Birr Civic Offices and Library

MCOH Architects  Birr-01_sfw.jpg

Birr Civic Offices and Library


Project Value

Floor Area

Completed 2006

County Offaly


Offaly County Council purchased the Pugin designed Convent of Mercy Building at Wilmer Road, Birr, Co. Offaly and subsequently engaged us, with a challenging brief to carry out restoration and refurbishment works to this Classic Revivalist Gothic style 19th Century building, to house their new Civic Offices and Library.

The building had fallen into disrepair and there was serious concern within the Council that this inward looking, damp, dark and dilapidated Convent could be successfully converted into bright modern 21st Century Office and Library Accommodation.  This was the challenge facing us, and required a holistic and sensitive design approach to successfully fulfil the Client brief and expectations.

The favoured design option evolved with a strict emphasis on retaining and restoring the original Architectural features of the Covent Building with a further consensus that any interventions would be contemporary in design.

The design strategy involved meticulous restoration and refurbishment works to the protected structure.  The convent had an internal Cloister with access to a disused Courtyard.  The South Eastern wing of this Cloister was widened to form an Exhibition/Concert Area.  The original stained-glass windows were relocated to the new external wall and the area roofed with frameless glazing.  This element provides a clear visual link to the refurbished and upgraded Courtyard. Fixed glazed rooflights were provided to the remainder of the Cloister to increase the natural daylight in the Main Circulation Routes.

The Library is located within the original restored and refurbished Chapel with double height spaces and original impressive stained-glass windows, which were restored and storm glazed.  The balcony to the Chapel was extended to provide additional Library floor space and is accessed via a new glazed lift and steel and glass stairs.  Cellular Office Accommodation is located in what were previous bedrooms, with the Open Plan Office and Council Chamber in larger rooms formerly housing the Oratory and Meeting rooms, all again tastefully restored and refurbished.  

A new vehicular access and main entrance were provided to the South East of the building.  The new entrance gives a clear demarcation between the Civic Offices and Library Functions.  The new access and public entrance invite a relationship between the street users and the building occupants.

The result is that a historically significantly and Architecturally important Building has been given a new lease of life with faithful restoration and contemporary sensitive additions allowing the Building to serve the Community in Birr for many years to come, as it did prior to 1996 by the Sisters of Mercy and to the memory of their dedication and commitment to the people of Birr since 1845.

The project received the coveted 2008 Opus Architectural Award in the Restoration/Heritage Category.  The citation by Mr. Ciaran O’Connor FRIAI stated:

“The original spaces were cleared of their convent clutter.  Design details were carefully restored.  But most importantly sympathetic uses have been matched to appropriate spaces.  This is an excellent example of finding new uses for important old buildings”.

Birr Opus Award.jpg

Birr Civic Offices and Library