Wednesday 6 March 2019

History where there isn't by Sheena Wilkinson

There’s not much history in my immediate area. No, of course there is – I live in Northern Ireland; the place teems with history, most of it profoundly distressing. 

What I really mean is, you need to look hard for it, at least where architecture is concerned.  I live in the country, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and I walk every morning. Few of the houses I pass on my daily walks are younger than I am. I’m always struck, when I’m in England, by how many more old houses there are, still lived in and living and beautiful, if only in their enduring.  Though we cling stubbornly to the past in many ways in NI, that hasn’t always extended to preserving our built heritage. 

Most of the houses I pass are fairly new, many of them replacement dwellings. These houses don’t interest me much: what intrigues me is seeking out what they replaced – the tiny cottages where families of ten were reared, the farmhouses turned into cowsheds or fallen into heaps of stones. 

I'm a blow in. I don't know anything about the families who once lived in these places. I imagine their children setting off for school or mass, (other forms of worship were available, but not in the immediate vicinity, which in itself tells us something), walking the roads I walk now. They would have looked in the fields as I do every morning, and seen the sheep and cattle and their young -- different breeds, perhaps, from the ones who thrive on these hills today. They would have seen some of these houses being built and would not have thought of a time -- not so very far in the future really -- when they would have been left to tumble down. When only a passing writer, obsessed with the past and seeking inspiration for a monthly historical blog post, would stop and pay attention.

All these pictures were taken yesterday morning on a five mile walk. I hope you like them. 


  1. I do - I love them. How wonderful! I am always wondering about "the before"... just the other day I wondered about all the antique oddities in my house. Where did they originate, and what families did they keep company before mine?

  2. All those houses that were once homes rooted to the soil. When we are gone, what stories will future writers find in our fiberboard structures and glass towers?

  3. This is brilliant. And so interesting. All my history lessons in school were spent in learning about Men and Government (ask me anything about the terms of The Congress of Vienna!). Women and family life were ignored. These houses and the life within them is what we should have been taught. But we weren't. Step forward, please, the young Genealogists and the young Archaeologists who will bring to us the history of us - the people. Thanks, Sheena for showing us what we should be reading and learning about.

  4. One of the first things I noticed when I first went to Ireland - quite a few years ago now - was how few old houses there were, and how many ranch-style bungalows you could see. But then - my brother-in-law bought his small farm not far from Limerick from an old man called Jack, who had lived there all his life without running water or a bathroom. He was absolutely delighted to be moving to a modern bungalow with everything laid on...

  5. I regularly follow a blog written by Robert O'Byrne aka the Irish Aesthete. Fascinating and well-illustrated posts covering various aspects of Ireland's architectural heritage, including grand homes and the families once connected with them. So much of it sadly neglected and these days in mouldering ruins.. Well worth a read.


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