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Workers’ Villages – National Ploughing Championships 2022

Workers’ Villages – National Ploughing Championships 2022

Over three days, the Reimagine Workers’ Villages team introduced the project to hundreds of people attending the festival, with a bespoke exhibition and a series of panel talks in the Government Village bringing the project to the national stage.

From the 20th to the 22nd September, the Reimagine Workers’ Villages project was brought to life through a specially curated exhibition at the National Ploughing Championships. Documentary footage, photographs, exhibition booklets and lots of other materials related to the project were available for people to browse, with countless curious passers-by stopping to chat and learn more about the project. Many were drawn in by a glimpse of Frank Gibney’s iconic archways, a familiar sight across the Midlands. The team chatted to several people with connections to the former Bord na Móna estates, including one former resident of St. Cormac’s Park who spotted himself as a child in one of our photos!

Many we talked to were unaware of the history of the villages and were fascinated to learn about Gibney’s dedication to sustainable development in his designs, which helped nurture the close-knit communities that remain today. With help from project partners Global Action Plan Ireland, visitors explored what lessons Gibney’s designs might offer for some of the problems around housing and sustainable development Ireland faces today. A story people were more familiar with was that of the present struggle of former Bord na Móna workers still living in the villages, with lots of passionate support emerging for resident’s fight for recognition at a national level and the great work being done by local communities at a grassroots level to secure a sustainable future for their villages, in all senses of the word.

A highlight of the event was the opportunity the team had to take part in two panel discussions as project members of the Creative Ireland Climate Action Fund initiative. On Wednesday 21st, Shauna O’Neill (Cloontuskert Development and Tidy Towns Association), Sean Craven (Kilcormac Development Association) and Evelyn D’Arcy (team architect for Reimagine Cloontuskert) were interviewed by Hannah Quinn Mulligan on the Creative Ireland stage about the development and successes of the Reimagine project, outlining the need for long term supports to be put in place in villages like theirs to replace the employment and community opportunities Bord na Móna’s presence once provided.

Later in the day, Bernardine Carroll (Irish Architecture Foundation), Shauna O’Neill (Cloontuskert Development and Tidy Towns Association), Caelan Bristow (team architect for Reimagine Kilcormac) and Emer Savage (Global Action Plan Ireland) spoke with Mark Gibson (Teagasc) on the Government of Ireland stage about the disheartening experiences of Just Transition in their communities to date and their hopes for more positive outcomes in the future. A recording of this second talk is available here.

Speaking about the opportunity to bring the project to such a huge national audience, Bernardine Carroll (Irish Architecture Foundation) said:

“Architects have special skills in reading and understanding the stories encoded in our built heritage. It’s important to remind ourselves and our audiences that these stories are not just local to each of the communities, but are connected, and part of our national identity and our shared industrial heritage.”

Giving the perspective of a community member at the very heart of the project, Sean Craven (Kilcormac Development Association) shared his thoughts:

“Being involved with the Reimagine Workers’ Villages project at the Ploughing gave us a fantastic opportunity to highlight the innovative features of the Frank Gibney designed housing estates, which helped to develop communities that have stood the test of time. It also allowed the group to highlight that these communities are currently being left behind in a post peat world. There has been no evidence on the ground of a Just Transition, with hundreds of jobs disappearing in a short period of time leaving local economies struggling to survive.”

An expanded version of the Reimagine Workers’ Villages exhibition brought to the Ploughing Championships will be displayed at the Irish Architecture Foundations’ Housing Unlocked exhibition at the Science Gallery, Naughton Institute, Trinity College Dublin. Launching 13th October, this exhibition will showcase practical solutions and new ways of thinking about our housing potential.

The Workers’ Villages project is part of the Irish Architecture Foundation’s Reimagine programme. Reimagine works with communities across Ireland to co-create and co-design solutions to problems or opportunities they’ve identified in their locality. Reimagine is made possible by Creative Ireland’s National Creativity Fund and additional funding through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. To stay up to date on this project,  join our project Facebook group.

Photo credit: Ste Murray

    Close up of Workers' Villages exhibit sign
    Group of people talking at the the exhibit
    Panel laughing at Creative Ireland stage talk
    Crowd watching Creative Ireland stage talk
    Panel talking at Government of Ireland Stage talk

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