The Famine Warhouse 1848 - Renovation Project
Widow McCormack House before Renovation
"This house is an important historic monument, and is part of our national heritage. Accordingly, in this the 150th anniversary of the 1848 Rising, the State seeks to purchase the house and a small amount of the surrounding land. It would be our wish that the house would be refurbished and made the site of a permanent exhibition commemorating Young Ireland and the events of the Famine Rebellion of 1848 in this area."
Taoiseach Bertie Ahearne, Commemorative Speech, 1998
The Famine Warhouse 1848
the next phase by Dr. Thomas McGrath
Written in 2002
In 2000-2001, the first phase of the Warhouse restoration was completed by Duchas, a division of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The house has been transformed from a very dilapidated condition to its present excellent state. Although it was only to be expected form Duchas they must be congratulated on a splendid restoration. Visitors have been very impressed by the quality of the work of the Duchas architects, especially Michele ODea and the contractor, P.J. Ryan.
The spacious car park and scenic view
The house has been returned to how it looked in 1848, and the front wall has been rebuilt. The courtyard and the outbuildings at the back of the house have now become an impressive public space. The new car and coach park with lighting and the County Council-built entrance roadway have made a huge difference to the appearance of the site. The latter has turned a lane way into an avenue. Public toilets including a toilet for the disabled have been installed in one of the out-offices and a conservation wetlands programme has been provided for sewage treatment.
Widow McCormack's Farmhouse Restored
Had the Warhouse remained as a purely local heritage site it is difficult to see in terms of cost and organisation- how what has been achieved so far could have been realised.
Realistically it could not have been done. The fact that the house, and five acres surrounding it, is owned by the State, has made all the difference and secured the long term future of the site. This has occurred in accordance with the wish of the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, T.D., expressed in 1998 that the Warhouse would be refurbished and made the site of a permanent exhibition. The Taoiseach in his speech at the Warhouse described it as an important historic monument, and part of our national heritage. The Taoiseachs support for the project remains invaluable.
Since it came under State ownership, the Warhouse has literally put Ballingarry parish on the heritage map of Ireland. The Warhouse now features on all Duchas literature about the States heritage sites in Ireland. The house has joined an elite group of heritage sites around the country, which are recognised by the State as worthy of coming under the States direct control.
The historical exhibition for the Warhouse, which the current writer has drafted at the request of Duchas, has interlinked local, national and international dimensions. The story of the Rising is set in the context of the history of the Young Irelanders, the Great Famine and mass emigration and 1848 as a year of revolutions throughout Europe. There are six rooms in the Warhouse. At ground level, the kitchen will be devoted to the background to the Rising; the parlour to the Rising itself; the main room above the kitchen to the trial for high treason, the death sentences and the transportation of the leading Young Irelanders to Van Diemens Land; the main room above the parlour to the escapes form Australia to America; the smaller room above the parlour to the Fenian movement whose founding fathers were present in Ballingarry in 1848; the final room, the smaller room above the kitchen, to later history of the leading Young Irelanders and their influence on figures such as Griffith and Pearse.
The rear of the house following renovation
The historical exhibition will take the normal Duchas form of a series of high panels with lithographs or contemporary drawings. In each room there will be approximately five panels with two hundred words in English and Irish on each panel and five illustrations per panel. That gives a total of thirty panels and 150 contemporary prints in the exhibition. In each room three panels will be devoted to the Young Irelanders and the 1848 Rising, one panel to the Great Famine and a mass emigration, and one panel to contemporary revolutions in Europe.
By setting the events at the Warhouse in the appropriate context of the Great Famine and the 1848 revolutions in Europe, the exhibition endeavours to cater not only for the well-versed local and Irish visitor, but also for the continental and international visitor, whose knowledge of Irish history may be sketchy at best, but who has been interested enough to make the journey.
What remains to be done? We can take satisfaction in what has been accomplished so far but we do not yet have a fully developed site. We are only halfway in terms of the most desirable presentation of the Warhouse. In the next phase of development, enhancing the facilities on site will be the priority to bring the Warhouse up to a par with similar Duchas heritage sites throughout the country. Two of the existing out buildings which were part of the action as stables in 1848 have been marked out for development. These are the buildings directly opposite the house across the courtyard at the back. These are planned to become a guides office and a tea-room. Already an electricity and water supply has been laid underground in these buildings for such a development. We see it as essential that there are guides on site to bring the human drama of what happened at the Warhouse alive for visitors. A third out-building to the left as one enters the courtyard from the gate has been marked out as an audio-visual room. If the Warhouse is to reach its full visitor potential it must have guides on site and tearoom and audio-visual facilities. While it is acknowledged that it takes a number of years for a new heritage site to establish itself, without the afore-mentioned facilities, that task will be very difficult, and its impact on visitors will be considerably lessened.
Similarly the development of the Warhouse to its full tourist potential will be significantly hindered if the immediate public road is not improved. It will be crucial that the roadway be upgraded from the cross on the Ballingarry road before The Commons up to the entrance from the public road to the Warhouse avenue. At the moment it would be difficult for buses to turn onto and pass on this stretch of road. It will need to be developed in such a way as to allow buses to pass without difficulty. This is a matter where the County Council must again play its part. There is little point in having a national heritage site (with parking spaces for buses) if buses cannot access it. We are half way between the two great Duchas sites of the Rock of Cashel and Kilkenny Castle. A percentage of their coach traffic will be very important to the Warhouse.
In the words of the Taoiseach, the Warhouse will be an important cultural amenity, attracting visitors to this part of the county, and also having a significant education role. People in the parish and the county, as well as school children, should be encouraged to visit the site and to bring visitors to it. This they can do by contacting John Webster 087-9089972. People in Ballingarry, The Commons and in Slieveardagh generally can also do their part by lobbying for the next phase of development at the Warehouse to bring its facilities up to the level one sees in fully developed Duchas sites. With the opening of the exhibition in 2002 and a general election on the horizon we can take the opportunity to impress this matter on our politicians. In the meantime we can celebrate what has been achieved so far- a renaissance for the Warhouse from its previous very neglected condition. With the public opening of the Warhouse, the courage of the people of Ballingarry and surrounding parishes who fought in the middle of the Great Famine for a vision of a better Ireland will be properly remembered.
Phase II Update:
In 2004, the exhibition comprising of a series of 28 panels with historical text and contemporary drawings, lithographs and photographs spread over six rooms, opened to the public. Local Historian, and author of the article listed above, Dr. Thomas McGrath, wrote the exhibition.
Since 2004, the audiovisual and tea rooms have been completed.