Time to mend our old farm buildings

When focusing on Ireland’s built rural heritage, there is often a tendency not to look beyond the farmhouse or thatched cottage, as the only dwelling of architectural merit worth investing in and protecting.

While protected status extends to these dwellings and their value to heritage and culture of an area is acknowledged, farm buildings standing adjacent, some of which may be hundreds of years old, can be knocked down on a whim. As farming practices and techniques have changed and adopted in the past half century, farmers have found that older outhouses and structures, particularly those pre-1960, are often unsuited to modern farming. Old barns are too low to enable large tractors enter and retrieve animal feed, while health and safety regulation means that old calving or pig sheds are now outdated and unviable. Many of these farm buildings, from milking parlours to poultry sheds, coach houses to hay lofts, are fast disappearing from our agricultural built heritage.

Those that remain stand as testaments to Irish craftsmanship, and materials that were used were often quarried or sourced locally. With money too tight to mention now in farming circles, there seems to be little incentive to maintained and repair these buildings, with little use for them other than for basic storage.

THE REPS 4 scheme, which closes next Friday, is giving farmers an opportunity to maintain the built heritage on their farm and support the structural culture and heritage of the Irish countryside. The scheme exists to provide assistance to farmers who want to preserve their traditional farm buildings, ie those which pre-date 1960 and are used for agriculture. Many of the buildings contain stone, timber, slate or thatch, and grants are available to carry out conservation work to the exterior of such buildings. The grant will cover up to 73 per cent of the cost, and awards vary between €5,000 and €25,000.

Outlining the case for applying for the scheme, Isabel Smyth, from the Heritage Council, says, “Unfortunately many our traditional farm buildings have been lost through neglect. Their timely repair prevents dilapidation and the onset of serious structural problems, which may lead to expensive restoration in the future.”

The Irish Times