A €9.2 million restoration of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin is well under way but low tourist numbers is impacting upon the continued funding of the project.

The work involves removing the existing slates from the 800-year-old medieval cathedral and reinstalling a new slated roof finish.

Much of the restoration funding has come from donations and from tourists visiting the cathedral with over 600,000 visitors every year.

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant a severe drop in tourism and lack of fundraising options for the landmark cathedral.

Over 12,000 slates are being replaced on the cathedral's roof

Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral Rev Dr William Morton explained: "So our difficulty at the moment, is that we are at an intermediary stage. We have slates replaced on either side of the nave roof and we are about to move on to the next phase, phase two, but we don't have any visitors. We don't have anybody here to help us pay for it."

Cathedral administrator Gavan Woods said the drop in tourism is having a "big impact" on the restoration project.

"Yesterday, we welcomed 35 perhaps 37 people through the building. In a normal year, we would welcome between 3,000 and 4,000 visitors in the same period, in the same day," he said.

Masonry of St Patrick's Cathedral is being repointed

It is the biggest renovation challenge the cathedral has faced since the Guinness restoration over 150 years ago.

It is also the largest restoration project currently under way in Ireland.

Mr Woods added: "So the various components of this large project, they are quite complicated. First of all, you have to strip and take away all the slates of the upper roofs. Then from the original quarry that these slated came from in the 1860s, as part of the Benjamin Lee Guinness restoration, we got fresh slates, all bespoke slates coming over from Wales.

"Then all the associated lead work has to be replaced as well and the gutters. All the masonry, anything that needs to be repaired, it's all being looked at. It's all being repointed. 

"Finally, and certainly not least, there's the scaffolding itself. The scaffolding is vast," he said.

The custom-made scaffolding and temporary roof covers St Patrick's Cathedral

The custom-made scaffolding and specially designed temporary roof took eight months to erect while the slating of the roof will take four months.

Managing Director of Clancy Construction John O'Shaughnessy said it is "the biggest temporary roof structure ever built in Ireland". 

"Obviously, the temporary roof is designed to make sure we can strip the slates off the roof and given Irish weather, it's unpredictable. The idea is, if the weather breaks and there is rain or thunder storms or whatever may happen, is that the building fabric is protected and no water can get into the building," he explained.

Last year, the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht provided €200,000 towards the roof project, via the Built Heritage Investment Scheme.

Rev Morton is appealing for "a domestic footfall to come" to the cathedral.

"I think it would be marvellous, if during these times, when it's not possible to travel abroad for your summer holidays, if people would like to come to Dublin and come visit St Patrick's Cathedral.

"To walk through St Patrick's Cathedral is to be given a microcosm of the history of Ireland, over all the years that the cathedral has been in existence - 800 years," he said.