It isn’t only new, shiny steel sheds that can help generate income on a family farm – those traditional old stone outbuildings around the country can play a part too.

Certainly that’s the hope of Colin French and his father David who farm at Moneylawn, near Gorey, Co Wexford, in cattle, tillage and Christmas trees.

The walls and roofs are now in good repair and weather proof. The whitewash finish looks very appealing.

They have just completed repair work on a number of outbuildings in the yard and have plans ahead for these old stone sheds. The farm is in GLAS and the repair work was completed as part of the GLAS traditional farm buildings grant scheme.

The farmhouse on the left and the three outbuildings around it date back to the 1700s.

The sheds and the old cottage-style farmhouse beside them appear on an 1830 ordnance survey map and are believed to have been built in the 1700s. Over the following few centuries they were used as a dairy, cattle sheds and a pig house. In more recent years they were used for storage and a workshop at one end.

“The sheds weren’t dilapidated,” Colin French says. “My parents kept them as best they could and whitewashed them twice a year.

“Apparently there used to be a lot of these sheds around the country but unfortunately most have been knocked down. Already we are reaping the long-term benefit of keeping these buildings standing.”

The modern farmyard and modern farmhouse are beside the original yard.

The French family has 15ac of Christmas trees, most of which are sold wholesale each year. However, in the last four years they have utilised the scenic setting of the old farmyard to sell trees direct to the public under the name “French’s Farm Fresh Christmas Trees”.

The repair work in the yard was completed just in time for this year’s crop of trees and wreaths to be put on display.

Stonework had become exposed in the old sheds.

“I’d like to make more use of the old yard and sheds,” Colin says. “People really enjoy the experience of visiting our farm and I’m open to broadening the alternative enterprises here.”

The farm has a more modern yard behind the old sheds and a modern farmhouse in which Colin’s parents live. Colin now lives in the old farmhouse. He recently started his own business working as an agri design engineering contractor, operating from his house.

Applying for grant aid

The restoration work was carried out on all the old outbuildings, out of which the French family will recoup grant aid of 70% of the total cost once the final report is approved by the Heritage Council.

Some of the sheds have mud walls and some walls of stone bound with a clay mortar.

The process begins by applying to the Heritage Council for inclusion in the scheme, submitting basic information about the farm and photographs of the buildings. The Frenchs made it through to the next round which required a conservation report carried out, including an estimate of the costs of repair. This was done by Caroline Gethings of Anú Heritage.

The walls have been repaired and covered with a hot lime render and then a lime wash,

The major task was repairing the walls of the sheds which were made with stones using a clay mortar. Some walls were made from mud only. The roofs were generally in good condition and required just replacement of some rusted corrugated sheeting.

The project got the go ahead and the family contracted stonemason Pat Hickey to carry out the repair work.

There was a large crack in this wall.

“A lot of the mud walls had eroded,” Colin says. “There was a large crack in one wall. You can’t just shove in a load of concrete to fix them. A different skill set is required. The grant allowed us have an expert tradesperson carry out the work.”

The crack has been repaired with stone and a clay mortar and has since been rendered with a hot lime mix and whitewashed.

The work began in October and took five weeks. The clay mortar and mud walls in this part of Wexford were typically made using the local macamore marl subsoil, mixed with hay as a reinforcing matrix.

The repair had to be made using the same materials. “We had to dig up some of our soils to get marl. We put it in a ring feeder with chopped hay and got some of the cattle to walk on it to mix it up.”

The repaired outbuildings are now in use - the Frenchs grow Christmas trees and sell them from the old yard. Colin hopes to further develop alternative enterprises in the old farmyard.

The clay walls were rendered with two layers of a hot lime mortar and lime wash. This was then finished with a lime wash to give further protection.

As part of the project, the Frenchs provided part of the labour required by Pat Hickey. “We learned so much from taking part in the process,” Colin says.

David French still has his workshop in one of the old sheds.

The old sheds are now repaired and weather proof and ready for a new working life.