Small-Farm Settlement Landscapes in Transition

Patrick Duffy


Settlement landscape heritage is an integral aspect of Ireland’s rurality: it contributes to national and international perceptions of Ireland in which images of a land of green fields and rural culture prevail. These images are increasingly valuable in setting Ireland as a place apart within the global economy as evidenced, for example, by Bord Bia’s ‘Origin Green’ initiative. However, contemporary demand for rural housing poses a challenge to the maintenance of these landscapes. The one-off rural house, rather than large scale developments, poses the most significant challenge to traditional landscapes. National policy makers have attempted to engage with this issue with limited success. There is a tacit acceptance of the social, economic and cultural significance of rural housing, particularly farm households that are the primary controllers of landuse in rural areas. Within the constraints of the topography of the farm, they have played a key role in the development of both traditional and contemporary farmscapes. This is most evident in areas dominated by smaller farms. Strategies involving allocation or sale of land for residential development are of particular interest given that they simultaneously facilitate continuation of the family farm as a social entity as well as precipitating local change through expansion of non-rural settlement patterns. Insight into the processes of change in small farm structures and communities in recent decades is critical in explaining and understanding the evolution of local settlement patterns up to the present. This paper seeks to elucidate both changes and continuities in three counties in Ireland: Monaghan, Mayo and Meath.

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