9.3.4 Kilkenny Farm Villages

Closed22 Dec, 2020, 09:00 - 12 Mar, 2021, 17:00
​​​​​​9.3.4 Kilkenny Farm Villages

Statement of Character

The farm villages of South Kilkenny are a settlement type consisting of a unique clustering of houses, outbuildings and haggards, and often lacking public buildings like shops, church or post office.  According to architects Patrick and Maura Shaffrey, in their 1985 publication Irish Countryside Buildings, the settlement patterns in the Irish countryside have been influenced by the tradition of farmers living on their farms, which has meant that in Ireland we tend not to have farming villages, which are common in other parts of Europe.  However, there are exceptions, as in south Kilkenny, where there are clusters of farm buildings grouped together in an informal manner with the physical sense of a village.  Only rarely do they include social or community facilities.  Dwellings often string out along a narrow laneway, or street, and share a common entrance.  Ownership boundaries are blurred and the land associated with the farm buildings may be some distance away and intermixed with other holdings.  Shaffrey goes on to say that in the farm villages of south Kilkenny, in places like Licketstown, Glengrant and Corluddy, sometimes the sense of timelessness and history is quite unique.  The buildings are huddled together on high ground above the River Suir.  Defence considerations may have influenced the location of these groupings, and this estuary was a probable landing place during Viking and Norman times. These are among the oldest settlement patterns and are based on the ancient rundale system of farming, whereby strips of land with ill-defined boundaries were owned by different families, but often worked on a co-operative basis.  This type of settlement is frequently located in relatively good farming land, so it is not a question of subsistence or part-time farming, but an old and distinctive settlement pattern[1]

In an article on the unique nature of these settlements which was published by historical geographer Jack Burtchaell in 1988[2], these villages display a settlement pattern that is broadly different to that of other village types throughout the country.  Burtchaell describes the villages as having a ‘nucleated and agglomerated’ rural settlement pattern.  It is likely that this settlement pattern is medieval in origin and that these villages have enjoyed continuous and settled occupation since early medieval times.  This phenomenon is likely due to the continued political stability of this part of County Kilkenny particularly during the seventeenth century when the over lordship of the Ormonde Butlers, which spanned almost 400 years from 1319 until the end of the 17th century, provided protection to this part of Kilkenny from the rapid change that was taking place in other parts of the country during this time.

Burtchaell identifies a number of characteristics which he claims are typical of the farm villages of South Kilkenny. 

  1. Unlike the ‘clachan’ model, the South Kilkenny farm villages did not house just farmers, but instead displayed a socially varied and economically prosperous cross section of rural society.
  2. They display a degree of social segregation between an ‘old’ village and a ‘new’ village again which distinguishes them from the ‘clachan’ model. 
  3. The ‘farm villages are not marginal in either location or function, they are local centrepieces of a rich agricultural heartland.  It is the fundamental stability of the areas, accompanied by social diversity, commercial agriculture, medieval roots and geographic location that mark the distinctiveness of these farm villages from the so-called western-type clachan.

These villages display a unique morphology having grown organically over time following the local topography.  The houses are often clustered quite close together and arranged in an apparently random configuration, but one which allows each house to retain its own privacy from adjacent farmsteads and shelter from the elements.  The villages are often characterised by a network of laneways, roadways and sometimes raised walkways.  The high density of this type of housing and its associated network of roads and lanes is very distinctive and has given one of the villages (Listrolin) the name of ‘Little London’[3].  There are many archaeological monuments in this area also, indicating a long phase of activity.

Jack Burtchaell identifies 57 villages in south Kilkenny which fit into this category.  The following are mentioned by him in his study:  Licketstown, Portnahully, Corluddy, Kilmacow, Ballytarsney, Listrolin, Moonveen, Glengrant, Portnascully, Carrigeen, Ballybrasil, Doornane, Pollrone, Clonmore, Killinaspick, Ullid, Aglish, Dunkitt, Rathcurby, Ballygorey, Dungooly, Arderra, Weatherstown, Kilmakevoge, Rathinure, Kilcraggan, Davidstown, Rochestown, Ballykillaboy, Curraghmartin, Ballyfasy, Grange, Bearstown, Ballincrea, Tinnaranny, Carranroe, Killahy, Baunskeha, Rahillakeen, Ballynamuck, Owning, and Boolyglass.

These villages are of great historical and social significance and their distinctive physical pattern and visual character should be retained where possible[4].  While this settlement type is not unique to South Kilkenny, it is here that the villages have the strongest links with their medieval origins given the political and social stability of this part of the country during some of the turbulent 16th and 17th centuries.

Farm Villages Development Management Requirements:

  • To seek the preservation of the unique morphology of the south Kilkenny Farm Villages, the unique clustering of buildings, outbuildings and haggards, their relationship to the public spaces between and the scale of the buildings which make up the villages. 
  • To protect the special character of the spaces between the various elements of these villages; created by the relationship between buildings and their outhouses and between the outbuildings and the public roadways, paths and laneways through and around these settlements.
  • To seek the retention of the vernacular quality of the buildings and their associated outbuildings and boundary structures including walls, embankments and gates.
  • To seek the retention of surviving traditional materials used in the construction of the houses and outbuildings – thatch, natural slate, rubble stone walling, traditional wrought iron gates, rendered finishes; and to require the use of traditional building finishes such as lime plasters and mortars, timber windows and doors and natural slates in the repair and refurbishment of existing buildings and in proposed new developments.
  • New developments in or adjacent to these villages should not dominate their surroundings but should sit comfortably in their setting, respecting the local character, and should be of good quality contemporary design using a palate of good quality materials which complement the traditional setting.
  • Extensions to existing structures within these villages should respect their setting in terms of scale, materials and design, while energy upgrades of the interior will be assessed against any likely impact on the internal environment which exists as a result of these materials.

The Council will work closely and constructively with a selected village identified in Jack Burtchaell’s study to explore mutual benefits for the community and the village of possible Architectural Conservation Area designation.


[1] Patrick and Maura Shaffrey, Irish Countryside Buildings, Everyday Architecture in the Rural Landscape, The O’Brien Press, Dublin 1985, p. 30.

[2] Jack Burtchaell, ‘The South Kilkenny Farm Villages’, Common Ground:  Essays on the Historical Geography of Ireland, ed. William J Smyth and Kevin Whelan, pp. 110-23, Cork University Press.

[3] John Cronin and Associates, Cultural Resource Management, A Cultural Heritage Assessment of Listrolin Village, April 2004.

[4] Patrick and Maura Shaffrey, Irish Countryside Buildings, Everyday Architecture in the Rural Landscape, The O’Brien Press, Dublin 1985, p. 30.