We all love an old stone cottage or house and they are often discussed in detail.. the style, the form, the history,the various uses of rooms..
yet for every beautiful old building there has always been the humble shed or groups of outhouses quietly getting on with the job ,never quite getting their moment in the spotlight!
I am a huge fan of the smaller sidekick and in some cases will have a preference for the humble little shed over the farmhouse, especially as these simpler buildings are often unchanged and unaltered unlike their bigger sibling.
Both my parents came from very rural areas of their respective counties and both were reared in old farmhouses, subsequently I spent a lot of my childhood pottering around little stone sheds with my siblings and cousins, often discovering many old hidden treasures along the way.
Trohanny Cottage/Maio farmstead is a perfect example, a typical 19th Century set up of house (cottage) and sheds lying in a linear form in front and right adjacent to the road.
These sheds are just as special as the cottage and in some ways more.
I've spoken in previous blogs about the history of Trohanny/Maio.
The ancient name of this townland used in the 1650's was Maio(Mayo/Mayoe) and this particular farmstead was known by that name even up to recent times by locals.
In an 1830's ordanance survey map you can see 'Mayo house' which was a manor house 2.5kms North of the cottage.
This was occupied by the landlord John Radcliff as part of the Maio estate/demense and the tenants living here were called Rowntree.
Around 1830 for whatever reason the tenancy was taken over by a John Mc Mahon.
John had no children of his own and so brought in his nephew William to help with the farm.
They had 52 acres between them which was a sizeable amount for the time.
On the night of 7th January 1839 there was a rare weather phenomenom called 'The night of the big wind in Ireland' (Oíche na Gaoithe Móire)
It brought hurricane force winds the likes never seen before or since sweeping across the Island.
The result was several hundred deaths and severe damage to property, and Maio house was one such property.
Local oral history says the thatched roof and whole side gable had been ripped away.
I can only imagine the terror the occupants felt that night.
As a consequence a decision was made to not just re-built the house but re-build it further down the hill presumably as so to ensure it would be more protected from anymore severe weather conditions.
This would have had to be completed in a short space of time as they, along with possibly their neighbours would have been left homeless.
I would imagine the community came together and anyone with building/thatching or any practical skills would have been called upon and would have helped to rebuild the new house.
And so while the new Maio house (Trohanny Cottage) was built from the ruins there were a few little humble stone buildings that withstood the ravishes of the weather and those are the same line of sheds that we have today.
The Irish famine was between 1845-47 and though the population in some parts of the country was almost decimated, records show the population in Moynalty just fell by 2,500 between 1841-1851.
Though life in general would have been tough, for the McMahon family in Trohanny they seemed to have in fact prospered.
Maio house and farmstead seems to have been a successful self sustainable operation
as a mixed farm and shop and the stone sheds would have been essential and used for many purposes..stables for various farm animals, storage of grain, storage of turf, farm implements..
By 1901 they had 2 horses (plough horse/trap pony), one cow (milk and butter), 6 yearling calves, 5 sheep with lambs at foot, 1 sow (pig) with litter, chickens, turkeys and geese.
They grew and cropped wheat, oats, barley, hay, potatoes,root veg and even flax for the linen industry!
The family cut and dried turf from the bog a few kms down the road and they smoked sides of bacon in the chimney of the house (cottage).
They churned butter and sold eggs to the travelling shop.
By all accounts it was a busy little spot and with a family and so many farm animals and trades having the extra space in those sheds was vital.
From what i have learned from the relatives of the McMahon family, the sheds that are still standing were used as a stable, a cowshed and closest to the house a workshop, and i can still see evidence of it.
The shed furthest from the house was the stable and of course it's my favourite but mainly as it's beautiful rough cobbled floors are still intact.
The middle shed is the largest and there is still a stone half partition which would have been used to seperate the milking cows and calves.
The near shed (workshop) has been altered inside slightly as it was used as a outdoor utility but the outside is unchanged.
The row of sheds is an architechts nightmare, there is'nt a straight line to be found, so much so it's literally bulging out at all sorts of angles.
It's honestly quite astounding how it all stays together sort of like the end of a jenga game and yet it's still strong over 200 years later!
There are little openings for light and air and little nooks and crannys in every corner.
The roof is still corrugated iron (tin) which has been needed to be replaced more than once but there are still bits of original wood from the original roof.
These stone buildings are truly Irish vernacular architecture.
They were made simply with ready available local materials put together by a local builder or often the farmer himself with experience of how best to place the stone to ensure it would not only be adapted for many different uses but that it would withstand the test of time.
The charm and unorthodox design of these sheds make them so aesthically pleasing, they fit into the landscape of Ireland so perfectly and yet their adaptable practical purpose is still so relevant.
One of the most exciting things about restoring an old building is searching for what possible treasures were left behind and where do they get left..?
I can still remember the feeling of myself and my late husband Joe rummaging through the middle shed and finding not only the original ingle-nook crane and it's various pieces but also crates of old logs and schoolbooks.
Delving back into the remnants of a past hidden underneath years of accumulating junk, in the blink of an eye face to face with ghosts of a past life lived where you stood.
These sheds are often the real keepers of past lives and where we can find out so much about how those gone before us actually lived.
For if the home is where we are judged by the outside world then no wonder our outdoor sheds can store our secrets!
So i think it's only fair that the Irish stone shed gets it's due and is appreciated for it's value.
Standing quietly and stoically in the backround.
Patrick Kavanagh the great Irish poet was raised on a small farm in rural County Monaghan and seems to appreciate the beauty and importance of the simple Irish shed..
'Outside in the cowhouse my Mother made the music of milking , the light of her stable lamp was a star and the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle' (A Christmas childhood 1940-43)
Maybe next time you're having a look at an old building don't be so hasty to get in the front door, have a look around, and if you're looking for me.. no doubt you'll find me rummaging out in the back shed!!
*With thanks to the McMahon family for some exerpts from their book 'The McMahons of Trohanny'