Though from the outside little seems different, inside the organ huge changes are taking place. At the moment repairs and alterations to the great soundboard are being made before the installation of new pipes to replace old damaged ones. Once this is completed, a whole array of new sounds will be available, and as the work progresses the organ will gradually regain the tonal characteristics it had when it was first played 125 years ago in October 1891.
The organ of Sandford Church is an enormously complex piece of machinery. Aside from the electric blower (which was originally powered by a hydraulic engine), the organ is entirely mechanical and employs no electricity. The operation of the instrument depends on thousands of tiny parts working smoothly in order to allow air into the pipes to make them speak.
The organ has almost two thousand pipes, the vast majority of which are hidden from view within the case: these range from the largest open wood pipes, which are sixteen feet in length and one foot in diameter, to the tiniest mixture pipes, which are barely larger than a toothpick.
Sandford Select Vestry decided, having sought tenders from several builders, that a comprehensive restoration of the organ should be undertaken, at a cost of €85,000 (Select Vestry allocated a bequest from the late Veronica Traill in the amount of €50,000 to this project). This was a brave and foresighted decision, for the good working order of the organ depends on wise investment for long-term benefit.
Restorations of the organ took place in 1967 and 1991, but the present restoration is envisaged as an all-encompassing project to safeguard the organ for generations to come.
In addition to the significant mechanical and tonal work already underway, it is now apparent following dismantling that the swell soundboard (the complex wind machine that controls the functioning of the swell division) is at the end of its life.
This is the single most complex and most expensive component of the organ, and also the oldest, as it was reused from the old Forster and Andrews organ, which was housed in the west gallery prior to 1891. The decision to reuse this soundboard was probably made on the basis of financial expediency, as records show that by the time the organ was built the church still owed £100 of the £500 total cost. (This would also explain why the trumpet stop was not fitted at the time, something else that will finally be remedied 125 years on.)
The great and choir soundboards were new in 1891, and their relatively modern design has meant that they remain in good working order. The swell soundboard, however, is designed according to the principles of the late 18th and early 19th century, with the largest pipes at the centre rather than at the edge. It was not designed to cope with the weight of the large pipes of the present organ, and has buckled and cracked. Replacing this soundboard was mooted during the 1991 restoration, but this was not done owing to lack of funds. As this soundboard deteriorates further, leaks will cause excess noise that will eventually render the organ unusable. Though the cost of a new soundboard is considerable, this is a serious investment in the long-term future of the organ. (At time of going to print, Select Vestry had just received details of the problems with the swell soundboard and is currently seeking a quotation for this additional work).
This is a very exciting project which is gradually bringing the organ into excellent working order, and we can look forward to having one of Dublin’s finest organs once it is completed.