Buildings at the birthplace of former Kilkenny All-Ireland winner Jimmy Kelly have been conserved under the Green, Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) traditional farm buildings restoration scheme.

Jimmy scored the winning point in the 1939 ‘Thunder and Lightning’ final and won a second title in 1947.

His son Michael who now farms the land at Castlebanny, south Kilkenny, used the buildings for cattle until quite recently before building a modern housing facility. The restoration will breathe new life into the buildings as they will now be used for storage of feed and materials.

Situated on high ground, the name Castlebanny means ‘castle of the milk’ or ‘milking.’ There is a hamlet marked on the 1829 Ordinance Survey (0S) maps and the some of the buildings marked on the map are now being restored, according to Michael.

“This hamlet consists of four homesteads/farmyards, an example of an architectural style exclusive to south Kilkenny. These settlement types consist of a unique clustering of houses, outbuildings and haggards. Ownership boundaries can be blurred, and the land associated with the holdings can be some distance away and intermixed with other holdings.”

Defence considerations may have influenced the style of these groupings as the area was not planted by English landlords and may have been lawless in its day, according to Michael.

The buildings consist of a row of three byres and a smaller byre complete with tether rings and cobblestone floors. The doors are of arched keystone construction and smaller doors have large flag stone lintels. These buildings are present on the 1829 OS map, according to Michael.

A large barn built in 1910 is also being restored. This features brick arches and lintels and a wrought iron gate. Works are limited to restoration of the roofs and limited repair to some of the doors.

“The stone walls are an example of the outstanding craftmanship of the time and save for some outward leaning from the pressure of the roof, are in excellent condition,” Michael said.

Farm buildings restoration

The work is being carried out under the supervision of the Heritage Council and Michael contended that without its assistance and that of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), as well as acceptance into the traditional farm buildings restoration scheme, the works may not have taken place. Michael qualified for the scheme as a participant of the GLAS environmental scheme.

Once accepted for the scheme, Michael had to carry out a bat and bird survey which identified the buildings as a bat and bird haven.

A survey by Gerard Tobin identified brown long eared bats and pipistrelles as well as swallows. Due to their presence, works could not commence until November 1 and a derogation license from the National Parks and Wildlife Service was required.

As works had to be complete before December 3, this meant a very challenging schedule for the works was presented. Under the guidance of Enda Kirwan, conservation consultant, and Anna Meenan from the Heritage Council, Michael engaged a roofing contractor to carry out most of the work.

The roofs to the byres were restored and localised repairs to the barn were carried out and are on course to be completed by the deadline.

“The Heritage Council emphasises minimum intervention and the use of existing fabric and methods where possible; carrying out a repair to fix what is wrong but not setting out to do too much work,” Michael said.

This meant careful handling of the old slates and reusing as much serviceable timber as possible, Michael said.

“Despite the poor condition of the roof, the timber was in surprisingly good condition and an interesting feature were the blacksmith forged nails which had almost completely rusted away.”

As the walls had moved considerably, the timber needed to be refitted with some additional supports. Lime mortar was also a feature of the construction as a capping to the walls under the slates.

This was retained where possible, but required replacing where water had penetrated. As part of his support of biodiversity, Michael used bat access slates in the roofs and plans to allow access through the slot windows and over the doors.

Now that the works are nearing completion, Michael is grateful to all involved. “The volume of work appeared to be too much but I’m glad to have saved the buildings for another few years.”