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Conserving Local Farming History in East Cork

Tillage farmer Brenda Scanlan from Co. Cork approached me earlier this year enquiring if there was any aid available to help people repair and protect old farm buildings from inevitable decay.

Some roof slates on one particular building on the farm had been lost or damaged in recent years and she was concerned that irreparable damage would be done if she ignored the problem. Water ingress into the building was starting to rot some of the timber infrastructure in the building such as the roof and the old loft. She was worried that if it was left go, then it would be unfeasible to fix it in the near future.

Missing slates

Brenda knew from knowledge passed down through the family generations that the building was there since the 1800’s and with the help of the excellent staff at Dungarvan library, Brenda was able to find out more about the building and read historical documents relating to it. Old documents found in the archive indicate that it was built by her ancestors in 1855. Its original purpose was a cow house, with stabling for horses and a loft for storage of produce or hay etc. The old papers that Brenda found gave us a brilliant insight into rural and farming life in those days and it provides evidence of Brenda’s own ancestral farming history. The documents also note that Burlington slate was the material used in the roof, a beautiful stone which was quarried in the English Lake District for hundreds of years.

Luckily, as Brenda takes part in the Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS), there is financial aid available to help towards covering the cost of key repairs. The GLAS Traditional Farm Buildings Grant Scheme is managed by the Heritage Council on behalf of the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine. The 7th tranche of which opened in 2022. The principle objective of the scheme is to ensure that traditional farm buildings, and other related structures, that add to the character of the landscape and are of significant heritage value, are conserved for agricultural use. These buildings are part of our heritage and improve the equality of the rural landscape. Supporting farmers to maintain them for agricultural use is a very important element of the scheme. It is positive to note that this building still serves as an asset on Brenda’s farm and will be preserved for many years to come.

Using existing historical farm buildings helps farmers be more sustainable from an environmental and financial perspective. Other related traditional farm structures such as historic yard surfaces, landscape features around a farm yard such as walls, farm gates and piers are also supported in this scheme. Anna Meenan, Project Manager of the GLAS Traditional Farm Building Scheme outlines, “…these buildings were built to be used… they endure and they deserve to be used”.

Building Progress

To repair historical structures in the most sympathetic and responsible way, a local conservation consultant, James Byrne of Southgate Associates, helped Brenda devise a schedule of works and to carry out the repairs in the correct way. Brenda has contracted in local builder, Michael Feeney to carry out the works. Repair is the focus of this scheme and only the minimum work necessary is being carried out to fix what is wrong and preserve the integrity of the precious building. Maintaining the historic fabric of the building is very important for both heritage and environmental reasons, as some modern building materials can be toxic to wildlife. Durable materials capable of being re-used are incorporated back in to the building in so far as possible, which makes the project more sustainable, rather than buying new. Retaining and using our traditional farm buildings and other built features, avoids the mining, quarrying, felling, manufacture and transport of new building materials. The more farmers who renovate and adapt old buildings for use on the farm, the less new-builds will be needed. This contributes to climate change mitigation, the sustainable use of resources and supports farmers in their endeavours to be more climate resilient. It also provides for the preservation and practice of traditional skills in the conservation building trade, such as lime mortar and parging for example.

The fact that these old farm buildings are wildlife habitats is not taken for granted either in this scheme. Where applicable the buildings are repaired in such a way as to maintain and preserve their ecological value. Birds such as swallows, pigeons and barn owls, and bats such as the common pipistrelle and brown long-eared bat make use of the old buildings around Brenda’s farm yard, which makes the project all the more worthwhile.

Works have to be completed within the calendar year, which is a challenge, and applicants must also be participants in GLAS. Typically this scheme would support 70-80 projects per year, in the range of €4,000 - €25,000.

Finished Building