On my travels the other day, I pulled into a farmyard to see a hayshed in front of me covered in massive letters and numbers. It was like a large keyboard, F1, F2, F3 etc. I was dropping a calving gate to a man called Paul in Meath and I couldn\’t help but ask the purpose of the numbers. You see I have an avid, sometimes unhealthy interest in haysheds, some (family members) would called it an obsession. \’She was taken down and put up again? I asked. \’Yes\’ Paul replied, \’not worth it, you\’d want to be getting it for free\’. He was referring to the trade in second-hand haysheds and it reasonably common for a shed that has stood for many years to be taken down and sold on to a new owner. All over the country, the hayshed is starting to become a species on the decline. Time and weather are starting to take their toll, the mere fact that they have survived many many years beyond their service life is a testament to the men who built them. I think its a subject worth writing about. Something to complete with who who what award last night and the latest cat video!
I once shared a drink one time with a man from Wexford who had a lifetime of stories of the familiar round roof shed. In his youth, Willy had worked for one of the first company\’s to make haysheds in the early 1900\’s, Graves of New Ross. He told me of his boyhood spend travelling the country erecting haysheds. A truck would deposit the materials near the road and rest was up to the builders. Often the extremely heavy railway girders had to be man hauled to the far end of the field to the site of the shed. My own business started in a hayshed and I often wondered what it was that old railway tracks came to be used for the structure but more of that later.
Haysheds and the Rising
The hayshed was as revolutionary in its day as the wind turbines that seem to appear before our eyes today. That might seem like a big statement it is true! Before haysheds, winter feed was stacked large cocks and open to the elements and often torn to shreds by storms. The arrival of haysheds gave the farmer the security for his winter feed, it was protected and he could winter more animals and as such the hayshed propelled Irish agriculture forwards. Later the same familiar round roof structures housed milking parlours, machinery sheds, they grew extra limbs in the from of \’lean too\’s\’ to turn them into cubicle sheds, garages, and turf sheds. And so the Irish obsession with sheds began. Its lives on to this day, my phone still rings from time to time, are you still are at the shed? Travelling around the country it was also possible to judge a community\’s or individual farmers prosperity. Did they have a 3 bay shed, a two bay or the lesser spotted single bay? I often wonder were they as controversial as modern buildings because there was nothing as big or as high as them before. Did environmentalists of the 30\’s erect signs with \’No to Haysheds\’. Possibly not, they were from a different era. Your basic hayshed is one of the most economical of designs, no frills, the curve gives the inherent strength and if you look closely there is not a whole pile of to support it unlike the sheds and regulations of today. Some were steel frames, some were wooden and those frames were put together on site from lengths of timber, often cut with a bad hand saw, according to Willie.
And yet they have outlasted the men who put them up and the farmers they served for generations and they still remain. They have gone from being new fangled and the latest in agricultural technology to staples of the rural environment. They are so well accepted now that county development plans include the design as \’sympathetic to the rural development\’. Will we be able to say the same of slatted sheds? Haysheds are now leading new lives in the 21st century that they could never have hoped for. All over the country haysheds are being converted to garages, nurturing fledgling start up businesses and being integrated into other buildings. A lucky few find them selves with new sheeting looking fit for another generation. A select few have even been turned into homes!
Haysheds in the Oireachtas
I have probably already written for too long and too passionately about the humble hayshed but I would like to answer the most important question on the subject, why oh why were some of them made of railway girders? Your average railway girder is the most unlikely building material. It is far too heavy to work with easily, its made of pretty hard steel making it almost impossible to weld. It can\’t be drilled easily and it will laugh at all attempts to cut it unless you have a gas torch. I have often theorized that maybe a forward thinking official in the department of agriculture connected the expansion of agricultural with the decline of railways and came up with a very economic plan. Alas no, I found the answer in parliamentary notes from 1954 on evening on the web. The issue was the sale for tender of railway girders form the West cork railway that where to be auctioned by tender as scrap. Rather than allow them to be exported, politicians argued that Irish building companies should be allow to tender to CIE for t he girders and used them to build…Haysheds, so unfortunately no economic plan, no just plan business lobbying the political world. A wise man once said that history…REPEATS ITS SELF. And so from that point on, the farmer could buy his shed with RSJ\’s or railway girders, the girders were just cheaper. And on that note I can remember a story from the early 90\’s when the Irish soldier was given the new plastic Steyr rifle. \’Is it soldier proof, a private asked his Sergeant?, \’Listen son, there is only one thing soldier proof, about two foot of railway girder, No 1, its too heavy to lift, No 2 its too short to bend and No 3, its a piece of railway girder what would anybody want it for? What would they indeed! Thanks for reading.