Thatching in Ireland; Ulster.

The craft, in The Province of Ulster; until c1960

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

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lster... historically containing the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry/ Derry, Monaghan & Tyrone.


All the main methods of thatching were practiced in Ulster. On the coasts and the mountains of County Down, roped thatch was utilised.  With scolloped down ropes being used along part of the Antrim coast. Eastern inland areas used the standard scolloped method; some south eastern parts employing the thrusting method. A small area of south eastern County Down seems to have used clay, to fix layers of standard thatch.  Turf being the most common form of underlayer.  Cereal straw and locally flax, were the favoured types of thatching material.


County Donegal

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Roped... The two images opposite and below show typical coastal thatch; tightly roped into position. The image opposite dates from the late Victorian period, and shows roofs on Tory Island*, nine miles off this county’s coast.



Similar work is depicted below. This Edwardian stereoview is titled ‘three miles from Carrick’; placing it down the coast someway, but still prone to Atlantic storms. The thatch looks in good repair on both images; the ropes being fixed to pegs in the walls...
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By the sea... Above at Gweedore*, in around 1885. A district and parish located on the Atlantic coast; hence the roped thatch. This image illustrates in close up the roping used hereabouts, showing the stone pegs built into the wall head. The roof here is somewhat worn, with the roping a little slack... As the windows are blocked with turf and stones, this could well be a ‘posed’ photo; outside of a recently disused home.
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Inland thatch... This scene has been identified as ‘Old Town’ in Letterkenny*. The large Cathedral of St Eunan and St Columba, dominates the scene; this was built in 1901 and dates the image, as it seems fairly new, when the gent in the picture mended his bicycle... The two cottages appear to have a scolloped coat of thatch, between stone gables, under what seems to be a turf ridge...



County Derry/Londonderry

 

 

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Long rows... At Coleraine Street, Kilrea; lying close to the River Bann and the border with County Antrim. This Edwardian glass slide depicts numerous cottages, coated with some standard long straw thatch; perhaps with a darker heather roof in their midst. The thatch is long gone, the modern scene includes a busy main road...
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Turf and thatch... The rare image of a turf built home above, appears to have been located on the coast of this county; as roped thatch is depicted. Other images of Derry thatching show more standard work; as the photo opposite shows. Here a great deal of thatch appears at Bellaghy*, in around 1910. The roped /turf picture appears to be slightly later, taken by one Clifton Adams.


Washing day...Below, at Sixtowns**. This 1951 image by Caoimhín Ó Danachair depicts a newly repaired thatch. The original coatwork appears to have consisted of some Thrust thatching on the left hand portion of the roof; with a smoother finished, Scalloped thatch on the right.
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County Antrim
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Ropes... Found hereabouts, on the coast. The upper splendid scene is noted as ‘Causeway Cotages’; being easily indentified, as on the coast near the famous Giant’s Causeway. A late Victorian image showing some tourists chatting, alongside a neatly roped roof, topped with a turf ridge.
The image opposite is slightly younger, depicting more visitors to the Causeway. This time they are outside of ‘Kane’s Temperance Tea Rooms*’ later becoming ‘Kane's Royal Hotel’... What looks like an original part of the building is very neatly thatched. As in the upper view, this roof also has a turf ridge.
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Presidential thatch...the opposite photo depicts the ancestral home of William McKinley, President of the USA from 1897 until his assassination in 1901. His forebears left the farm here at Conagher, near Dervock, in 1743. The image shows some standard long straw work, with extra scalloped fixing, on the gable. The photo dates to around the time of the President’ tenure of office.
Dating to the same period, the well thatched roof below, protected what is claimed to be province's oldest pub, at Toome. Happliy extant and still thatched...
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Similar thatch is seen in the upper photo, of an 1880’s dwelling in Bladon Park*, a place now swallowed up by modern Belfast. The ridge here is of straw, atop a well thatched coat of the same material.
County Down
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Mountain Thatch... This Edwardian image depicts a ‘Mountain farm in the Mourne Mountains’. Roped thatch, used in these highland areas was noted as late as the 1950’s; being similar to the coastal thatch found in Ulster. With this rather thin thatch having the extra protection of a turf ridge...
Bobbins... The photos opposite and below show thatch finished with a ridge of twisted Bobbins; there are many more examples to follow...
Opposite is ‘Burren Wood Cottage' a typical cottage ornée, built in the late 18th century; part of a bigger set of buildings at Burrenwood, near Castlewellan. The thatch survived until the Second World War; now all is coated in corrugated tin. What is shown here is likely a roof thatched using the Trusting method. Dating to around 1920.




The lower farm lies at the foot of Slieve Bearnagh, a Mourne Mountain. The late Victorian thatch appears to have been ridged in two sections. The lower and older is topped with turf; the upper with a neat ridge of bobbins.
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Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea... At Newcastle*, or as this 1880’s image is titled, ‘on the road to Newcastle’. The view contains numerous thatched cottages, all seemingly well coated; many with mortar ridges...
County Armagh
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Stone gabled thatch... found on all three of the images from this county. The upper shows a peaceful scene at Portadown, in around 1900. The cottages being well coated, with a little extra outside fixing

The photo on the left is a little later, depicting thatch at Cavanballaghy, to the west of Armagh City. The roof appears to have being completed at differing times with the far right section probably being coated with the Thrusting method. (It is difficult to tell, from old images!!)


A neatly straw thatched home at Maghery, on the southwest shore of Lough Neagh is shown below; dating to the 1930’s. This appears to have Bobbin ridge of knots. In 1803 a similar home of 'cob' in this county, cost seven guineas to build, with 'straw and thatching' taking up two pounds, five shillings and sixpence...
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County Tyrone
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‘A Tyrone Farmyard’... this image was captured well before 1903; and shows a well thatched farmhouse and a barn with a poorer roof, ridged with turf.

Similar thatching is depicted in the opposite photo, some forty years later. A Second World War, American serviceman, stands before a neatly thatched terraced cottage at Gortin. Perhaps one of the eighty or so, noted in the 1840’s ‘indifferently built’ on ‘one irregular street ‘...

Sixties thatch... Below, a repaired roof at Broughderg, near Glenhull**.Taken by Michael J. Murphy in 1962. The work here is held in place mainly by untwisted scallops, whose ends have been pushed into the coatwork, like large staples.
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County Monaghan
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A splash of colour... Provided by the charming image above. This dates to 1771 and depicts a tranquil scene at Glennan, in the Parish of Donagh; in the north eastern part of the county. The artist has not shown much detail to the thatch, except for a plant growing on the roof of the right hand building. This could be a Houseleek, traditionally thought to protect against thunderstorms and lightning. More than a few images on these pages show something similar... (Image courtesy of British Library)


The old postcard opposite was created to show the splendid High Cross at Clones, in the west of the county, in around 1905. However some thatch also appears; perhaps work using the Thrusting method; and in good condition. Today there is thought to be only a couple of thatched buildings, of more than one storey, in Ireland; and these are not them... But the ninth century cross remains.
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Turn of the century... The splendid image opposite and the two below, are taken from stereoviews, that date to around 1900. None specify where in the county the scenes are; however they show the craft well.
The left hand image speaks for itself; enough to say that our man is using a thrusting tool, to repair the top of the roof. The apex appears to be protected by a thin line of turf... A close look will also reveal the iron hobnail footwear, of thatchers both young and old. Practical, but the metal nails cause havoc with the wooden rungs of any ladder...
Below left, is another thatch with a line of turf at the apex. The coatwork being in much worse shape, than the others in this group. The vertical lines of wear show where each strip of thatching joined its neighbour, as work originally progressed; Merging these together well is good working practice...
The roof on the right is in better shape, having had a large repair; probably using the thrusted method of working. I'm not quite sure what the comfy chair was for?
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County Cavan
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Town & Country thatch... The upper Cavan cottage is showing its age, in around 1950; wearing thin and allowing us to see the lines of scallop fixing, all topped by the remains of a Bobbin ridge... The lower scene is decades older and depicts the main street at Belturbet*, in the north of the county. Apart from the worn thatch on the right, other thatched buildings can be seen, on both sides of the street, most look in good condition.
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Two-storey... Few images appear of thatch in Ireland, covering more than a single storey; however Caoimhín Ó Danachair recorded this one in 1946, near Loch Gowna**. Which seemingly had a bright new ridge, of Galvalised iron...
County Fermanagh
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Thrust thatch..? It is difficult tell in most photographs, but the roof above looks a likely candidate. And neatly done in long straw too... It lay at Dog Big**, Devenish; being capured by Leo Corduff in 1965. The thatcher having created a rolled gable, fixing into the underlayers of thatch
This rather grainy view is titled ‘Roadside cabin south west of Lisnaskea’; dating to around 1905. It depicts a rare example of a turf built home. Most of these quickly decayed, if the walls were exposed to the weather; as this one seems to have eventually done... The straw thatching is roughly finished but seems thick enough to give a watertight covering; fixed by scallops from the outside. A wooden chimney lum sits at the apex of the roof... photo courtesy of J. Flynn
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The old left hand photo depicts the Edwardian main street of Newtonbutler* in the southeast corner of the county, close to County Monaghan, and the town of Clones.. The lower image dates from much the same time and shows the nearby village of Maguiresbridge.

Both show rows of neatly thatched dwellings; with no external fixings. More than hinting that some water reed has been ultilised probably from neighbouring Upper Lough Erne; which still has extensive reed beds.
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Natural resource... The reed beds in Lough Erne appear on the right, in this 1802 print. Such a valuable resource would surely have been exploited down through the centuries; as such places were in other parts of Ireland...( Image courtesy of British Library)






** 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...
To continue the tour into The Province of Connaught, click Here