‘We can’t forget the foundations of our agricultural past’

It’s all too easy to bulldoze through that which is falling down rather than to renew and revive; but that way of thinking is neither sustainable nor preserves our agricultural past.

That’s the view of Lisa Connolly who lives on a Carlow tillage farm with her parents, Seamus and Elizabeth Connolly. They availed of the GLAS Traditional Farm Buildings Scheme to reroof an outbuilding.

The Connollys celebrated the recent completion of the work with an ‘Under our Roof’ get-together for family members and friends at Tobinstown.

“Here we proudly showed off our new roof. My aunt, who is the matriarch of our family, told old stories or when grandad used to keep calves in the shed, and the ‘fun’ of dragging hay up into the loft,” said Lisa.

“It’s easy to forget our heritage when it’s all around us and those who were once the guardians of our past are still around to tell the old tales of by-gone ways of construction. What happens, however, when those guardians have long left us?” she said.

Guidance

“Those wondering what traditional farm buildings looked like and how they were constructed look for guidance to those who have been passed the baton to preserve them. We have family in the US who have traced their ancestry to the farm in Carlow, dating back to the 1700s,” Lisa said.

“On every visit, they marvel at the skills of the past which have stood the test of time and comment how lucky we are to live in such an environment. In particular, they marvel at the stable complex which forms part of the traditional farmyard design,” she said.

The self-contained farmyard was designed as a small courtyard, enclosed on two sides by farmyard buildings, one side by a granite wall and the farmhouse on the other side.

The design of the yard is of a traditional Irish farmyard layout ensuring that the practise of agriculture is within easy reach of the farmhouse and, traditionally, would have ensured the protection of farm animals at night or during the winter; a practise which we are proud to continue to this day.

“The traditional farmyard remains the valued feature and contributes to the local character of the area for those visiting the farm. For those living on the farm, it remains a focal point, acts as the heart of the farm and now as the only suitable space to house our two equines,” Lisa said.

“In the past these buildings would have been used as the dairy on the farm, providing milk for not just the family but would also have been sold at market in the local towns of Tullow and Hacketstown, providing an income for the family,” said Lisa.

“Today the tradition of housing animals continues with the housing of horses during the winter months and the odd showery day during the remainder months. Decades of easterly winds, however, take their toll on even the best developments.

“Ophelia, Brian, Emma, we can now associate with the stealing of slates off our traditional buildings in the middle of the night, dampening the timbers that hold everything in place,” she said.

“Over the years our buildings have had only general maintenance. Recently, however, it got to the point that when we went out late at night to check on the horses in their beds, and look northwards expecting the twinkling of the swallows eyes to shine back, we saw a different, more heavenly twinkle. We realised it was the stars in the sky shining brightly down on you through gaping holes in the stable roof,” Lisa said.

Farming has been a costly enterprise over the past number of years and preserving the past comes at a price, she said. “It can often be cheaper to let the old fall down around us and start from scratch.

Farming is a balancing act to say the least and money is usually invested in livestock or that essential piece of equipment to get every inch of land profitable.

“For most, preserving the past is the least of our worries and on a working farm the hobby of preserving the past is not one that many of us can buy into. However, this is different. This was a piece of history which just so happened to be in working order, for the most part, and still had a vital role to play in housing the only remaining livestock on an all-tillage farm,” Lisa said.

She then came across the GLAS traditional farm buildings grant scheme. “Here was a group who appreciated our heritage as much as we did, and actually wanted us to preserve our past instead of bulldozing our way into the future,” she said.

“I’d be lying however if I said the process is ‘easy peasy’. After filling out all the paper work, sourcing an architect, a batman and a builder, we were all devastated to find out during the first round of the grant that we weren’t successful.

“The fear then set in that the roof was dangerous and wouldn’t stand up to another storm. I’ll never forget ringing the builder before Storm Ophelia and asking him how he thought the roof might fare against the upcoming storm. When he said to move the horses to the farthest field away from the building my heart sank. I knew this wouldn’t end well.

With fingers over our eyes we surveyed the damage after the storm and by the grace of whatever god watches over agricultural sheds, everything was intact, minus the odd slate; a sign perhaps that it was time for application number two.

“After further paperwork, a religious conversion and many prayers again to the agricultural shed gods, word finally came through for us that we had been approved the grant. Praise be to the agri shed god, the horses could finally have a dry night’s sleep,” Lisa said.

“The approved works would finally weatherproof the shed, ensure its continued use as an agricultural building and to improve its amenity value for those visiting the farm.The like-for-like principle was applied for all works to the new roof. Where possible, existing building materials were reused.”

Damage was more extensive in some parts than originally thought and new materials were sourced locally where available or if not, within Ireland.

“The careful integration of new and old was constantly to the front our minds. We watched as blood sweat and tears went into the reconstruction – blood when the carpenter smacked his finger; sweat from the hottest Irish summer in years; and tears when the horses finally went into the warm dry shed for the first time in years,” said Lisa.

“Our agricultural past is one of our oldest traditions in Ireland. It’s an institution, not an occupation. With many making a stand and moving away from modern farming methods and returning to the old traditional farming ways, the GLAS grant is a timely reminder that we can’t allow the foundations of our agricultural past be forgotten in a world of the big, bold and shiny.”

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