Thatching in Ireland; Connaught

The craft, in the Province of Connaught, until c1960

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his page is one of four covering the islands of Ireland. If you have started here please firstly go to the Introduction page Here; as it contains some useful background information, to this and the other three pages...

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onnaught... Covering the historic counties of Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon & Sligo


Roped thatch is found in this province, especially on the coasts of Counties Mayo and Galway. The much photographed islands of Achill and the Arans having no other type. Inland the scalloped standard method seems to have been widespread. In 1824 Bobbin ridges were noted in Galway, along with the use of the Thrusting method; although the later images found on this page don’t seem to show this...


County Leitrim

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Tea time... at Glencar. This cottage lay near the Glencar Waterfall and the border with county Sligo. As the images* show, refreshments were served in around 1890. The thatch is well done possibly using scalloped long straw; or perhaps a form of combed ceral thatch, as the edges are not fixed from the outside, by scallops. The teas were seemingly served by members of the Siberry family...
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1946... The date of the photos** above and opposite, taken by Caoimhín Ó Danachair. His upper image depicts a farm at Drumshanbo; with the opposite cottages situated near Ballinamore. All the thatching is similar, scalloped coating in longstraw. With ridges of the same materials. The farm has lost a fair amount of thatch, on the outbuildings, to corrugated sheeting...
County Sligo
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A dash of colour... This late Victorian, hand tinted glass slide, shows a farm near Lough Gill; which is mainly situated in this county, but partly in County Leitrim... The thatch is very similar to that in Leitrim. But possibly coated with a neat thrusted thatch. This roof is in good condition. The right hand section being a little younger. The tinter has assumed the crop in the foreground is a cereal; but in fact shows ‘cocks’ of hay. A similar crop and thatch are in the background...
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Two storey thatch... depicting Union Rock from ‘Old street Collooney’. The scene, from an old postcard, states the view above was captured in September 1913. It shows some scarce double storey thatch. All of which appears to be of Scalloped fixed long straw. Except perhaps for the dark coloured thatch, which could be of heather?
The image opposite is of Sligo town looking towards Knocknarea hill. This places the long row of thatch, on the southern side of the river Garavogue; which runs from Lough Gill, location of the first Sligo image above. The photo of these single storey homes dates to the decade before the Collooney scene.
As does the lower postcard, showing a ‘Sligo Farm’. The thatch here looks to be held in place with wooden outside fixings, seemingly topped with a narrow turf ridge...
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County Mayo
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Achill Island... The largest of Ireland’s islands, close to the mainland, but facing Atlantic storms. Hence all thatching tended to be roped into place. The above 1920’s cottage at Keel, is a typical example. Unlike coastal thatch further north, weighted ropes were utilised; any roping to pegs being confined to the gable ends...
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Three more views of Achill Island... The top left image is from the same period and same location, as the upper view at Keel. However this ‘Beehive Cottage’, was a type of ‘Blackhouse’ with no chimney and one room, belonging to an earlier period of the island’s building history. This example looks abandoned, but these were occupied into the twentieth century.

The upper right photo depicts a harvest of oats, in around 1900. Oat straw providing much thatch on the island. Slievemore mountain lies in the distance.

The opposite picture of Dooagh village is much the same age; nearly all the buildings here being roped thatched...
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Town thatch, ripe for development... Above a 1900’s view of Castlebar* Mayo’s county town. A glance down to the busy main street goes past existing thatch cottages, on the left. But near the top, on the right, new building is in progress, seemingly replacing the existing, no doubt thatched homes...
A close look at the Castlebar thatch shows some standard, scalloped fixed thatch, as seems to be the case, in the lower image; of the roofs at Doolough** in Kiltane parish. Although close to the sea; roping down the roof was obviously not necessary. The thatch, on the right hand cottage, has partly worn back to reveal scallops, holding down some thin wooden ledgers; in turn fixing down courses of standard thatching. Another roof in this scene sports some fairly extensive repairwork...
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Back on the Atlantic coast... At Binghamstown**; a scene captured by Caoimhín Ó Danachair in 1935. A similar location to Achill Island, a little to the south, called for the same method of weighted, roped thatching to be utilised. A century or so before it was noted, that straw to thatch a roped cottage in this county, cost ten shillings; with a thatcher taking two days to cover it, at a shilling a day...

County Galway

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Connemara... The area known as Connemara lies mainly to the west of Lough Corrib; remote for much of its history and still having its own identity. Roped thatching was widely used here, the upper 1920’s image captures a coastal farm, with Cashel Hill in the distance. Thus this could be in the Doonreagen area. A small thatched rick is also shown.The roping is tied to wall and gable pegs, unlike the Edwardian postcard opposite which depicts some more common weighted roping, on a ‘Connemara Cottage’...
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Making the best of a bad situation..? Above is a likely 1880’s shot, of the scene between ‘ Letterfrack and Kylemore Abbey, Connemara’*. For some unknown reason the family here have probably had to provide their own roadside shelter... Their home consisted of what lay to hand; turf, for walling and a likely underlayer for some rough thatching; weighted with the odd stone. Vegetation on the roof shows this dwelling had been constructed for a while. Some other, more regular thatched cottages are in the distance; along with a solitary horse and trap... The road is now part of the sinuous N59.
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Bobbins and Twine... The photos above and opposite show a similar thatching technique, being used on both cottages and hayricks... The upper image was taken by Domhnall Ó Cearbhaill, possibly in the 1930’s; showing work at Moycullen**.The thatcher has covered the roof with a thin coat of directional thatch, held in place by twine, fixed by what appears to be split pegs; something like an old fashioned clothes peg. All topped with a decorative ridge of bobbins. Similar work, covering a haystack, was captured in 1940 by Heinrich Becker, near Athenry. The boobins are more spaced, but are still very decorative....
In 1824, one Hely Dutton was impressed with the work in this county, with its ‘neatly twisted ridges of straw’; which he thought superior to work in County Dublin, with mortar ridges... He also noted the thrusting method on turf underlayers; ‘into which straw is trust with an iron instrument, and neatly smoothed with a rake’. Fixing with scallops and tying on with straw rope is also mentioned by this gent...
The Claddagh...
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Once, just outside the walls of Galway City; on the bank of the River Corrib, lay the thatched neighbourhood of The Claddagh; a Gaelic speaking enclave of fishermen and their families. At its greatest extent these were living in over 450 thatched homes. The images show mainly well thatched cottages, coated with scalloped fixed straw. However there also appear to be roofs of water reed or combed straw; as no outside fixings are present.
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After centuries of occupation, a bad outbreak of tuberculosis hereabouts, in 1927, gave the Galway authorities the excuse to sweep away the entire neighbourhood. Stating that the homes where ‘unfit for human habitation’. Nearly all the residents were forced out, prefering their familiar homes to the ones offered by the council, often on the same site. The last thatched dwelling finally being pulled down, in 1934.
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The Aran Islands...
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The Aran Islands, located at the mouth of Galway Bay lie in a very exposed position.... Consisting of Inishmore /Inis Mór, , by far the largest island, followed by Inishmaan/Inis Meáin and Inisheer/Inis Oírr, the smallest. Roped thatch roofs were found throughout, fixed to pegs in walltops and gables...
The image above is a view of homes at Luogh**, with Inis Oírr lying in the distance, taken by Leo Corduff. This dates from 1955 and depicts well thatched roofs lying between stone gables, tightly roped and windproof...
The scene opposite, captured by Carl Von Sydow, is decades earlier; but depicts similar thatching, on a somewhat weedy roof... This thatch protected the Post and Telegraph Office, on Inis Meáin**...
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County Roscommon
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Water reed thatching... Above, at Kilbarry**, which lies on the banks of the Shannon, opposite County Longford . This photo of some very neat work, was taken by Caoimhín Ó Danachair , probably in the 1950’s.
An earlier visitor to the county was one Issac Weld, who carried out the Statistical Survey of Roscommon in 1832. He was unimpressed with the housing he found, but he did note some numbers... In Elphin he saw 151 thatched and only 11 slated homes. In Boyle, 423 were thatched of which 94 had a second storey; with 74 slated roofs... ‘Around 30 of the thatched ‘cabins’ had no chimney; some of these had a hole cut in the roof’... Two of the 423 homes noted at Boyle are shown opposite, around seventy years later.
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Town and Country thatch... The upper image, from around 1955 depicts a cottage with a bobbin ridge, on its last legs... The location, within the county is unknown, as it is for the small thatch opposite, some half a century older. This building could well be a have been used for ‘Booleying’; the practice of taking livestock up to the hills, to graze during the summer months; and living there.


The lower image of the same age could not be different... The county town* in around 1900, still had more than one thatch. Both probably coated with water reed...
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** All the images, marked thus, in this and the remaining pages on Ireland are © National Folklore Collection, UCD. Who have generously allowed their archive to appear under a Creative Commons licence.
*Images marked so are © of National Library of Ireland, who have kindly permitted their material to be used under the same conditions. Many thanks to both institutions...
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