Do you have stories in your family about the cottage your Grandad grew up in? Have you visited Ireland and were charmed by beautiful thatched roof cottages? Read on to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Ireland’s iconic homes.
It’s hard to imagine an Ireland without thatched roof cottages, but cottages didn’t weren't common until the 18th century! Before then, our Irish ancestors were living in thatched roof round huts.
Often, thatched roof cottages were built by the people who stayed in them, but these people rarely owned the land the houses were built on. Instead, it was common in the 18th and 19th century to be subject to the whims of wealthy landowners who were often British. When people were evicted, the landowners would burn the thatched roof so it was unusable to the old patrons and anyone else who might want to move in. Some places, like the Belcarra Eviction Cottage in Co.Mayo, have been restored as Irish heritage sites to memorialize this common experience (credit to Museums of Mayo for the photo).
Many thatched roof cottages were abandoned during the Irish Potato famine in the middle of the nineteenth century. Many of these stoney ruins are still found throughout Ireland, particularly in the western region, which was devastated by the famine.
One of the primary features of a thatched roof cottage is the chimney and turf fire. In the chilly Irish weather, gathering around a turf fire after a long day of farm work was an important part of daily life. Turf fires were almost always burning, so proper ventilation was a necessity. Thatched roof cottages are crafted from stones and then covered with white plaster on both the inside and the outside. Traditionally, these cottages were only one room with a loft for sleeping in. The thatching itself is created from natural, locally sourced reeds that grew quickly in Ireland’s temperate climate. Tightly woven thatched reeds were resistant to rain and wouldn’t blow way in storms and were fortified by a layer of turf. The thatching needed replacing every 10 years.
That’s where those iconic red doors come in. Cottage doors often separate in half, allowing any extra smoke out and bringing fresh air in. The doors were also great for keeping any wandering farm animals out of the house! The front door almost always faces south, but, more often that not, there is a second, northern door for additional ventilation. Windows in Irish cottages were often small and few number thanks to a nineteenth century window tax that determined wealth by the amount of glass windows in a home.
Thatched roof cottages were often simply decorated, but one of the most important pieces of decor was the St.Brigid’s cross, which hung over the entrance of the door. Made every February 1st, on the feast of St.Brigid, the crosses were thought to protect the home. Biddy Murphy carries a handmade replica of these crosses to hang above the door, just like the Irish have for hundreds of years. (If you want to know more about St.Brigid, check out the blog written all about her here.)
Traditional Cottages Today
The amount 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. Even today, those who still live in thatched homes have roofs that are half thatch and half slate. Thatchers, the professional people who performed the work of crafting the thatched roofs, is a dying trade in many parts of Ireland. However, there is a movement towards preserving this important symbols of Irish heritage and practical living!
Today, thatched roof cottages are an iconic Irish symbol, as recognizable as the shamrock or the Celtic harp. They are featured on postcards and decor as quaint reminders of rural Irish life. Wherever you live, you can bring that rustic touch into your home with one of Biddy Murphy’s thatched roof key holders.
Want to stay in a thatched roof cottage? We’ve got a couple of recommendations for a one-of-a-kind trip!
Where to Stay
There are nine cottages for rent, each one built in the traditional style with a turf fire place. The local area is mountainous and beautiful - the cottages are a short drive away from Kylemore Abbey and Connemara National Park. The cottages are located in the village of Tullycross right across from two pubs, Paddy Coyne and Angler’s Rest (or Sammon’s, as the locals call it).
This restored pre-famine cottage has all the rustic charm of a traditional cottage with some conveniences added for the modern vacationer! Surrounded by natural beauty, you’d never know Galway City is a short car ride away. Of course, this is a very popular place to stay, so your best chance for booking is to go in the off season in the winter or book early.
Only two miles away from Killarney National Park, these three cottages in the countryside make for an unforgettable stay! Just as quaint as a traditional cottage but with all the comfiness of your own home.
Thanks for reading! Does your family have stories about their ancestral thatched roof cottage? Have you ever stayed in a thatched roof cottage? Let us know below!
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