An east Clare farm building that hosted harvest barn dances in the 1900s has been restored to its former glory under the Green, Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) traditional farm buildings grant scheme.

Kenneth Mason, a small holding beef farmer and project manager, said that the original building in Sheaun, Scariff, which dates back to the 1840s, was rebuilt into a two-storey building with a loft in 1887. An inscription found during the renovation in the internal gable end confirmed the date.

“My great grandfather Michael Mason was a stone mason by trade and it was Michael who built the granary. He also constructed other neighbouring buildings in the locality,” Kenneth explained.

“Stories passed down to my uncles Sean and Martin Mason, recounted how the stones used in building the granary were brought by donkey and cart from the mountain by the women of the house every time they went to the mountain to milk the cows.

“They also recalled stories passed down of harvest barn dances that took place in the loft in the early 1900s when there was a large populations in the surrounding area. A singular hydroelectric light was hung from the top of the barn to indicate the dance was taking place.”

Clare outbuilding

Originally the shed had been used for a range of purposes. Downstairs housed cattle and horses over the winter and functioned as a milking parlour. The loft acted as a storage area for corn and hay and making butter and hatching hens.

“We hated seeing it fall into disrepair and it was becoming an ugly sight in the farmyard. It really was in very poor condition; it was unusable and unsafe,” Kenneth continued.

“So I was delighted when the building was approved for funding by the GLAS scheme which is managed by the Heritage Council in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine [DAFM].

“With the cost of construction and materials now, it would be hard to justify the spend without the grant which covers up to 70% of the final cost.

“The roof was collapsing at the west end, causing large cracks on the gable end, the slats were sliding off the roof and the loft floor was fully rotten, making the building unusable,” Kenneth added.

“The building was starting to fall in as all the timber battens were rotten. All the rafters were rotten from wall plate down. If we had waited much longer the building would have fallen in completely, I believe.”

One of the main conditions of the grant, Kenneth said, was to focus on retention and essential repair.

“That was what we did. We were able to salvage more than half the old slates and most of the larch timber rafters. We also restored the old cast iron gutters.

Clare outbuildings

“We put back in oak windows on a plain glass window to prevent the rain rotting the loft floor. My neighbour, Ramie Broderick, a carpenter, kindly offered to make the two new window frames,” Kenneth continued.

“The loft floor was rotten is some areas but mainly eaten through with woodworm to the point where you foot would go straight through a board.

“Siobhan Mulcahy, the conservation architect on the project, discussed the type of materials that we would need to use, e.g. the type of mortar, timber and slates.

“Siobhan prepared an initial report and met with myself and RM Construction to discuss the ins and outs of what was required to meet conservation guidelines. Siobhan produced a method statement and we were able to proceed with works following this method statement,” he said.

As works progressed Siobhan assessed them, advising on how to proceed as issues arose.

“An issue with timber held up construction for a time but we got there in the end. An interim report followed, showing progress and suggestions and images of works carried out,” Kenneth continued.

“The final report was developed which included costs of materials, works completed and an appendices of images for before during and after construction.

“We began by clearing the scrub and trees at the two gables and at the back of the building and removing ivy, followed by scaffolding and removing the slates before we could start the repair works.”

The repairs on the building started with repairing the rafters and replacing all the battens, removing the old rubble between the rafter ends and replacing the timber.

“Structural works and lime mortar repair followed to the gable ends and the barges and at wall plate level. The stonework and the upper gable end and around the internal window openings were rebuilt with the original stone using lime mortar,” he explained.

Clare outbuildings

“External and internal cracks were repaired using original stone and lime mortar. Once the slates were removed, they were segregated according to quality and size, ready to be reinstalled. The old ridge tiles were preserved and reinstalled,” Kenneth said.

The internal floor was removed and replaced with rough sawn timber lengths to match what was there originally. A large number of the ceiling joists had to be replaced as they were rotten.

“The roof of the building had started to fall in on the western end. This, in turn, caused some structural cracks and loose stones in some parts of the walls,” Kenneth added.

“The cracks needed to be cleaned of any loose old mortar or rubble and then filled with lime mortar. The stones were reset as they originally were, with as little interference as possible with the original walls.

“The timber joists over the barn area supporting the loft roof were treated with preservative. Then they were set into the walls as were the roof rafters at all points of contact on the walls and then embedded in lime mortar.

“The loft floor was replaced with planks of spruce timber. The planks were sawn at a local sawmill. These were butt jointed over the loft floor area and treated for woodworm and preservative,” he continued.

“The slating was completed with as many of the original slate as possible and matching them with salvaged old slates ‘Killaloe Blue’. The cast iron eaves and downpipes were restored as much as possible and the remainder sourced on Done Deal.

“We reused as much of the old materials as possible from restoring the gutters and reusing the slates and retaining as many timbers as possible,” he said.

The building was finished in traditional whitewash and Kenneth is delighted with how it has been restored.

Clare outbuildings

“It is great to see the building restored to its former glory almost 150 years on. Now that it is finished, I am amazed at the craftmanship and the precision of the workmanship they had back in the day,” he said.

The lower section, he said, can be used as stables and the upper floor can be used to store medicines and tools.

“We were all delighted to see the building restored and finished so well. A special thanks to Eoin O’Neill and Rob Madden of R and M Construction and the team who struggled throughout the build in bad weather and Covid restrictions and to my family who put in a huge effort to help bring the old loft back to its best.”