06 Jul 2022

Historic Laois building rescued from collapse

Heritage Council Traditional Farm Building Scheme supports renovation

Historic Laois building rescued from collapse

Reduce, re-use, recycle - we are all familiar with these terms which make good sense.  In a world where we have finite resources, it is prudent to use what we have in a sensible way. 

This is the principle which was applied by Patrick and Agnes McLoughlin when they recently restored an old cow house at their farm near Ballybrittas. 

Patrick and Agnes started work restoring their house in 1999 and over the years have been working away at outhouses on the farm on an incremental basis.  In 2021 they applied to the Heritage Council for a grant under the Traditional Farm Building Scheme. 

One of the eligibility criteria is being a participant in the Department of Agriculture GLAS scheme.  The aim of the Traditional Farm Building Scheme is to have traditional farm buildings restored for farm use.

The Heritage Council is concerned with many aspects of heritage, not just the built environment.  One of the first pieces of work is to have a bird/bat survey conducted by an Ecologist to check for the presence of birds and bats.  Evidence of same will dictate the start date of works which may have to be delayed until after the nesting period. 

Bats have come increasingly under pressure as their habitats have been disturbed by changes in human activity and any intervention by humans to mitigate this is welcome, in the form of making and installing bat boxes.  These boxes are not very big or difficult to make, and are a wonderful woodwork project for secondary school children.

There are many examples the country over of traditional farm buildings, and their future is uncertain.  Often times those that are on working farms may be in poor repair, their size deeming them inadequate for today’s farming practices.  However, those old farm sheds have huge value both in terms of practical farm use and visual amenity. 

These sheds were built by local craftsmen using locally sourced materials, literally from the surrounding fields, from the local lime kiln, the local brickyard.  The end result was a practical farm building, aesthetically pleasing and in harmony with the surrounding area.

Farming practices have changed dramatically over the years.  The scale of agriculture in terms of enterprise and machinery means that farm infrastructure has grown significantly.  However, while few are building a small shed, there is still valuable use for such buildings on a farm holding.  In the case of the McLoughlins, they have a mix of old farm outhouses and newly built structures to meet the needs of current farming practices.  

The cow house, a stone wall shed with a galvanised roof, has over the years had been battered by winter storms, and nature shows no mercy.  The repair work on the cow house was completed following the principle of minimum intervention, with particular attention being paid to specific historical/architectural aspects of the building being preserved, applying traditional practices and using traditional materials. 

Attention was paid to re-using materials which were suitable for same and sourcing salvaged materials where required.  A Conservation Architect was engaged to oversee the work.  Sheet by sheet the shed roof was stripped back and repairs to the wooden structure were carried out.   Using salvaged galvanise the roof was repaired.  A stone mason patched up the fallen parts of the old stone wall using lime plaster.  Lime plaster is a traditional material used in old buildings. 

In the past it was made locally - each locality had a limekiln where limestone was broken down and burned at very high temperatures which reduced it to dust.  The uses of the resultant lime were many.  It was widely used in building.  Today the limekilns are overgrown and they are vanishing from view.  So the lime must be sourced from a specialist supplier.  

Now complete, the end result is an old building which has been returned to its original form, which complements the yard in which it is set.  The McLoughlins have a mixed farm enterprise, part of which is annual spring lambing.  The cow house will have practical use this year as the lambing season approaches. 

For anyone who is in the GLAS scheme, this is an ideal opportunity to rejuvenate an old building and re-integrate it into the farm system.  The craftsmanship and attention to detail which was commonplace years ago in farmyard construction has resulted in a stock of beautiful farm buildings around the country. 

This scheme offers the opportunity to protect these buildings and ensure that they are part of a living farm, with a past and a future.

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