Ireland is a country steeped in history, myth, and legend. The rolling green hills, rugged coastline, and ancient ruins are just a few elements that make this country a truly unique and enchanting place. Among the most iconic features of the Irish landscape are the thatched cottages that dot the countryside. These charming and quaint homes are not only picturesque but also a symbol of the country's rural heritage and way of life.
Traditional Cottages in Ireland
The thatched cottage with whitewashed walls has become a powerful symbol of Ireland. The Irish cottage had a distinct style. Namely, by using local materials, cottages blended into the landscape. As durable as they are environmentally friendly, Irish thatched cottages are the products of centuries of tradition and history.
The exterior of traditional Irish Cottages
The traditional Irish cottage is rectangular, divided into rooms that occupy the full width of the house with no central hallway or passage; it has thick strong walls, a steeply sloped roof supported by the walls rather than pillars or posts; there is an open hearth at floor level, with a chimney protruding through the roof ridge; they are usually one storey high, and have windows and ‘half doors’ at the sides of the house.
Stone with lime and sand mortar was the most common material used, followed by tempered clay, which was more common in the southeast of Ireland due to the slightly drier climate.
How were cottages built?
Traditional Irish thatched cottages were built using locally sourced materials and simple construction techniques.
1. Foundation: The foundation of a thatched cottage was usually made from stone or a mixture of stones and clay. This provided a stable base for the walls and structure.
2. Walls: The walls of the cottage were constructed using a technique called "wattle and daub." This involved creating a framework of wooden posts (wattle) and filling the gaps between the posts with a mixture of clay, straw, and sometimes animal dung (daub). This method created strong, insulating walls that could withstand the weather.
3. Roof Structure: The most distinctive feature of a thatched cottage was its roof. The roof structure was made from wooden beams and rafters, which were usually made from local timber. These beams provided the framework for the thatch to be laid upon.
4. Ridge and Gables: The top of the thatched roof was finished with a ridge, which was often made from a wooden beam or a ridge pole. This ridge helped to hold the thatch in place and added stability to the roof. Gables (the triangular sections at the ends of the cottage) were also thatched and provided additional protection against wind and rain.
5. Finishing Touches: Once the thatch was in place, the cottage's windows and doors were installed. These were usually simple in design and made from wood.
6. Interior: In the early 1900s cottages evolved with two rooms up and two rooms downstairs with 600mm stone walls. Most cottages faced south, and windows were small to keep in heat and reduce draughts. The parlour was located to the rear of the fireplace and was usually kept for important visitors. The hearth (fireplace) was the centre of the home, the centre of cooking, warmth, and water heating, it was the social core where stories were told, songs were sung, and life was shared.
What is thatching?
A thatched roof is made up of layers of straw or reed, which are laid over a wooden frame and secured with ropes or wire. The roof is then covered with a layer of mud or clay to provide insulation and protection from the elements. Thatching is a skilled craft involving building a roof using dry vegetation, including straw, water, reed, flax, sedge, heather, or rushes. The trade of thatching has been retired in many parts of Ireland. However, there is a movement toward preserving this important symbol of Irish heritage.
Distinct half door
The front door of the cottage faced south where nature allowed. Some cottages had a door on either side which was used to beat the prevailing winds. The half door was popular to allow for ventilation and security. Half doors were painted red; in Irish folklore having a red door was said to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.
Where are the cottages now?
Thatched cottages have been a quintessential Irish symbol for hundreds of years, but it is estimated there are just over 1,000 still in existence on the island.
Back in the 1800s, as many as half of the Irish population lived in thatched cottages. Today, less than 0.1 percent of those living in Ireland reside in thatched cottages. The number of people living in thatched roof cottages began decreasing in the 1920s and 1930s when slate roofing - which was seen as a more durable, cheaper alternative - started to become popular.
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