Thatching in Ireland; Munster

The craft, in The Province of Munster, until c1960

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

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unster... Covering the historic counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary & Waterford.

With counties Clare and Kerry having an extensive Atlantic coastline, roped thatch was widely used hereabouts. But once inland some very neat work in water reed was found, in Counties Limerick and Clare, around the estuary of the Shannon and along the River Suir, in and around County Waterford. A form of combed cereal thatch was noted in 1810, in County Cork; this material may well have been much more widespread, giving rise to some very neat work, in some old images... Both thrust and scalloped thatching methods were also found throughout.




County Waterford

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Waterford Water Reed... The three images here; above, opposite and below, are all views of water reed thatching in this county; which appears to have been carried out to a high standard...
The upper image records a coastal roof at Roberts Cross**, on the Ring Peninsula. A scene captured by Leo Corduff in 1955. At the front is shown a close up of the ridging used here; water reed fixed with three lines of scallops...
The photo on the right shows similar, close by at Ringville**, in 1960. A view by Caoimhín Ó Danachair , depicting a rolled gable end; again held in place by numerous scallops.
The lower photo is somewhat older, dating from around 1905; it shows a still extant thatched, lodge gate, at Strancally Castle* on the River Blackwater. Like the Edwardian view, today’s roof is also of water reed...
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Houses, for goats, hens & people, in 1935... This year saw Albert Eskeröd on his travels; which included capturing images of thatch hereabouts... The opposite charming view is titled, ‘houses for goats and hens’. These were situated at James Hart’s farm at Glendalough**, seemingly in the foothills of the Comeragh Mountains. The thatch shown is of straw; possibly thrusted thatched, on the left hand building. Scallops fix the thatch on the right, from the outside, with a line of turf on the ridge apex...
Below is a thatch at Helvick, on the eastern tip of the Ring Peninsula; but unlike the building shown above, there’s no water reed here. Perhaps that material became popular and available, in the 1940’s and 50’s, in this area ? But in 1935 the Helvick roof appears as a worn, scalloped fixed, long straw thatch. With a wooden chimney lum at the left hand end...
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County Tipperary
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Choice of materials... Although this county is known for its rich agriculture; and other images show there was no shortage of straw, for thatching; Caoimhín Ó Danachair found examples of heather and water reed work... This was at Goatenbridge**, in 1948. A location near county Waterford, which explains the use of water reed, depicted in the opposite photo. The upper view shows heather thatching, images of which are rare. It’s neatly done, with some heavily repaired thatch in the background...







Below, is the well known Rock of Cashel; but the photographer has also included some thatch in their scene (as well as a spirited donkey!). This dates to the 1880’s, depicting thatching carried out to a high standard. Probably using scalloped fixed long straw...
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Middling thatch... Above are two well coated roofs, from the central part of this large county. Both taken by Caoimhín Ó Danachair in 1945. The left hand farm lay at Donohill**, to the east of Cashel; the righ hand cottage was near Thurles**, someway to the north, on the River Suir. A close look at this image shows the thickness of some new thatching on the left hand hipped end...
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In the north... Two more photos by Caoimhín Ó Danachair , from 1945; this time depicting work in the north of the county. The upper little cottage at Borrisokane**, seems empty; but someone took the trouble to recently have a section of roof roughly thatched and ridged. The wooden chimney lum is still in place.


The opposite home at Lorrha** looks in much better shape. With a well coated roof of scalloped fixed long straw...
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This Edwardian glass slide is entitled ‘ A Tipperary Cottage’. As ever with these images, the inhabitants have been encouraged to show their domestic utensils, carts and animals. Something missing in the later, more realistic photos... However the view shows a roof in two states; a heavily repaired section, fixed with outside scallops; adjoining a well thatched roof. Seemingly coated using the thrusted method. Like the little thatch at Borrisokane, it also had a chimney lum...
County Clare

Bad Times...
Famine de- thatch..."The Sketch of Moveen, to which I now call your attention, is that of another ruined village in the Union of Kilrush. It is a specimen of the dilapidation I behold all around..... he has left the walls of the houses standing, while he has unroofed them and taken away all shelter from the people. They look like the tombs of a departed race, rather than the recent abodes of a yet living people... all testify to the vast extent of the evictions at the present time. Sixteen thousand and odd persons unhoused in the Union of Kilrush before the month of June in the present year...' From; The London Illustrated News, 15th December 1849
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Four decades later and seven miles away...
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Imfamous... These images show the work of the ‘Vandeleur Ram’; at work, on the estate of that name, in 1888. The pictures speak for themselves... It’s enough to say that tenants were evicted, for non payment of rent, on this and other properties; during a severe agricultural depression; in what was known as 'The Land War'. Apart from the obvious brutality shown here, it is interesting that the photos depict homes and roofs in good condition; with tidily roped thatch, for a coastal location at Moyasta*. It was the tenant who was responsible for the upkeep of the landlord’s property; and although the rent may have been overdue, the property so wantonly destroyed, had been kept in good shape...


Below, is what’s left of the Magrath family home at nearby Kilrush*... A little inland, so no roped thatch hereabouts. Just a roof so well thatched, it survived some official vandalism, virtually in one piece...
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Better Times...
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Albert Eskeröd, on his travels in 1935, spent a while on the coast of this county. Capturing on film a lot of what he saw. The upper view is titled ‘Thatchers at work on the house of P. Ó Flannagáin, Doolin**’. They are covering his roof with a thinnish coat of straw, using the directional method; fixing from the outside with scallops... Nearby roofs being covered in the same manner. The image opposite is of nearby Fisherstreet**.
The lower left photo is of ‘Mrs. Costelloe's house, Kilbaha**’; on the Shannon estuary but near enough to Atlantic gales, to need roped thatch. Not so the cottages, on the right, at Liscannor**. An 1814 survey found 200 houses here, with only around 10 ‘covered with flags’...
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In the ‘Statistical Survey’ of this county, in 1808, one Hely Dutton noted the thatching, ‘very neatly performed and some taste is shewn in the finishing of the twisted ridge’... Turf underlayers were noted ‘after which the straw being wound up in handfuls is thrust by an iron instrument’... ‘Heath fern & rushes’ and sometimes potato stalks were used... the latter only lasting a winter...
The Upper photo, taken at Addergoole**, in the north of Clare, by Domhnall Ó Cearbhaill, shows a roof thatched in a similar manner, in straw. The bobbin ridge is quite clearly depicted, with the coatwork showing the layers of thrusted material. No mention was made in 1808 of the water reed beds, based around Bunratty on the Shannon estuary...
Another bobbin ridge is visible on the roof opposite, at Gleninagh**; at the entrance to Galway Bay, but far enough inland it seems, to avoid a roped down thatch. A view captured by Séamus Ó Duilearga, in 1930. The 16th-century castle here was noted as being thatched with straw, in 1839...
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County Limerick
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Estuary thatching… In water reed; above and opposite at Adare*. These two photos date from around 1900 and depict immaculate water reed work, carried out for the Dunraven estate. The cottages date from the 1830’s, built to house estate workers, many are extant.
The reed almost certainly came from beds on the nearby Shannon Estuary. This was often harvested, as winter work, by fisherfolk from the Newtown area of Clarina. Which lies on the River Maigue, downstream from Adare; and six miles from Limerick City.
Here, in 1755, eighty thatched house burnt down; the tidy sum of £300 being raised ‘for the sufferers’. Thatch cottages were noted, in the heart of the city, in the 1840s. Whether Shannon reed was utilised here, is not recorded…
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Further downstream... And a little inland, lies the town of Askeaton; only nine miles from Adare, but the thatch shown on the left, is mainly of straw.
This place is famous for one of the most complete ruins, of a medieval abbey in the country. Which the photographer, in around 1890, was keen to show. Thatched homes were included in the view; which have roofs in various degrees of wear.
The right hand cottage has had a major repair, seemingly completed in water reed; with all other thatching here done in straw...
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County Limerick Thatcher 1... We’ve met this gent in the introduction, but he’s worth seeing once more... This is Mr J. Herbert, thatching at Clash North**, in the west of the county; in 1940.
The photographer, Caoimhín Ó Danachair took several images of the work; showing our man completing a standard long straw thatch, fixing with scallops.
The large heaps of straw, in the foreground of the above photo, were likely the material in use. This is work of a good standard, being ridged, trimmed and dressed, as work progressed...
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County Limerick Thatcher 2... Meet Mr O'Sullivan, thatching at Tooreendonnell**; which lies very close to Mr Herbert’s job at Clash North...
No doubt he was captured on film by Caoimhín Ó Danachair, at the same time, in 1940.
But Mr O'Sullivan is using the thrusting method, of covering this roof; hence the almost lack of scallops. He to is ridging, trimming and dressing, as his work progresses...
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Methods... These three views, above, opposite and below, illustrate the main thatching methods, used in this county; all were photographed by Caoimhín Ó Danachair, in the late 1930’s...
The upper image was located in the same area as the two Limerick thatchers , in the very west of the county. The scene is entitled, ‘Terrace of thatched houses at Park, Athea**’; and depicts a roof coated with the thrusted method; similar to that done by Mr O'Sullivan.
The worn roof opposite at Knocknaboul**, clearly shows the lines of scallops used as a fixing for this long straw roof. An example of the work being done by Mr Herbert above; near the end of its life.
The example of thatching below, at Dromreask**, also lies close to the work of the thatchers seen above; but it’s two years older and the roof is coated in the directional method. Consisting of thin, overlapping layers of directional thatch, fixed from the outside by lines of scallops. A similar method is seen, in images of Atlantic coastal thatching; where ropes are used, instead of scallops...
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County Cork
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In the 1810 Statistical Survey of this county, the Rev. Horatio Townsend noted that, ‘new farmhouses’ were ‘thatched with peculiar neatness and will stand for ten years’. He also observed the practice, ‘found in Devon’, of ‘beating the wheat out of the ears by hand for the purpose of saving the straw from being bruised for the purpose of thatching’... The latter practice of preparing a form of combed cereal reed, is noted rarely in Ireland; but looking at the many neat thatches, that appear in old images, I feel the preparation method was quite widespread. The splendid thatch above, in ‘East Cork**’ certainly fulfills the Reverend’s criteria. Although the photo is nearly a century and a half later, taken by Séamus Ó Duilearga...
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Coastal thatch... At Crosshaven, in Cork Harbour. Still mainly a fishing village, when this image was taken, in the 1880’s... The front thatch is heavily repaired; with the rear having a tidy roof; perhaps using the ‘combed’ cereal straw, mentioned by the Rev. Townsend seventy odd years before...
Glengarriff...The Earl of Bantry, lord hereabouts, decided to follow a fashion, of the early nineteeth century and create a cottage ornée. His lordship also created an island in the Glengarriff river, on which to build it. The image opposite shows the ‘cottage’ in around 1910... Roofed with repaired, standard long straw thatch. The cottage attracted many visitors, including the literary gents Wordsworth and Thackeray. The cottage succumbed to fire in 1959…
Below is a scene from much the same period, depicting a nearby refreshment spot. This was‘Tunnel Cottage*’, which lay at the entrance to a series of road tunnels, that lead over the border, to County Kerry. The thatch here covers a more modest dwelling, than his lordships cottage, and is coated in heather, on the left side; with a rough straw thatch on the right. The owner looks perturbed, as passing trade passes by....
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Mountainside thatch.... The old stereoview on the left is titled ‘Cork Cottage’... As seen, this could mean varing types of buildings, in this county. A glance behind the dwelling shows a mountainous background; thus the scene could be set in any of Cork’s mountain ranges. What is clear, is that most of this late Victorian thatch, is in need of a replacement! The layer of underlying turf is exposed in too many places... A newish, decent coat of straw appears at the right hand end; perhaps to be extended in due course.


The location of the lower farm is well recorded, by Carl Von Sydow, as being near Ballingeary** in the Shehy Mountains. This thatched building was literally on the mountainside, as the haystacks looming up behind testify... Probably taken around 1925, Carl’s photo depicts a roof, with a large section newly coated in straw. The family pose under a thatched shed, held in place by some poles and thinner branches.
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Lums... Examples of which were still to be found in Cork, in the 1930’s. Usually made of wood, then thatched into place; they allowed the smoke to escape, often from an open hearth.
The 1939 example above, was captured by Caoimhín Ó Danachair at Rockchapel**, in the north of the county. The roof consisting of a directional coat of thatch, fixed by scallops from the outside.
The location of the buildings opposite and below are not recorded. However Albert Eskeröd did note the names of those involved, in 1935... The opposite image is titled, ‘Mr. Pádraig Ó Sé and Séan O’Sullivan looking at the outhouse**’. The thatch here is fairly worn, but repaired in places; fixed by bent scallops held by twisted ones. Perhaps the roof is in better shape, than the stone wall?
The lower photo shows ‘The farmyard of Conchubhar Ó Cróinín**’. What this appears to mainly consist of, is two disused dwellings. The far one has lost its thatch and shows the strips of turf underlayer, on top of the remaining timbers... The central cottage is in better shape; displaying its wooden lum well; but the thatch appears unkept. At the front is a haystack...
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County Kerry
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Royal Stopover... The Lakes of Killarney have drawn visitors for a long while; with Queen Victoria touring the area in 1861. Whilst sailing on Lough Leane, her party took lunch at Glena Cottage; then around forty years old, being built in the cottage ornée style; and part of the Kenmare estate . The image above dates to the 1870’s depicting a well thatched long straw roof, a complicated shape, in good condition. Two more royal parties paused here, in 1869 and 1885... The cottage succumbed to fire in 1920, which may have been started maliciously.

Another cottage ornée is found opposite, again on the Kenmere estate, on Ross Island; housing the estate forester. Similar high standard work is illustrated, being photographed in around 1900. Like Glena Cottage, this too has not survived...
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The Gap of Dunloe... Another tourist destination visited by Queen Victoria, in 1861. Being a scenic mountain pass, sitting in an area that has been photographed a great deal, down the years... The upper stereoview, dates from around 1900, being titled ‘A Peasant’s Cabin’; but in fact depicts a good sized longhouse. The right hand byre is likely thatched with heather; the remaining roofs are well coated in straw, topped with a bobbin ridge...
The left hand scene is a little earlier, showing the well known ‘Kate Kearney’s Cottage’. This appears to be two buildings, the right hand thatched well enough in straw, with a wide ridge. The left is coated in the directional method, fixed with lines of scallops. Perhaps it’s Kate in the photo; famous for producing a potent, illegal ‘Mountain Dew’. Whether Queen Victoria stopped for a tipple is not recorded. But Kate probably firstly lit her still, sometime after the royal perambulation.... .
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Killarney... The images above and opposite, illustrate town life here in the 1890’s; depicting a fair few thatches. The upper shows a ‘Laneway’ full of Coopers. The nearest overhanging thatch being edged with decorative scallops. This finish appears on a roof in the opposite photo, overlooking a sheepfair...
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North Kerry... Away from the tourists, Caoimhín Ó Danachair photographed the cottages above and on the right, in 1938. The upper is a thatch at Newtownsandes**, close to County Limerick. A fairly worn, scalloped fixed, long straw roof has been ridged and repaired quite recently. A wooden chimney lum is also shown.

Another lum appears, thatched into place, in the opposite image. Caoimhín has this as simply being in ‘North Kerry**’; but it’s probably quite close to his other scene. Again the thatch appears as a lightly worn roof, neatly repaired with the directional method of thatching...
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On the edge... And the end of this tour. These two views depict thatch on the westernmost coast of this county and Ireland... The home at Ballyeightragh** opposite, lay on the Dingle Peninsular, a little way inland, thus the roof was not fully roped, when photographed by Albert Eskeröd , on his travels in 1935. The middle section seems newly repaired, with outside scallop fixings. Some of these are holding down at least three lengths of rope.
The lower roof is completely roped into place, but this was no doubt necessary, for a thatch on Valencia Island**; just off the Iveragh Peninsula. An image captured by Caoimhín Ó Danachair in 1946. A very similar thatch, to that depicted on Tory Island, at the start of this tour, in County Donegal; except the eaves roping is held down by weighted stones and not tied to pegs in the wall head...
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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...
I hope you enjoyed this long excursion... To return to the World Tour click HERE