Symbolism and form of vernacular buildings
THE vernacular buildings erected by our forebears are often dismissed or even derided as vulgar hovels of a bygone day. They are rarely considered structures of ‘Architecture’ with a capital ‘A’.
However, Donal Boyle, an architectural expert from Conservation Services of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, vouches that they are very much pieces of architecture even if not built out of wealth and power, and he will demonstrate this to the local community during a talk and walk event in south Londonderry on August 22.
Vernacular buildings are not just buildings of function. There was symbolism and meaning for our forefathers in their construction, often not recognised today. These buildings not only cover the dwellings, but also outhouses, mills, gate pillars and so on. Usually constructed from the most local of materials, they represent the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our ancestors, and they exhibit the human ability to work with the local natural environment and to be an integral part of it. Vernacular buildings seem to arise out of the very landscape itself and over time seem to dissolve back into it again. They are of the land, and they are the land.
From the human history of our area these buildings have value. They are ancestral homesteads to some people, and they are reminders to a different rhythm of life to others.
Patrick Bradley, a local architect and expert, explains: “Even the smoothed depressions on the window sills at old vernacular dwelling doors tell us a story – the story of the farmer out to conduct his daily chores, sharpening his tool blades on the stone of the sill to prepare them for the day’s work ahead. There is no doubt that vernacular buildings breathe information of our past heritage and relationship with the land.”
“Vernacular buildings,” explained Dr Pól Mac Cana of the Envision community heritage project, “appear to stand in contrast to many of our modern dwellings and constructions that impose themselves upon the landscape and that detach themselves from the very locality. Our vernacular built heritage merges in with the local environment and seems to be an integral part of it. It gives us a sense of place. Unfortunately, many vernacular buildings are neglected, underappreciated and are often removed without second thought. Hence, the Envision project aims to map the distribution of local vernacular buildings so that they may be recorded for posterity.
“We would encourage all those interested in vernacular buildings of any type – dwellings, outhouses, mills, pillars, walls – to join us in capturing information on this part of our heritage before too many more of them disappear without being recorded for future generations.”
A community talk and walk on Wednesday, August 22, entitled The Vernacular Building Tradition by Donal Boyle and Patrick Bradley, will highlight the special and unique features of Irish vernacular buildings, and those of Ulster in particular.
The event will start at 7pm sharp at An Carn centre, but will soon move off to visit some local examples of important vernacular styles and forms, some of them Listed Buildings by the Environment Agency.
The event is free, but places are limited due to house visits. For more details and to book a place, contact Pól Mac Cana at An Carn: firstname.lastname@example.org/028-7954-9978
The ENVISION is a community heritage project and is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, SWARD, the Landfill Tax (Magherafelt District Council & Ulster Wildlife Trust) and CEDaR.
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