26/01/2022

Ministers Agree All-Island Strategy To Safeguard Traditional Buildings

The Northern Ireland and Irish government's have agreed a new all-island strategy to safeguard the country's traditional rural landscapes and buildings.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Malcolm Noonan TD have signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding on vernacular heritage - rural and urban landscapes that comprise houses, buildings, structures and features that were built by 'ordinary' people, including traditionally constructed mud and stone cottages, with slated, thatched or corrugated iron roofs.

The signing coincides with a campaign by both Departments, North and South, to raise awareness of this key part of our culture and heritage.

A joint Department for Communities and Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage publication entitled 'Caring For Our Vernacular Heritage' has been issued to tens of thousands of landowners, specifically targeting rural, farming communities where many of these distinctive buildings are located – occupied, disused or derelict.

Minister Hargey has urged families with these historic dwellings still in their ownership to take steps to protect them and their heritage, as the majority of vernacular buildings are not listed by local authorities or government bodies for protection or conservation.
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She said: "Our heritage of ordinary rural buildings across the island has been disappearing fast over the last 30 years; they make our rural areas unique. In these times of climate change, reusing buildings makes sense and I commend this joint publication that highlights the fragility and value of this cultural layer of our common heritage. It's important moving forward that we realise the value of these buildings and share best practice in how to care for this key part of our heritage."

The publication, which will be freely circulated to 38,000 farming families across the North, explains what vernacular buildings are and provides some basic advice on their care.

Thatch, the most identifiably vernacular roof covering was once found on hundreds of thousands of buildings, in urban as well as rural areas, but today only a few thousand thatched roofs remain across the island. It is estimated that there are 180 thatched buildings across the North and the Department for Communities is currently conducting a survey to determine their numbers and condition.

Minister Noonan added: "The rural houses, farm buildings and farmyard features that comprise our vernacular heritage are a common cultural legacy that connect us to the past, but they are also a vital part of a sustainable rural future. Minister Hargey and I want to take an all-island approach to advance the understanding and nurturing of this valuable cultural and social asset and today's Memorandum of Understanding enables this through a 'gentle rehabilitation' approach that is rooted in traditional skills and local materials to preserve regional character and a strong sense of place in the landscape. I welcome this collaboration and look forward to making significant progress by working together to preserve our vernacular heritage."

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