Back to the future with Manus Deery

Manus Deery, Acting Head of Northern Ireland's Environment Agency, pictured at Ebrington this week. DER0315MC056
Manus Deery, Acting Head of Northern Ireland's Environment Agency, pictured at Ebrington this week. DER0315MC056

As Assistant Director of Built Heritage and Principal Conservation Architect of the Historic Buildings Unit with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Waterside native Manus Deery has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Derry’s rich history.

Derry's Walls. DER0315MC059

Derry's Walls. DER0315MC059

Speaking to the Journal, NIEA have been extremely active in Derry in recent years, helping to restore numerous key buildings back to their former glory and also helping to ensure that Derry’s treasure trove of historic features and monuments become a valuable and usable asset into the future.

For the first time since the 1970’s a massive survey of hundreds of Derry’s buildings is nearing completion, with decisions set to be made on which will remain or become listed.

NIEA were also one of the key partners which helped Derry secure the first UK City of Culture accolade back in 2013, and Manus producing a ‘Heritage Led Regeneration’ booklet in support of the bid.

Speaking about that historic year, he said: “In terms of what we did for 2013 we helped with the repair of 16 listed buildings at a cost of £1.6m. We helped two charities to purchase listed buildings at risk, that was An Gaelaras to purchase Gt. James Street Presbyterian Church and the Inner City Trust to purchase 33 Shipquay Street.

Manus' book 'Marks of Time'. DER0315MC054

Manus' book 'Marks of Time'. DER0315MC054

“We had our Listed Building Owner’s Forum at the Playhouse with the owners, 8,500 of them. We did a range of archeological digs as well. In the last two years dig at Prehen House which discovered the bawn, the dig at Elagh Castle which indicated that there was a 5th or 6th century rampart there pre-dating the stone castle that we see, we had an excavation of the car park at St Augustine’s. Part of all of that was community engagement, trying our best to involve the community as much as possible. There was a book ‘Island City’ published on the archeology of the city by Ruairi O Baoill which is on sale in all good bookshops for £20.”

Manus wrote and illustrated his own book, Marks Of Time, as a solo project in 2013 through the Guildhall Press for the Culture year. The book is on sale at Easons and Guildhall Press. (check it out at www.marksof time.com) and isa being used to help inform how English heritage bodies help Hull ahead of their year in the spotlight in 2017.

“I would never have the nerve or gall to stick a picture up on the wall and say I’m a great painter, look at my pictures,” Manus said. “I always seen the book as a way of telling the story. That’s what is important, but it was great to get the encouragement of people in the city.”

The project, like Manus’ job, brought together many of his interests from an early age- history, art, architecture and Derry. Manus can trace those interests back to his days as a Waterside Boys PS pupil.

“It developed organically but I have always had an interest in history. I always used to drag my dad out to look at old railway lines, things like that. But I failed my first history exam at St Columb’s College because you had to write essays and I was never any good at writing essays.

“I went to university at Queen’s studied Architecture Post-Diploma in Architecture at the Polytechnic of Central London. Then came back and worked in McCormick Tracey Mullarkey Architects on Clarendon Street. We did a lot of work on church extensions things like that that sparked my interest in heritage and as an office we got a contract to do the second survey of Limavady so I spent three years employed by them surveying the heritage of Limavady area.

“On the back of that I then went out on my own sand did a course in conservation and got a contract with the Department and then eventually then came into the department in 2003.”

Manus’ own favourite heritage features locally include Grianan Fort, the City Walls, the Northern Counties Hotel, Long Tower Church and Ebrington.

Recent work which Manus’ department have been involve in locally include the conservation of the Siege Windmill at Lumen Christi, while work will begin in the next couple of months at St. Brecan’s Church.

Manus said Derry was well placed to develop its historic offering in a practical way.

“We have always called ourselves a historic city, we have always prided ourselves on being a historic city. We went through a period of literally fire-fighting in dealing with consequences of the Troubles, but really since early 2000s we have come to a realisation that heritage is part of the solution in terms of the economy in this city. Tourism can employ people with degrees and also people with no qualifications. There’s a great range of employment if we get it right.

“There’s huge riches we have around the city and it’s about ensuring we present that and exploit it in the right way.

“We need to create sustainable ways of having a varied population and giving jobs for our children as we move on into the future. The new council is going to be a great way of co-ordinating that with the new powers, hopefully that will give a great emphasis on how we do it.

“Liverpool talks about how it has a Cathedral to spare. With Ebrington, we have two Cathedrals and two sets of City Walls.”