The belltower of this historic Cork church was almost toppled by a pigeon's handiwork

The belltower of this historic Cork church was almost toppled by a pigeon's handiwork
St Patrick's Church with the tree visible growing on the bell tower.

The iconic bell tower of St Patrick's Church on the Lower Glanmire Road has been saved from being destroyed by a tree.

The wild lilac tree took root in the church's bell tower and started to become noticeable in 2008.

Collins Steeplejacks from Limerick recently visited the rebel county and removed the tree to ensure it did not cause any of the bell tower's stones or statues to fall.

Pat Lane of the St Patrick's Church Management Committee said that the tree was probably caused by pigeon.

"That's the power of the pigeon, you see," he told The Echo. "He probably passed it up in the bell tower and then the seed took root."

"If you remember, back in 2001 or 2002 we had an awful pigeon problem in Cork city. The mills were in operation along the quays. So we got the church exterior cleaned and re-pointed at that time."

In 2008, Pat noticed a growth sprouting from the belltower. "It was rapidly growing at that point. I was afraid it would crack the limestone joints, and make a statue fall. I was worried there would be damage to the roof or a person."

"It's been haunting me since then."

Scaffolding work on the belltower of St Patrick's Church on the Lower Road to remove a tree.
Scaffolding work on the belltower of St Patrick's Church on the Lower Road to remove a tree.

Pat explored options but most were very costly. "We looked into hiring a crane and scaffolding, and doing it ourselves. We would have closed the footpath and done it at night. But the insurance costs were too much."

Limerick's Collins Steeplejacks contacted the church and offered their services. "The longer we left it, the more it would cost. Collins gave us a good estimate of how much it would cost and discussed the work they were going to carry out."

When the steeplejacks arrived at the top of the church, they discovered eight statues had developed hairline fractures. They wire brushed the statues and put two coats of sealer over them to prevent water from getting in.

"There were there since 1832. What happens is that the limestone cracks, water gets into it and freezes, the ice expands and the stone is chipped and corroded," Pat explains.

Fortunately, the root of the tree did not expand to a great width, meaning it did not crack the limestone base of the tower. "We were lucky. The limestone actually prevented the root from growing, it developed outside the structure. Collins managed to extract the root after putting down some industrial root killing power. There were three different branches on the tree."

The reconditioning of the statues and removal of the tree cost €12,000. Pat is hoping the church will be able to fundraise some of it. "[It will be tough] with a religion that's declining," he said.

Despite the church being a historical building and having a preservation order on it, Pat says that grants will not cover the cost. "Back in 2001/2 when we cleaned the building, that cost €500,000. We got a miserly €30,000 in a grant. There's small blame to the government there."

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