A Little Then & Now:The Stars of Balleymenone

Henry Glassie A compare & contrast article of Henry Glassie’s World Vs The Modern Day, in regards to architecture and housing of the common man in Ireland. The book itself gives a rich glimpse into an intimate art form, the traditional oral performance with a focus on the talented individuals of Ballymenone, County Fermanagh, Ireland.

When Henry Glassie came to the small hospitable village of Balleymenone, it was 1972, the bloodiest year of the Troubles. “People were aware of the “big” world, just not a part of it.” Henry Glassie was very interested in capturing the villager’s viewpoints of the world around them. How they were able to  see what they had, when it was so little, as so much more; among other things.“That was a mystery in a sense.”(Glassie, IU News 2006). “Everyone lived in an economizen way.”-Hugh Nolan.

“The world Henry Glassie entered 34 years ago, as he walked through the County of Fermanagh in Northern Ireland from the town  of Enniskillen to the tiny village of Balleymenone, no longer exists.”

-IU News, March 23rd, 2006

A major difference between the times Glassie roamed about the hills of Ireland, and the modern day are the differences in the architecture and material used in the houses. As time has gone on, technological advances swept into the sleepy villages, and this drastically changed the social aspects of everyday life. The old blueprint’s of Ellen Cutler’s and Rose Murphy’s houses, two of the locals Glassie speaks of, had open and inviting homes.

They had a rectangular shape and the emphasis on openness was apparent throughout. These homes were very socially oriented. Also they had spaces attributed to stabling and the byre. Their main architectural accents and common practice: the roof thatchers used mostly rye or oats, one would always come right into the kitchen when walking in the front door, and overall each home had very similar plans.

As previously stated however, as time passed things began to change, much to the disappointment of Hugh Nolan, who preferred the old ways of doing things.

Thatch roofing gave way to Tin and slate, which became more and more popular. Ellen Cutler’s house  was roofed in 1977. This was the beginning of the end for the thatched roof and oddly it marked the end of these men and womens socialization. Their social lifestyle slowly degrading as the ‘outside world’ seeped ever so slowly into their lives.

P Flanigans humble abode and Drumbargy Brae felt the change too, and soon almost no houses were left from the time of Glassie’s journey through Balleymenone. Today, they have been replaced or updated sufficiently.
The noticeable differences are seen in the floor plans, roofing, and outer walls.

Tin and the more expensive slate has become the norm. The floor plans changed with the addition of stove tops or “cookers”. The openness of the old form disappeared. Facades became symmetrical based with windows and door placements.

Today, the houses that were replaced or modified have became modern bungalows with the shingled roofing and siding that is so typical for the modern era.

A scrap of Ellen Cutler’s house was built into the front wall of her grandson’s workshop where he makes cabinets for efficient new kitchens. Which just goes to show that the upgrade to modern housing was the first big step towards modernization for this small community of people. Hugh Nolan was not fond of it but what can you do?

He stated solemnly that, “in the lack of acquiring a skill to thatch a roof that person who instead bought tin is secluding themselves to a life of silence.” This being just one of his arguments he brought against the movement to modernize. Hugh Nolan saw that where there was a lack of community, there was a lack of humanity. Even reading a book was considered anti-social. With the new houses you had to step from “the ground to the porch, the porch to the hall, the hall to the kitchen. Social distance increased.”

As far as the locals were concerned it indeed did seem to get better and worse at the same time.The thatched roofs made for great insulation, where the tin was very poor at this. However, the thatched roofs needed constant attention, where the tin was practically permanent.

The Cooker’s of course had to be an improvement, for there was no smoke and your house stayed cleaner with less soot to deal with. Yet the Cooker seemed anti-social to them and Mrs. Cutler would say it was nice then turn around and curse it.

Some would see the old houses as dirty and un-inhabitable while others would view them as homey and sociable. Open to the world, while the other seems closed but more secure. Regardless, in 1972, ¾ of the houses left were of the old type, but by the year 2000 no houses had thatched roofs.

Hugh Nolan’s and Tommy Lunny’s houses went to ruin by the roadside. One house did survive and was mostly unaltered, the house that belonged to Bobbie Thornton.

These changes which took place in the hillsides of Ireland illustrate the slow changing of the norms in this society, this community, as it began to take on the new “modern” ways of the world. What is important to note, is that this is not confined to Ireland’s emerald green countryside. This is something that with time has picked up momentum, and as communication speeds increase and globalization continues to connect everyone across every continent, one can see that we find ourselves in the same kind of situation more and more.

This new advancing world demands adaptability, and as Moore’s Law continues to hold true, the demand to meet these inevitable changes head on is unrelenting and unforgiving. Jobs require more and more technical skills and over time, as we approach the singularity, we have to wonder what is next?


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