Conservation of the Asgard

A team of restorers led by master shipwright John Kearon carried out a detailed restoration of the Asgard returning it to how it appeared at the time of it's historic voyage.

The hull of the Asgard, pre-conservation.

In the late 1990s the question of the Asgard's future again became a subject of debate. Many sailing enthusiasts wished to see the vessel sail again and argued that this would be the most fitting way to preserve her for future generations. The opinion of those more experienced in dealing with historical ships was more sceptical.

Examination of the ship's hull revealed that there was considerable damage from corrosion which had been commented on as far back as the ship's refit in 1968. Those who wished to conserve the vessel as a museum piece argued that to make the vessel seaworthy would destroy almost all of the original structure making the vessel merely a namesake that would be forgotten. 

After much debate, it was decided to preserve the vessel as a museum piece and she was moved to a holding site in the Royal Dublin Society in 2001. In 2005 she was moved to her present location in Collins Barracks housed in a building which was formerly used as a gym.

Exterior of Asgard exhibit at Collins Barracks. This building was once a gym.

Master shipwright and conservator John Kearon was appointed to head the conservation team. He had first examined the Asgard in 1987 and had proposed extensive measures to conserve the vessel. The major problem facing the Asgard was the damage being caused to her structure by the corrosion of her ferrous metal nails and fastenings. 

When first constructed the Asgard's wooden components had been fixed in place using a mixture of brass nails, wooden tree nails and iron fastenings. During her service life galvanised steel nails had been added, in the salt-laden environment these metals in close proximity had reacted with each another damaging the wood immediately around them. This process had continued silently while the vessel was on display in Kilmainham as the structure built around the vessel only partially protected it from the elements. When the debate over the vessels future began in the late 1990s, Kearon was one of those strongly advocating that the ship be conserved rather than restored to sail.

John Kearon sits inside the Asgard during conservation.

The approach to the conservation process reflected the philosophy of conservation. Wherever possible the original material was to be kept in place. It rapidly became clear that the corrosion problem had affected the whole vessel and that to make it stable all the corroding metal fittings would have to be removed. To do this a special type of hole-saw drill was used which drilled a circular ring around the individual nails allowing the planking to be lifted clear of the frame leaving the corroded nail and damaged wood to be removed separately. After this wooden plugs were used to replace the wood lost in the process, circular plugs for the planking, and cone shaped plugs to be inserted into the holes left in the frame. 

When this painstaking process was completed the hull was rebuilt using the original planking with minor localised repairs, the frame had corroded to a greater extent than the planking which meant that more substantial sections had to be replaced. Had the vessel been restored to sail, all of this material would have been lost. Similar problems with corrosion affected other parts of the ship, but these did not require quite the same level of reconstruction as the hull.

One section of the vessel that did require complete replication was the deck structures and accommodation. The aim of the restoration project was to restore the ship to how she appeared in 1905. However these sections had been completely replaced in 1968. Therefore the upper deck had to be rebuilt according to the detailed original specifications requested by Erskine Childers.

Crowd gather around the Asgard at the exhibition's opening.

After 5 years of work the conservation project was completed in the summer of 2012. Apart from the deck structures and accommodation, about 70% of the vessel's original materials were preserved.