Thursday, March 1, 2007

Last Saturday morning, the duty elf found Malcolm (in County Antrim, sans wifi and fretful) perusing the Farming Life (the agricultural supplement of the Belfast Newsletter). No, the quiet life had not smoothed his mood. What caught Malcolm’s attention was a display advertisement. He insists the guilty be named: H.A. McIlrath and Sons Ltd of Kilrea, “for the estate of Miss Annie Mulholland Dec”. The photographs show a pleasant blue-washed, slate-roofed cottage, and attached barn (with obligatory red-leaded corrugated roof), under the title of “Attractive 53 acre holding for sale)”. What raised the blood pressure was this:
This is a typical stone farm dwelling. Although comfortable it does need some modernisation and subject to planning would best lend itself as a possible replacement site.
Now, Malcolm has respect and liking for the traditional domestic architecture of Ulster. It is pretty-well universally successful. The two-up, two-down terraced cottage of the urban street scene is neat and durable, if grey and and unleavened in quantity. Further out of town there is the “salt-box” house, of which sadly so few endure. The other end of the urban social scale is the square box of the “gentleman’s residence”, so beloved of estate agents, and always “desirable”.

Out in the countryside the long farmhouse, low, stone-built with massive rubble walls and small windows, is archetypal. Thanks to John Ford they fulfil every exile’s vision of an Oirish home. Later, most were cement-rendered or pebble-dashed, and lime-washed. Roofs, once thatched, were slated. Recently came the Dulux revolution and truly hair-raising colour-options.

Malcolm’s Betjemanesque gripe (of which more later) is the speed with which these farm-houses are being lost from the landscape. Some, like Miss Mulholland’s former home, are demolished. Others merely fall into neglect and decrepitude. All are replaced by the omni-present breeze block bungalow, Marley-tiled with U-pvc windows. Local planning boards are facilitating the devastation: rural plots are freely available. The planners’ requirement is commonly an unpoetic height restriction, commonly on the lines of “excellent 0.5 acre site with outline planning permission for a dwelling with 7 metre ridge height and garage” (that’s from the same page of the Farming Life).

The most extreme form of the disaster happens along the coastline, as a solid crust of bungalow low-life spreads inexorably. Donegal and too much of the West is a lost cause. “It’s what people want”, Malcolm is told:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve lost

Till it’s gone.
They’ve paved Paradise,
Put up a parking lot.

Joni: sadly, you got it right: first for Maui, now for Maghera. Sphere: Related Content

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