No end in sight for ancient Cadamstown bridge

Thursday, 22 February 2018

No end in sight for ancient Cadamstown bridge thumbnailArdara Bridge near Cadamstown, pictured before the OPW restoration works began in 2007.

THERE is no end in sight for restoration works on a very old and very special bridge near Cadamstown.

Following a query made by this newspaper to the OPW about the never-ending restoration works taking place on Ardara Bridge near the village, we received the following reply from Máire Ní Fhaircheallaigh, Client Services and Communications Unit, OPW, a reply which doesn't make for great reading for those frustrated with the slowness of the project.

"The conservation project at Cadamstown is extremely complex," she said. "It has been broken down into manageable tasks which are undertaken when the necessary resources are available. While the OPW hopes to undertake some further work in 2018, it is very difficult to provide a final completion date for this project."

 Local historian Paddy Heaney told the Tribune that there have been stone masons at the site and he saw workers heading to the bridge as recently as just before Christmas, but the scaffolding is still up and he reckons the work is not even half done. 

The restoration work started in 2007 so, while it is a complex task, a number of people are concerned that it is taking so long and feel it should have been completed sooner. 

A completion date of 2016 had been posited by the OPW and the County Council was hoping to have a special opening that year, including a marquee, but the target date wasn't met. 

Paddy said that at the very least a retaining wall should be constructed at the site, the purpose of which would be to secure the bridge.

 Concern about Ardara Bridge goes back at least 25 years. In 1999 and 2000 it was reported in a number of newspapers that the ancient bridge was at risk from floods. A 2000 article in The Irish Times stated that "A bridge which may date from the medieval period should be refurbished, preserved and secured from further damage, historians and archaeologists have said."

The bridge is archaeologically important, especially because it is made of dry stone, with no mortar or lime. Massive stones are locked together to form an arch.

Also in 2000, Dr Elizabeth FitzPatrick of NUI Galway's archaeology department said the bridge, spanning the Silver River, was a "beautiful structure, a wonderful curiosity in Cadamstown, which deserves to be preserved."

She said there were indications that the bridge dated from the 15th or 16th century, but it might have been an ornamental feature of the later Cadamstown House. This house, dating from the early to mid-19th century, is located about 100 yards from the bridge.

The Archaeological Inventory of Co Offaly says the "impressive stone and mortar bridge . . . is likely to have been associated with nearby Ballymacadam Castle - the medieval stronghold of the O'Carrolls of Leitir Lugna."

The bridge is 30 feet high and 12 feet wide, and it's a beautiful structure. It is sad that it has been hidden behind scaffolding for eleven years.

In 1994 an article on the archaeology of County Offaly in the magazine Archaeology Ireland stated: "Unfortunately, this bridge is now in a poor state of preservation and may fall down in the near future if not restored."

In the late 1990s it was noted that stone was falling off the north side of the bridge and floods had damaged it, undercutting the foundations and wearing the rock away. "It's going to be a disaster if it falls into the river," said Paddy at the time. The OPW restoration works since 2007 have made the bridge secure.

 We do not know when the bridge was built. Tobias Chambers mentions it in his history of the area in 1688, when he recorded Hugh O'Neill was marching south in 1601. The bridge is named after the adjoining townsland of Ardara.

The meaning of this name is unclear. Ardara could mean the high oaks or, as the gaelic scholar stated, it could mean "the height of the graves". There were several Bronze age burial mounds in the vicinity many years ago but all have disappeared because of land reclamation.


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