“We are prepared: we build our houses squat, Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.” These are the opening lines of Seamus Heaney’s much-loved poem “Storm on the Island”. Having grown up on the family farm, Mossbawn, in Co Derry, Heaney intimately knew the architecture of rural Ireland – houses were built primarily for shelter so that they would weather a storm. Blank gable walls faced west to withstand Atlantic gales, and houses were tucked into the hillside to create a sheltered farmyard setting. When building in the Irish countryside today, how do architects relate their designs to the landscape? SANDRA ANDREA O’CONNELL explores family homes in rural Ireland…
The rolling hills of East Cork are known for their fertile agricultural land, with farms dotting the lush landscape. The sloping site for this family home was quite exposed on its northern boundary but bordered by dense woodland to the south.
In designing a new house with breathtaking views for this elevated site, architect Gareth Sullivan took inspiration from the neighbouring farms, where buildings are clustered together to create shelter. “My clients wanted both privacy and a strong connection with the woodland so we decided to push the entrance to the rear of the site. The woodland gives the perfect backdrop for all the living spaces and added instant maturity to the site.”
To reduce the visual impact of the house on the landscape, Sullivan designed it as a series of blocks arranged as a main house, with single-storey outbuildings. The two-storey farmhouse accommodates the living spaces which benefit from south-facing views.
A separate bedroom block was built in dry-jointed natural stone and is connected via a glass link. Another single-storey stone block, at the north end of the house, contains a sitting room, enjoying beautiful views and late evening sun.
For Sullivan, it was important that the house was reminiscent of existing farmhouses in the area so the windows, wall proportions, finishes and roof detailing all bear the hallmarks of rural architecture. “The planners want to protect our beautiful countryside and see designs that use height, form and scale appropriately in order to minimise the visual impact of a new building.” He believes that all these characteristics exist in our traditional rural dwellings and says referencing them can ensure continuity in our landscape. “Our countryside is the heartland of a thriving agricultural community and the buildings associated with agriculture are very much of their place in rural Ireland,” says Sullivan.
www.simplyarchitecture.ie . Photography by Dara Munnis.