LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

AN TAISCE has warned of “irreparable damage” to one of Galway’s most historic quarters, following a decision to grant Allied Irish Banks (AIB) permission to redevelop part of Lynch’s Castle. An Taisce’s Galway branch is to appeal the plan, which involves demolition of later additions to the medieval building on the corner of Abbeygate Street and construction of a new three-storey building from the castle’s northwest wall.

The new building will include a “glazed facade”, and the planning application includes removing existing buttresses and altering and repairing the castle, which is a protected structure. The concept has been opposed by Galway City Council’s heritage officer, Jim Higgins, who points out tourists would never be able to photo the detail of Lynch’s Castle, due to the reflection of so much glass on the adjoining building.

Lynch’s Castle was recorded on the 1651 pictorial map of Galway and is the only surviving building of its type among mansions owned by the city’s 14 “tribes”. Its carved facade bears the arms of King Henry VIII, and it has been described as an excellent example of Irish Gothic architecture. Mr Higgins has argued any new structure should not impinge on the castle, and the frontage should be in keeping with the quarter, which includes Century Buildings.

He compares AIB’s approach to that taken by the Revenue Commissioners in Druid’s Lane, where the Red Earl’s Hall owned by Richard de Burgo was excavated and a modern building “designed around” the rich archaeology.

“Shoebox excavations of the castle site, which the AIB is proposing, are not sufficient. This is a sensitive area, which may include remnants of the Lynch family mansion, and it needs to be resolved archaeologically first,” he says.

An Taisce’s Galway branch chair, Derrick Hambleton, says an appeal has been lodged with An Bord Pleanála. An Taisce believes the design is “not sufficiently well-thought out, given the proximity of such an iconic medieval building”, he says. “The balance between the preservation of the old, against the development of the new is a delicate one and, while we would not wish to see a row of pastiche, replica shopfronts which might be thought to match the buildings on the opposite side of Abbeygate Street, we are concerned about the overuse of glass,” he said in his objection.

An Taisce “believes that insufficient weight has been given to the advice of the city’s own heritage officer”, Mr Hambleton said, and he supports Mr Higgins’s call for a complete archaeological licensed dig of the whole site. Some 55 per cent of overseas visitors stated “historic towns and cities” were a primary motivating factor in choosing Ireland as a holiday destination in a 2006 survey of visitor attitudes by Fáilte Ireland, Mr Hambleton pointed out.

AIB declined to comment and said it was a matter for the planning authorities.