The Church of St Michael, situated in the heart of historic Enniskillen Town, dates back to 1875. Its significance to the area and region was highlighted in recent years when it became the first ever Roman Catholic Church in Ireland (either north or south) to be visited by Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. The original architect, John O’Neill, was inspired by French Gothic Revival Styles and had previously built St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast and St Patrick’s Church in Downpatrick.
Project Architect Kieran Mullarkey wished to restore some of the original French Gothic features to the beautiful church building that had been either lost over time or previously removed in earlier renovation works. He took inspiration from the Edward Welby Pugin designed St Augustine & St John Church in Dublin which was built in 1874. Pugin, regarded as one of England’s greatest architects, was an advocate of French Gothic Revival styles and was responsible for over 100 churches including Shrewsbury Cathedral and Euxton Hall Chapel in Lancashire.
Kieran wanted to use traditional materials and production methods of the period to create a lasting mosaic feature that reflected the church’s rich history and underlined the building’s original architectural influences.
Designing the Surface
Armatile’s project team worked closely with the Architect and Client to identify, source and combine the exact products that would translate their creative vision into reality. In total the area had six different design elements including;
- A Vine Leaf Interlocking Border
- Two different Decorative Corner Designs
- Five Individual In-lay Features including Lamb of God and Chi Rho panels
- Framing Mosaic in square pieces around the altar stone and reredos
- Granite Steps and Risers to match existing original granite features
- Fan Shaped Mosaics for the main surface areas
This process involved making numerous sample swatches of mosaics and mood boards with different colour combinations to find the perfect blends of colour, tone, finish and design for the project. It was at this stage that it was realised the final grout colour would impact significantly on the finished floor and Armatile worked closely with TTA partners at Mapei to provide a range of choices.
Creating Bespoke Tile Surfaces
Armatile’s manufacturing team meticulously and painstakingly hand cut each individual piece of natural stone to make the fan mosaic designs, swirling vine leaf panels and individual design features. These were then pre-assembled on interlocking mesh mounted mosaic sheets in the factory production room before being dry laid and quality checked in preparation for dispatch to site. This time-consuming intricate process by Armatile’s highly skilled team was carried out with finite details ensured the final surface would restore the historic building’s original French Gothic Revival heritage.
For the steps and risers required for the restoration, the project team extensively searched for and sourced the perfect slab of Juperana Granite to match the existing stone floors in the building. Then Armatile’s manufacturing team cut the individual pieces to size from the slab using waterjet machinery operating at 50,000psi, bullnosed the facing edge of the steps and polished the surfaces to match the existing finishes.
Fitting Bespoke Tile Surfaces
Armatile’s innovative manufacturing processes of producing all designs on mesh mounted panels off-site also impacted significantly on the project as it reduced fitting time (and of course associated labour costs). The entire fitting process took only three days thus minimising any disruption to the everyday life of the church, its congregation and visitors.
Working in partnership
Armatile has a reputation for working on heritage projects. With a sympathetic approach to restoration its team expertly interprets design needs and translates each client’s creative vision into reality. This project is a great example of how Armatile works in partnership with all project stakeholders, including the client, architect and users. For St Michael’s Church it utilised its specialist tile cutting and traditional hand assembly techniques to a create bespoke, tailored surface solution that not only met but exceeded the clients brief for this Heritage Restoration Project.
The completely refitted floor looks like it was installed during the original construction period in the 1870s. The care and attention given to each single piece of mosaic during the manufacturing process has ensured the new floor restores the design heritage of St Michael’s Church, perfectly preserving the history of the building’s original inspirations and styles. It is an example of how Armatile’s entire team utilises its vast experience and knowledge in the heritage sector to help clients preserve the integrity of beautiful, historic buildings for present and future generations to enjoy.
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