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The Inishowen Peninsula

Inishowen is a peninsula in north east County Donegal. At its northernmost tip is located Malin Head, the most northerly point of the island of Ireland. Much of Donegal has experienced tourism which in recent years has led to increased change of the built environment, particularly associated with the building of second homes for tourists. Some parts of County Donegal, particularly around Port na Blagh and Dunfanaghy, have experienced substantial change in the last decade. Inishowen has not been immune from these pressures, but much of the tourist force has passed it by as tourists often bypass the peninsula to travel further west. Perhaps as a consequence of having escaped much of the pressure for second homes and other tourist developments, much of Inishowen’s stock of vernacular housing remains.

Here we will examine some of the house types found on the peninsula. These will generally be rural housing of traditional type, constructed within culturally defined limits – limits which have now been abandoned in modern house building. Vernacular architecture can be distinguished from formal architecture. As Alan Gailey notes in “Rural Houses of the North of Ireland” (1984, John Donald Publishers Ltd., Edinburgh) formal architecture was

“… the prerogative of a formally educated group in society, and the further back its predecessors are traced in history, the more privileged they were. They belonged within a literate, educated ‘Great Tradition’, as the creators and propagators of great music and literature similarly belonged. Vernacular architecture on the other hand stems from a ‘little tradition’ within which ideas have been transmitted mainly informally and orally, where the possibilities for individual innovation have been closely circumscribed by the attitudes of the community at large, transmitted over the generations.”

Traditional houses were built according to certain norms which changed only slowly within society and thus a vernacular architecture would develop. Often the type of housing – the internal arrangements of a dwelling and its method of construction – would not change, even if for example the housing materials available were to change. Early vernacular housing used locally available materials for walling and roofing materials, but imports of timber, imported slates and tiles, bricks and concrete became more common in the mid 19th Century. However, in the North of Ireland it was the 20th Century before the vernacular house began to be replaced with housing which owed nothing to local tradition.