Mayor of Kerry Cllr. Pat McCarthy recently launched a book on the disappearing legacy of Kerry’s vernacular architecture. The launch took place at the County Library in Moyderwell, Tralee and the room full of attendees included many from Castleisland.
Castleisland native and former Kerry County Council Conservation Officer, Eamon Fleming is the editor of The Home Place / An Baile. The book is an inventory of the traditional, rural architecture of North and East Kerry.
“County Kerry has a rich heritage of vernacular/traditional buildings. Unfortunately over the past two decades many of these structures have either been demolished to make way for new buildings or simply fallen into ruin,” said Mr. Fleming.
Record it for Posterity
“It is important that we protect what remains of our vernacular heritage and record it for posterity. This publication has come about as a result of a survey of vernacular/traditional architecture in North and East Kerry, which was carried out in early 2013 during my time as conservation officer with Kerry County Council.
“The survey, which was conducted by Lotts Architecture and Urbanism, Dublin, was finalised in November 2013. It was funded in the main by North, East and West Kerry Development with some assistance from Kerry County Council.
“It was intended that the results of this survey would be published in a form which would appeal to the general reader. This publication has been funded entirely by Kerry County Council. It is anticipated that similar surveys will be carried out in South and West Kerry in the near future.”
Hidden Gems of Heritage
In his pre-launch address on the occasion, Mr. Fleming shone a light on the wealth of hidden gems of heritage and history laying idle and in ruin in the countryside around us.
“We are all aware of the literary, linguistic and musical heritage of Co. Kerry. Perhaps a little less aware of our built heritage despite the fact that some of the most iconic buildings in Ireland are located here: Gallarus; Ardfert Cathedral; St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney and Muckross Abbey.
“There is however far less awareness of our traditional /vernacular built heritage, despite the fact that Kerry still has a rich heritage of vernacular buildings.
“Back in the middle of the last century, when of course there were so many more extant structures, there was a great deal of research work done in the field of vernacular studies. This was done by the likes of Kevin Danaher, who worked for the Folklore Department of UCD.
“While he did a lot of work at national level, he also produced some research documents which were specific to Kerry. Towards the latter end of the last century the likes of Fred Aalen produced a good deal of relevant research.
“Patricia O’Hare, based in Muckross House, produced a very worthwhile study of a select number of vernacular structures in the Sliabh Luachra area in 1990. The results of this study were published in the Kerry Archaeological & Historical Journal at the time and in book form under the title, Some everyday buildings from the Castleisland District. A number of these structures were examined as part of the present study.
“A number of people at the moment around the country are doing research in this area: Barry O’ Reilly in the Midlands; Fidelma Mullane in Galway and Mary Sleaman in Cork.
Unfortunately over the last 10-15 years the number of extant structures has dwindled significantly. There is a realisation that within another generation the vast majority of these structures may have disappeared. Our landscape would be the poorer without these structures.
“I use the term ‘structures’ because we are not only talking about dwellings – we are also concerned about out-buildings, cow-houses, hay-sheds, limekilns, boundary walls and other ancillary structures.
Structures in other Counties
A number of publications relating to vernacular structures in other counties have appeared in recent years: Wicklow’s Traditional Farmhouses – Chris Corlett; Traditional Cottages of Co. Donegal – J. Gallagher; The Thatched Roof of Co. Galway – Fidelma Mullane; Vernacular Architecture of Fingal – Brendan P. Lynch; The Thatched Houses of Co. Kildare – C. Duggan; The Disappearing Irish Cottage (Donegal) – Clive Simmons; Living Under Thatch – Barry O’Reilly.
“We realised in Kerry Co. Council a number of years ago that there was a need to create an inventory of these traditional/vernacular structures. Such a need was indicated in the second last Co. Development Plan.
“I didn’t have the resources to do this myself, so in early 2012 , following a conversation with Michael Connolly the Co Archaeologist, I examined the possibility of obtaining Leader funding. “Following a few positive meetings with Sean Linnane and Eamonn O’Reilly of NEKD, a fund was established along with a small contribution from Kerry Co Council, to conduct a survey of North and East Kerry vernacular structures.
“It was put out to tender and a total of nine submissions from around the country were received. Lotts Architecture, based in Dublin, who had a lot of experience in the area were chosen. They had completed a very good survey of Wicklow some years previously.
“The survey was carried out in March – May 2013, and I was presented with a 400 plus page volume in November 2013, along with an archive of almost 4,000 photographs.
“The original intention was to publish the survey in full, but that would have proved impractical both from an economic standpoint and because of the sheer size of the survey it would have been quite unwieldy. What we have published, I hope, gives a flavour of what’s out there in terms of traditional structures and is in a form accessible to the general reader.
State Support for Owners
“I would like to thank the following: Michael Connolly for his advice in terms of the initial survey and with respect to publishing; Joan McCarthy – for initiating contact with NEKD; Michael McMahon – for his support and encouragement throughout; Sean Linnane and Eamonn O Reilly – without their support the project would never have got off the ground; Peadar Staunton (Design-gang) – with whom I spent a number of fascinating hours and got a valuable insight into how to design a book; Peter Malone- for his editing skills; Des Byrne of Lotts Architecture, whose work provided the basis for this book; Noelle O Connor- who arranged the launch and to all the owners of the structures photographed and those included in the book.
“Irrespective of who forms the next Government, hopefully there will be some state support for the owners of these structures over the coming years, in terms of tax breaks, grants etc. The state needs to recognise the true value of the structures and their place in history,” Mr. Fleming concluded.