EDWARD Carson’s statue has been unveiled after a five-figure facelift.
The iconic monument outside Stormont spent a couple of weeks under wraps as it was cleaned, re-treated and polished.
Although it was cleaned in 1986, project boss John Sherlock said he had found nothing to show that any major restoration work had been performed on the statue throughout its life.
If he is right, this would be the first time in the best part of a century that a serious effort has been made to reinvigorate what is arguably Ulster’s best-known monument.
Londonderry-born Mr Sherlock, now living in Jordanstown, led a small team on the project and said that Carson’s image now looks just as it did when the statue was first installed in 1933.
The OBE-holder, now in his 70s, said when he got up close he could tell the statue was caked in years of dirt, requiring painstaking attention.
“To put it crudely,” he said, “if you’re a seagull sitting on him and you let fly, you produce a lot of acid and chemicals that would destroy the bronze.
“He was covered with a lot of bird droppings. It was amazing that he was as clean as he was – but all that becomes a skin of dirt. When you’re 30 or 40ft below him, you don’t see all that.”
He brought in a team from Scotland for the project – the best he could find.
“Any old clown with some soap and a mop and bucket can clean a monument up, but you can also do serious damage. It’s like brain surgery – you don’t go to the butcher.
“It’s like restoring an oil painting – you can’t go at it with a scrubbing brush. Every square inch of it has to be treated.
“We decided it had to be done with a classical black finish that you find on all Victorian monuments. That had to be done so you didn’t expose the original base bronze.”
The scaffolding around Carson came down late last week, after the statue had been cleaned, treated with chemicals and heat, then waxed and polished.
However, the stonework around the base is still being worked on.
“It’s a bit of an honour,” said Mr Sherlock, whose sculpture work includes the UDR statue in Lisburn.
“We really went for it because it’s such a prestigious job.
“I would say his mother would be proud of him. He’s in pristine condition. He’s as good as he was the day he arrived 79 years ago.
“We’re convinced this is the first major restoration. We didn’t see much evidence of any other work having been done.”
Mr Sherlock is now working on restoring the lamps in the grounds of Stormont too.
Asked why the work had not been done before last month’s Covenant celebrations, Stormont’s Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) said in a statement: “During the months of May to September, it is estimated that up to 10,000 tourists per week visit the Stormont Estate from tour buses, coaches and cruise ships.
“The cleaning and refurbishment of Carson’s statue requires scaffolding to cover the statue for a period of three to four weeks, it was therefore decided that this work should take place outside the main tourist season.”
DFP said the cost of the project had been about £45,000.
The restoration comes as Stormont prepares to celebrate its 80th anniversary with an open day on November 17, including tours of the building and an exhibition on its construction.
Assembly speaker William Hay MLA said visitor numbers to Parliament Buildings this summer were up 83 per cent on last year.
“At a time when we have more and more visitors to the building and Stormont Estate, I hope that as many people as possible will take this opportunity in November to come up and mark the 80th anniversary,” he said.