectacles and gloves.  Lime is an irritant.  Check out the Health & Safety information on if you plan on limewashing.
















Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia Japonica)

We have the dreaded Japanese knotweed growing on site in front of the former women’s’ dormitory.  Luckily it is confined to this area only.  This invasive plant dies back in winter and regrows the following spring. It was introduced as an ornamental plant in the 19th Century from Japan and has spread across Ireland.

The Global Invasive Species Programme categorises Japanese knotweed as one of the worlds 100 worst invasive alien species. It produces underground stems that can grow through almost anything and so can cause untold damage to buildings.

It is extremely difficult to kill.  See for further information.

This site recommends three means of eradication.

Long-term treatment with herbicides

  • Excavation and disposal at a licensed landfill site
  • Excavation, deep burial and/or bunding on site prior to treatment with herbicide

None of these methods suited at the Workhouse complex.  We are committed to not using any herbicides on site.  Because the Japanese knotweed is growing at the base of the building, excavation is not possible, as it could damage the building itself.

One of our volunteer guides has a lot of experience in organic gardening.  She had success previously in removing Japanese Knotweed, by constantly pulling and treating the area with salt.  It took a number of years to eradicate it. In should be noted, that it is not a good idea to treat an area with salt, if you want to plant back into this area.

Consequently, we decided to use this method.  We cut the knotweed, back to about 1 ft.  The area was then treated with salt.  This killed what was left of the knotweed above the ground.  It is likely however that the knotweed will re-grow.  We will then keep pulling it until it is hopefully eradicated.  Please follow advice given in, for disposing of the knotweed, as it is very easily spread.













There are a variety of floor surfaces in the workhouse.

There are timber, boarded floors in the first and second storeys.  Except where water got in, these are in very good condition.

The ground floors of the former women’s dormitory and the former chapel/dining building are modern concrete floors. It is not good to use concrete in a stone building.

Stone needs to breathe.  It gently allows moisture in and out.  Concrete is impermeable and stops moisture.  Where the stone and the concrete meet, dampness occurs.  It is best to use lime in stone buildings.  Lime is permeable and allows the stone to breath.  Therefore, in time we hope to replace these two cement floors with limecrete floors.

Brick and tile floors are evident in a number of buildings.  The brick floors are in reasonable good condition.  However, parts of the tile floors have been badly damaged with tar and concrete.  We are doing our best to restore these.

Flag stone is also used in some ground floors and is in reasonable condition.



The Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna, Co. Galway, Ireland.

Tel: 00-353 (0) 90-9759200 |