How do you take the late medieval age and drag it all the way to the modern era?
According to one couple from the U.S, you could do no better than buy a 15th Century tower house in County Wexford and go from there.
Liz and Gordon Jones, both of them medieval enthusiasts, returned home to the U.S. after visiting their purchase - Sigginstown House, in Tacumshane, a reasonably well-kept tower house, given some of its unrestored contemporaries, but with the remains of an attached house built several centuries later.
They came with a €1,000 prize for the winner of an architectural competition held with the Waterford Institute of Technology to draw up renovations for the tower house that would cater not only to modern aesthetics, but also preserve the tower's structure.
While the object of the exercise was to find an appropriate and imaginative design for the house, Liz and Gordon also wanted to give the degree students some much-needed exposure and experience.
'Our children are at university, and we know how hard it is to get relevant experience for a resume,' said Liz.
The final submissions, one from each of the 13 third year students in lecturer Gary Miley's class, were scrutinised by an international panel of professionals; judged not just for conservation and aesthetics, but also, ecological impact, juror elective, usability, comfort, and, unsurprisingly: cost.
The surprise came when not one but two students came first. With a maximum of 324 points, students Adam Byrne, from Clonmel, Tipperary, and Margaux Duroussay, an Erasmus exchange student from France, each scored 167 points each.
It's not as though their designs were mirrors of one another. Adam's consisted of additions that would create a cross-shaped compound with the tower sitting at the center, untouched but for the renovations within. Margaux's, meanwhile, was a more curved enclosure, which would lead to an intimate courtyard in the middle.
Daniel Simon, from Bridgetown, received an Honorable Mention for a design inspired by the works of Shigeru Ban, in Metz, France, while the other students had their designs posted to Liz and Gordon's website.
Further plans for the castle are in progress.
As the academic programme's primary aim was the designing of leather working shops, neither Adam or Margaux will have their plans fully implemented.
According to the Joneses, a more modest design will be the final one, as the couple have looked through all the designs and noted smaller elements they would like to consider.
Creativity and contemporary aesthetics ranked high for the student projects, while conservation and cost are the largest constraints on the actual design.
'We had a great time visiting the students and meeting the faculty,' said Liz, 'we hope to involve students more as we do other projects in the future'.
The castle is being designed as a residence and also as a site for small workshops and historical events.
Sigginstown Castle is located on the newly-established Norman Way heritage trail in Tacumshane. Initial events are being scheduled for Heritage Week in August. www.sigginstowncastle.com /facebook/Sigginstowncastle