Traditional Irish Thatched Cottages – In olden times the thatched cottages were very popular throughout Ireland. They provided homes of character, comfort and beauty which varied from one region to another in response to local climates and conditions. The use of local building materials meant that they blended effortlessly into landscapes of which they were a part of. Their clay or stone walls was gathered from the earth on the spot where they were built, their timbers were dug from the local bogs, their thatch was harvested from the fields.
For generations thatch was the most inexpensive and therefore the most popular form of roofing material. The most common material was straw. Reed was considered to be the best thatching material. In mountainous regions heather was sometimes used
Thatch has to be renewed after a number of years. Usually the new thatch is placed on top of the old and, as a result, the thickness of a thatch roof can become as deep as two feet (600mm). Thatch makes for a warm building.
Different parts of Ireland used different methods of fixing the thatch. In the Midlands hipped roofs are common; here the thatch is laid in a triangular slope from the ridge of the roof to the side of the cottage and there is no gable. In exposed situations on the coast, where a gale could strip the thatch off a house, a network of ropes is thrown over the roof to hold the thatch in place. In Donegal the ropes are tied to stones jutting out from the wall at eaves level. Elsewhere they are anchored to large stones lying on the ground.
The kitchen and the hearth are the very core of the Traditional Irish Thatched Cottage. The turf burning continuously day and night is the symbol of family continuity and of hospitality towards the stranger.When it goes out, it has been said, the soul goes out of the people of the house. The hearth fire served not only to prepare food and dry clothes, to bring warmth and comfort to the family and to animals who were hurt, but also to keep the thatch dry and preserve the roof timbers. Over the hearth, in many cases was a shelf which had ~ display, a pair of brass candlesticks, china dogs, a crucifix or a religious picture in front of which a little red lamp always burned, In the some kitchens there was a hag bed or chailleach. as it is more commonly known.
The Half Door
The half door of the thatched cottage, usually painted red or green, had several functions. It kept children in and at the same time kept unwanted and unwelcomed animals out. It allowed fresh air and daylight to enter as well as providing a suitable armrest whilst contemplating or chatting to passersby. It is said that a man standing at the door would be wasting time but a man leaning on the half-doors would be passing time.
The dresser was a main feature of most cottage kitchens. The dresser was where delph, willow pattern,jugs crockery and ornaments were displayed
The bedroom was simply furnished, and it was dominated by a large bed with iron bedstead and brass fittings. The quilt or bedspreads were often showpieces, which were either knitted or different coloured patches sown by hand known as patchwork.
Donegal Thatched Cottages
Fortunately a good number of traditional thatched cottages are still to be found in Donegal. Some have been preserved in heritage style sites – The Glencolmcille Folk Village Museum , Lurgyvale Cottages in Kilmacrennan and The Doagh Famine Village on Doagh Island. Many others have been restored as private dwellings – some of which are availble to rent as holiday homes