Ch 6b~ Materials, using stone…

Using stone in Houses…

Continuing the theme of appropriate materials for use in Irish houses; this post continues the previous section on transitions, gives a little bit of history on the use of stone in Ireland and a few pointers on how it can be used appropriately in contemporary houses.

The Cork Design Guide has an excellent section on stone and I won’t repeat it all here but it’s important to explain how and where stone was used in vernacular buildings; you can then decide to use stone in the context in which it was intended, or to break a few rules (and as we’ve seen throughout, there’s nothing wrong with breaking a few rules when you know what you’re doing). As Spidermans Uncle says “with power comes responsibility”.

You can broadly divide the use of stone into four categories:

1. The single storey vernacular house

2. Utilitarian buildings such as outbuildings, barns etc…

3. 2 storey, 18th/19th Century houses

4. Public buildings such as churches, banks courthouses or even the ‘Great Houses’…

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

The single storey vernacular house

As discussed previously, the traditional vernacular ‘cottage’ would have been built without the assistance of an architect and would have normally been constructed out of locally found materials by the owners and their friends. There is little evidence of professional tradespeople like stonemasons having been involved. The stone walls therefore would have been constructed in stones that would have been dug from the ground; and obviously the type and size of these stones would have depended on the geology of the area.

The stones would have been laid in lime mortar, laid dry or with mud depending on the location. The walls would have then been whitewashed in lime over the sand and lime rendered wall or limewashed directly over the stone in order to keep the driving rain out. The sight of bare stone walls on traditional cottages of this type would not have been seen.

Utilitarian buildings such as outbuildings, barns etc…

Generally these would have been left as bare stone but the stonework would have been of a better quality than that of the house described above.

The example below shows the refurbished granary next to our house which would probably been left unrendered or limewashed; the stone is better cut and laid in order to keep out the elements without the requirement of rendering or limewashing.

2 storey, 18th/19th Century houses

Again this type of house wouldn’t have been designed by an architect but instead constructed by a local builder for ‘well to do’ farmers, clergy or business people. Local rubble stone would have been used for the walls that would be transported from a local quarry and stone would have been used for the corners (quoins), sills and steps. The walls would have again been rendered using a wet dash of lime and sand. The removal of existing render to houses of this type in order to expose the stonework is completely frowned upon and is not recommended as the render provides an impervious layer to wind and rain and it’s removal causes irreparable damage.

Public buildings such as churches, banks, courthouses or even the ‘Great Houses’…

The only buildings (other than the utilitarian buildings described above) to be left in unfinished stone would have been the ‘grander’ cut stone structures such churches, banks, courthouses etc…The purpose of the stone was to be seen and to impress; the quality of the stonework would have been of a much higher quality in ashlar stone and fine joints designed in accordance with classical proportion and detail. You can also include the ‘Great Houses’ in this category where these larger houses were designed on a grand scale by architects.

You can therefore see the contradiction; traditional houses of one and two storeys wouldn’t have had the stonework exposed and it’s only the bigger, grander houses that you would have seen exposed stonework. You can therefore see how we arrived at the huge, exposed stone clad McMansions of the Celtic Tiger, as all historians tell us, just look to the past to see how we’ve arrived to the present.

For further information on Irish Stone building I recommend ‘Stone Buildings’ by Patrick McAfee ISBN: 0-86278-577-4

Location:Ch 6b Materials contd ~ Rural Housing Guidebook ~ Stonework

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