The Forgotten Homes of Ireland

Dave Kai Piper

Ireland is an amazing place with a deep cultural connection to the land. Everywhere I go I am happy to just take it all in and learn about history.

When I first started travelling over here, either with my partner in the car or solo trips on the bike, I started to see these amazing old cottages and old abandoned houses. The photographer in me clicked on the visual aesthetic and I started to document them, which then turned in to a small collection- growing into a full project that I actively plan and build on.

Anyone that has been to Ireland and ventured out of Dublin or a major city will quickly start to notice just how many houses are just left to the elements. But why are there so many? Let me put this into perspective. We currently live in Tipperary, it's a small cottage near a popular route for tourists and such. The closest 2 buildings are abandoned houses. On the route to the closest shop, there are 9 abandoned houses. When I first started this project, I thought I would be taking images of something quite rare, but, it turns out there are far more abandoned houses than you would think.

As to answer why there are so many, that could be a complex question or a simple one depending on how far back and how deep you want to go, plus there is no one simple answer. I also want to be clear that although I have spoken to a few people, I am only talking from my viewpoint. I intend to learn more though. When I spot a house or building, I try and contact the closest house, normally that's not far away. This is for two reasons, firstly, I like to ask permission where possible and secondly, this normally gives me more access as well as some background history, but more importantly, I normally get a cup of tea and a biscuit too. When riding on the bike, it can be nice to stop and rest while having a chat with someone. I have found that people ask about the bike and ask about photography and I can ask them about the house or property.

All but a few of the images in this collection were houses in the first instance, once the image is of an Oratory that a hermit called Saint Colmen built back in 595 AD. You can spot this image as it has the large metal cross in it. A fascinating place, which features a cave where Colmen lived 'it has been perfectly preserved for more than fourteen hundred years and is situated on a steep elevation about 30 ft. above the oratory. It is about 15 ft. long, by 4 or 5 at its greatest width. A tall man with ease can stand erect within it.'

Some of the buildings would have been homes as well as farm houses for animals and stores, which is why in this project I have been happy to include what are clearly barns now. The idea behind this is that when they were built, they would of all been multi-purpose anyway. There is a wonderful place called Bunratty Castle, which has a great depth of information about how the houses and cottages would have been built, used and lived in.

Linking back to why there are so many abandoned houses. Most of the houses that I have featured are homes that are just old and beyond the economic level to repair. It is easier, faster and cheaper to just build a new house than to maintain an old one. The family lived in them until the time they could just build something better on the land close by. Sometimes they then knock the old one down for building material or leave them for livestock shelter. The way these old buildings were made makes renovation very costly against new building techniques which are cheaper and provide cheaper heating & running costs. I can totally understand this as someone who lives in a 350-year-old cottage. Our cottage has had many extensions and modifications over the years, but the fact that it was built out of rocks and has no foundations means that we will never stop the wind blowing through and there is always a battle against the damp. Walls are more than a meter thick in some places and windows are very small & it would be very expensive to put larger ones in. Old cottages do have charm, but they cost money to heat and getting a good WiFi network around the house is impossible.

Heating costs and insulation are only one small aspect, finding work out in rural Ireland is another huge factor. House pricing in places like Dublin is crazy high. There is simply a lack of demand for rural housing. So much so that there are new builds just sat empty. 'The highest rates of vacancy are found in Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo, Galway and Kerry with up to 25% in some cases. The lowest rates are around Dublin and Cork cities at around 8%.

People have to go where the work is, the younger generation move to find work either in Dublin, Cork or the UK. Things like fast internet or just working internet, don't make it easy for people to live rurally. There is also no incentive to maintain homes that are inherited like in Scotland, England and France. At the same time, “There are 6,000 people officially homeless including 2,000 children. There are up to 130,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists. As an estimate, there are 230,000 homes that are empty around the country. The problem is many of them are just not habitable or would be expensive to maintain – on top of the rural nature of these homes.

Dave Kai Piper
Dave Kai Piper

Facts and figures for this are taken from the Housing Agency speaking to RTE Morning Ireland. In 2018 steps have been taken to try and get to homes before they fall beyond repair. “Bringing some of these homes back into use would be much quicker than the estimated three years it takes to build a new home - Utilising existing housing’ is one of the five pillars of the Government’s own Rebuilding Ireland. Says Jan O’Sullivan & Minister Murphy.

From the historical context, I am ashamed to mention that my knowledge of Irish history was lacking when I moved over here. As I started taking photos and talking to local people, I began to learn more about the area that I now live. It does get a little sensitive sometimes as I am English and talking about Irish historical events is sometimes tricky with that in mind. The British have not had the best historical past over here in Ireland. One example comes to mind, but I won't link it to which image I am talking about.

It was a lovely day I and I decided to take the bike out for a drive. I packed the GFX 50r (the camera most of these images had been produced with) and headed out to a spot I had seen a few weeks. I arrived and as I normally do, shut the bike off and try and find someone local to talk too. In this instance, I parked outside someone house, as it was clear this old dwelling was on the same property. By the time I had my helmet and gloves off, an old chap was coming down the drive. He asked if he could help and I explained about the photography and if he knows anything about the building. Turned out it was his and he was in fact born there and his dad was born there and so forth. After explaining about his family and the farm he casually dropped in that it was the English 'Black and Tans' that first burnt the farm down and in fact the building we see today was a rebuild of the first one, which was also attacked during the 'troubles'. I thanked him for his time and asked for his permission to photograph the building. He accepted, we shook hands and parted ways. Once back on the road, it started to really dawn on me about what was happening. I wanted to take a photo of this barn in the first instance as it was 'pretty'. I knew that it would get Instagram likes and be a nice photo of have. This building was the way it was because of some pretty violent events and I am glad I stopped to ask and learn more. Photography can be and should be more than f-stops and shutter speeds. It should be a way to learn and record things. It should be a way to document and inform. No-one says you can not express your own thoughts and feelings, but I am just saying that if you can pick up some stuff and share it along the way then that is awesome too.

I am more motivated than ever to find and record these homes but to also try and meet the local people to give me an understanding of why they the way they are too.

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