James Phelan, Deirdre Keeley, SPAB Ireland Officer; Shona O’Keeffe, chair of SPAB Ireland and Ellen O’Keeffe under the door arch of a farm building that underwent conservation last weekend.
Deep down a boreen about 2km from Lisadobber Pub near Carrick-on-Suir lies the stone ruins of a once substantial farmhouse and its yard of outbuildings that underwent three-days of conservation last weekend to mark Heritage Week.
The flurry of works to repair and protect this significant collection of historic farm buildings at Macreary, Carrick-on-Suir were carried out by a team of about 50 volunteers from the Irish branch of the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
The project was their fifth annual summer working party, a mix of conservation, craft workshops, demonstrations, talks and networking for professionals and craftspeople involved in preserving built heritage as well as the owners of historic properties.
Volunteers in high-viz vests were swarming around a thick perimeter wall and the ruins of a former cowhouse repointing the stone work with traditional hot lime render under the supervision of a stonemason when The Nationalist arrived at the site last Friday afternoon, the first day of the project.
Caption: Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings volunteers busy repointing stone walls at Ellen Phelan’s farmyard at Macreary, Carrick.
Ellen Phelan, the owner of the Macreary farmstead, was in the middle of the action. She grew up on a tillage farm just three miles away. The derelict farmstead was part of an outfarm belonging to her paternal grandmother’s family and she purchased the property and some land around it in 2009.
Her dream is to restore the property to live there and turn the farmyard buildings, some of which date to the 16th century, into tourist accommodation.
The chartered engineer, who works in the renewable energy sector, is a keen mountain biker and believes the woodland in the surrounding areas would make ideal mountain biking trails for her future tourism venture.
Ellen’s family had sheep grazing around the farmstead when she was young and she was always fascinated by the ruins. “I always had it in my head that I wanted to live there.”
She says the farm was originally owned by a branch of the Wall family, prominent Norman settlers who arrived in the Carrick-on-Suir area in the 12th century.
They were significant landowners owning several thousand acres in south Tipperary and Waterford at one stage and were related to the Butlers of Kilcash Castle. The castle’s turrets are visible in the distance from the farmhouse at Macreary, which also boasts a stunning view of Slievenamon.
Ellen said a 13th century church was located in a corner of the field next to the farmyard. A lane once ran by the farmyard to the church, the ruins of which are no longer visible. She shows us how the farm yard’s outer walls and buildings were built at an angle to follow this now long disappeared road.
The main farmhouse was inhabited by members of the Wall family up to the 1950s. Ellen Wall was the last member of the Wall family to own the house and her brother Willie lived there.
Ellen believes the original farmhouse was a smaller stone building in the yard she estimates was built in the 1600s.
She had already started renovations on one of the farmyard buildings she calls the cart house before the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings chose her property for its summer working party.
She has spent a lot of time and energy cleaning up the whole site. A new roof was built on the cart house this year and she is in the process of preparing a planning application to turn it into accommodation.
“The only reason I have been able to come home and do this is because of being able to work remotely thanks to access to excellent fibre optic broadband locally. I was tied to Dublin before but remote working means there is a flexibility to my work now that has allowed me to get started.”
The cow house across the yard, which was the focus of the SPAB weekend of conservation work, is the second building she plans to target for refurbishment and transformation into tourist accommodation.
Apart from repointing the stone work, the SPAB volunteers repaired a crack in its gable wall and carried out repairs to the doorway arch.
Ellen has looked into sourcing grant aid to assist her with restoring the whole property but to no avail as yet. She believes if she secured some tourism or heritage funding, she would have the first two of the farm buildings restored and ready to rent out to tourists in two years’ time.
She said one funding body only wanted to provide grant aid for new build tourist accommodation, which is the opposite of what she wants to do. She is waiting for feedback from Tipperary County Council on why her application for heritage buildings funding wasn’t successful. She was disappointed with the council’s decision but plans to reapply.
Ellen got involved in the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the UK’s oldest conservation charity, after attending one of its workshops. It has been an invaluable source of information and support.
Shona O’Keeffe, chair of SPAB Ireland, said the group holds a summer weekend working party during National Heritage Week in a different part of Ireland every year.
When Ellen showed them pictures of her property they contacted her and asked if she would host this year’s event. SPAB secured Heritage Capacity Funding for the working weekend through the Heritage Council.
She said the volunteers doing conservation work at the farmstead were a mix of crafts people, architects, engineers, surveyors and a few owners of historical properties.
They came from all over Ireland and the UK. The weekend was an opportunity for the society’s members to improve their conservation skills and network while also contributing to the preservation of Ellen’s farm buildings.
“It’s a great injection of energy into the project. It’s a huge project to take on yourself,” Shona noted.
Ellen was delighted with the help and expertise the working party weekend contributed to her quest to restore the farmstead to its former glory. Finding tradespeople expert in restoring historic buildings is one of the biggest challenges she faces.
Most of the 50 volunteers taking part in the working party stayed in tents in a field next to the farmyard over the weekend. Ellen paid tribute to Keever’s Pub in Faugheen where the visitors dined royally during their stay.
She also thanked Ace Concrete Coring in Carrick-on-Suir for supporting the SPAB event and Carrick-on-Suir Rugby Club for making its facilities available to the visiting volunteers.
Ellen’s brother James, who owns the farm where the Ahenny High Crosses are located, brought the SPAB visitors to see the ancient crosses and other local historic structures. There was also a visit to Carrick-on-Suir’s Ormond Castle. She pointed out that the visitors were greatly impressed with the Carrick-on-Suir area and many of them plan to make a return trip.
Despite the historic nature of Ellen’s farmstead, it’s not a protected structure and there isn’t any statutory protection for these types of vernacular buildings.
“Ellen has an appreciation for the history and character of the buildings but if they were bought by somebody else who did not have that appreciation they might likely have been knocked,” Shona pointed out.
The SPAB weekend certainly drove Ellen’s project forward but she is resigned to the fact this will be a labour of love that takes years. She stressed that restoring the farmstead is an extensive project and her ability to achieve it is dependent on securing grant aid and getting her tourism venture off the ground.
“I have come to accept it’s a slow process. I was definitely fighting the tide before thinking I could magic it all in 18 months. I think it could take up to 10 years. It totally depends on whether I can get a viable tourism business out of it,” she added.
Picture below:The ruins of the farmhouse at Macreary, Carrick-on-Suir
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