The Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD, today (10 Dec 2021), launched a new strategy for the vernacular heritage – A Living Tradition: a strategy to enhance the understanding, care and handing on of our built vernacular heritage.

The vernacular comprises buildings and other items that were almost always built or made by the occupants and users themselves, along with their families and neighbours, drawing on longstanding traditions.

The themes of the strategy – understanding, minding and handing on – acknowledge that the vernacular is part of our past, but that it continues to be used in the present, and should also be part of our future.

Speaking at the launch in Mooncoin, Kilkenny on Friday afternoon, the Minister said:

This strategy is important because it seeks to address the continuing loss of buildings, features and settings, and the erosion of building traditions and skills. Popular attitudes to our built vernacular heritage range over the gamut of emotions, from negative associations with difficult times, to nostalgia and, more recently, real enthusiasm. Looking afresh at this heritage, with its venerable building traditions, will, I believe, enhance our sense of identity as a people, as well as encourage the continuing use of vernacular buildings, settlements and landscapes as viable, attractive and distinctive places in which to live and work.

  • The first theme of the new strategy looks at the causes of abandonment of vernacular buildings, at the potential for their rehabilitation and at ways of dealing more effectively with them..
  • The second focuses on the sustainability of these buildings, feeding the results into conservation and maintenance.
  • The importance of nurturing and rediscovering crafts and materials is critical.

The third theme looks forward, seeking to present models for refurbishing or extending vernacular houses. The best way to treat a derelict vernacular building is by way of gentle rehabilitation.

Minister Darragh O’Brien, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, also welcomed the Strategy, noting:

All works to vernacular buildings need to be very carefully considered and one of the functions of my department is to provide guidance and assistance in that regard. The Historic Structures Fund and the Built Heritage Investment Scheme provide such a means of assistance. Earlier this year Minister Noonan and I announced a very significant sum of €8m under these grants schemes including funding to assist in the care of our vernacular heritage. These schemes are open for applications now through the local authorities and I would very much encourage applications for these vulnerable buildings”.

Vernacular buildings relate closely to their local environment and the materials found there, and the associated crafts are strongly local and regional, because they are the result of longstanding, traditional ways of doing things. These methods and materials tend to be kinder to our natural environment and the lessons we can learn will help us to deal with the effects of climate change and other challenges.

Our surviving built vernacular largely comprises rural houses, farm buildings and yards, but it also includes some urban buildings. There are also a wide range of features such as lazy-bed cultivation, seaweed grids, limekilns, gates and stiles, old field boundaries, lone bushes, green lanes, dancing places and many others. We also have many vernacular hamlets and some very significant vernacular landscapes and the strategy will look at ways of recognising and managing these for the future.

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