The first Labourers Cottages in Co. Kildare, 1886
In 1886 six families moved into their ‘labourers cottages,’ in the Castledermot area, seemingly the first local authority houses to be built and occupied in Co. Kildare. The cottage styles were simple and solid, with masonry or concrete walls and slated roofs. Many labourers cottages, especially early ones, were single or semi-detached and usually scattered along roadsides, each on a 0.2 ha (half acre, or two roods) allotment.
Successive censuses commenting on rural housing reported deplorable living conditions throughout the country. The census of 1881 returned a total of 215,000 cottiers most of whom lived in one-roomed mud-walled cabins roofed with thatch. There were, in addition, some 60,000 agricultural labourers equally poorly housed. Characteristically, cabins were dispersed singly on small plots of land, often lying on the edge of commons, moors and bogs. Little was done to improve labourers’ dwellings until the Irish Party, led by Charles Stewart Parnell, introduced a Private Members Bill which became the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1883, the foundation stone of the rural housing code. The Act of 1883 passed the initiative to local ratepayers, twelve or more of whom could apply to the rural sanitary authority (then the Board of Guardians) to undertake a scheme of cottage building. Between 1883 and 1920 some 42,000 cottages were built under the Labourers Act.
On 3 July 1886 a notice from Athy Union was published in the Leinster Leader advertising for tenders for the erection of six labourers’ cottages:
Athy Union. Labourers’ Ireland Acts, 1883 and 1885.
Notice to Builders and Contractors. The Board of Guardians of this Union, acting as the Rural Sanitary Authority, will, at their Meeting, to be held on Wednesday, the 14th July, 1886, , receive and consider tenders for the erection of six Laboureres’ Cottages, according to Plans and Specifications which may be seen at the Board-room of the Workhouse.
The Cottages are to be erected in the following Townlands of the Castledermot Electoral Division:-
Woodlands East 2.
The work to be completed within a time to be fixed by the Guardians on the day on which the Tenders are to be considered. Parties may Tender for the Erection of the Cottages in one or more townlands.
Tenders to contain the names of two solvent Sureties, to enter into a bond in such amount as may be fixed on by the Board of Guardians to be lodged with me not later than Twelve o’clock noon, on above-named day.
The Guardians do not bind themselves to accept the lowest or any of the Tenders.
By order, J. A. M’Hugh. Executive Sanitary officer. Board-room, 30th June, 1886.
A provisional order was signed for the six plots on 20 May 1884: two half-acre sites on the holding of Richard Wright at Woodlands East; two half-acre sites on the holding of Denis O’Neill at Crophill; a half-acre site at Knockaphuca on the holding of Julia McDonald; and a half-acre site at Garterfarm on the holding of Owen McDonald. James Mitchell, of Tullow, was accepted as the tender and contracts were signed on 14 July 1886. Each house cost £82. 10s. to erect. The tenants allocated the new cottages were: Woodlands East 1: Thomas Hayes; Woodlands East 2: Andrew Hickey; Crophill 3: Edward Whelan; Crophill 4: Patrick Neill; Knockphuca 5: John Berney; Garterfarm 6: William Brien.
These cottages were the first of many built by the local authority in Co. Kildare whereby thousands upon thousands of families could rent and purchase a home at a reasonable cost.