Irish Cottages Irish
History of Irish Cottages
The very words 'Irish Cottage' conjure up images
of thatched roofs, whitewashed walls, half-doors, smoke curling from
the chimney, and open turf fires. Those words also evoke
feelings of warmth, nostalgia, comfort and contentment. Much
of that is with good reason as the Irish cottage was, for two
hundred years, a great feature on the Irish landscape and home to
millions of Irish people, many of whom emigrated to the United
States and elsewhere. Click
here for Cottage Insurance advice
were simple affairs, and while the basic design was the same throughout the
country, there were differences on a regional basis. One
major regional difference would have been the use of mud walls,
rather than stone, in some
areas. Strange as it seems, when the mud walls were dried and
given several coats of whitewash, and when the thatched roof was
allowed to overhang the walls, they remained dry and lasted for many
(There's lots more information on Traditional Irish Cottages
further down the page)
Old Village of Thatched Cottages in
What is a Cottage? It is probably a good idea that any article
that discusses 'cottages' should, in the first instance, define just
what a cottage is. Immediately there are problems. Some
dictionaries suggest 'a small house of single storey'. Others
suggest that the small house has to be in a rural setting to
be classified as a cottage. But not all agree. In
England, for instance two story houses in the countryside are very
often referred to as 'cottages'. A definition of Irish
Cottages can also be problematic but does have more clear-cut
criteria. Usually the Irish Cottage is single storey, in a
rural setting, and not occuoied by the a farmer and his
family. For houses occupied by the farmer are always
'farm-houses0 no matter what the size. In past times, the
Irish-Cottage was built on the land of the farmer and occupied by
the farm labourer and his family. Some farmers would have many
such cottages on his land, and occupancy of the cottage was part of
the wages of the agricultural labourer.
A similar situation existed with large estates and large
mills. And so we find Estate Cottages and Mill Cottages
throughout Ireland and fitting into the category of Irish Cottage.
The estate workers or the mill workers were seen by less fortunate
workers as privileged because of the house that went with the
job. However, very often, the occupiers of such cottages saw
themselves at a huge disadvantage. They had no room for
negotiation with their employers regarding wages, hours worked, or
days worked. Fearful of the wrath of an angry employer,
the occupiers of those Irish Cottages had to learn to doff the cap
and tug the forelock and toe the proverbial line.
On the other
hand, many cottages were owned by their occupiers and perhaps it is
those rural, occupier owned, thatched cottages that we think of when
we are discussing Irish Cottages.
If you are renting an irish Cottage and want an original old cottage
rather than a modern fabricated Irish cottage, you should ask the
vendor before booking. All too often people book Irish
Cottages for the Holiday only to find when they get to their
destination that the cottage has been built in the last ten years
and bears no resmeblance to Old irish Cottages other than the fact
that they are small and might have a thatched roof.
Building an Irish Cottage
Roof timbers in Irish Cottages were relatively easy to obtain in
areas near afforested hills or in good farm land where trees were
still plentiful and had not yet fallen prey to the onslaught of modern
chain-saws. In some rocky, coastal areas it was a different story
and roof timbers had to be imported into the area. In these coastal
areas people were always on the lookout for timbers washed
onto the shore from ships that had encountered storms.
For over 9.000 years, thatch has
been used as a roofing material in Ireland especially on Irish
Cottages. Nowadays, the
difficulty of finding people to do the thatching, the further difficulty
of acquiring insurance for thatched Irish cottages, the
need for continual maintenance of this roofing material, and
the availability of cheaper more durable roofing have all
mitigated against the preservation of this important part of
Where stone was available
for Irish cottage building it was
used. Stone was either collected by horse and cart on the
sandstone mountains or quarried from the limestone quarries that
existed all over the country. The limestone quarries served
many purposes. Limestone could be burned to produce lime for the
fields and lime with which to make mortar for building. It could
also be broken into small pieces for road making, roughly shaped for
building walls and cheaper houses, and finely cut and dressed for
building more substantial houses. Public buildings were usually
of 'ashlar' construction, i.e., cut and dressed stone.
Irish Cottages in Census Results Ireland
A census taken in 1841, showed that 40%
of the population of Ireland were living in one roomed mud-walled
cabins. Many of those 3,500,000 people may not have shared our
romantic ideas of comfortable warm Irish cottages. For many, the
conditions must have been cold, damp and insecure. That
insecurity came from the inability to own their own homes and the
threat of eviction that hung over many a thatched Irish
cottage. Sometimes that threat
came from a landlord but very often the threat
came from the larger farmers on whose property the cottage dwellers
or cottiers lived. Rent was usually paid by labour on the farm
and when times were bad and there was no work in the fields, they
had to rely on the benevolence of the famers. Along with the Irish cottages went an acre of ground and it was possible to keep a cow on
the acre and grow enough potatoes to feed the family for an entire
Other cottiers were in a more secure
situation as they worked in the local mills, at trades like
carpentry, wheelrights, cart making, stone wall building etc, and
there would have been a demand for their labour. For
practical reasons and as a reflection of the prosperous times we
live in, the traditional Irish cottage is now being replaced -
some would say 'sadly replaced, - by modern bungalows and two storey
houses built of concrete blocks and with slate or tiled roofs. Other
cottages have been abandoned and left to ruin. Regardless
of the romantic view we all hold of Irish Cottages - after all, for
many of us, it's where our families came from - old irish cottages
were often damp, smoke filled, badly lit, conducive to bad health,
filled with foul air, and cold. Pity the Irish mother with six
or seven children, and a newborn, and a pig and a dog and
ducks and a few hens swarming around the place on a wet day, trying
to cook for the family and the husband coming home from the field.
It was anything but romantic. However, notwithstanding the
hardships, it was always the little home and the memories of family
in those Irish Cottages that caused most longing in the hearts of
emigrants who had to leave the country.
This Irish cottage is part of a
deserted village in County Galway. Over time, all the
occupants left the village and the majority emigrated to
Details of how the Rich continued to party
and hunt, and wear fine fashion, and drink imported French
wines, while the poor of Ireland died and emigrated during the
Great Famine can be read in
An Old Irish Cottage Song
The Old House
Written by John McDermott
|Old Irish Cottage Poem
An Old Woman of the Roads
Written By Padraig Colum
Sung by John
Lonely I wander through scenes of my childhood
They call back to memory the happy days of yore
Gone are the old folk, the house stands deserted
No light in the window, no welcome at the door.
Here’s where the children played games on the heather
Here’s where they sailed their wee boats on the burn
Where are they now? Some are dead, some have wandered
No more to their home will the children return.
Lonely the house now, and lonely the moorland
The children have scattered, the old folk are gone
Why stand I here, like a ghost or a shadow?
’tis time I was movin’, ‘tis time I passed on.
O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!
To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!
I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!
I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!
Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!
And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house—a house of my own—
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.
still plenty of thatched Irish cottages to be seen in rural Ireland but
you need to be on the lookout for them. Coastal areas seem to be the
places to find them. Many of these have been
built in modern times as holiday homes and we should be thankful
that some people have taken the time and made the investment to
preserve an Irish tradition that is under threat. Others have been
lovingly preserved, with the owners battling against all the odds
to hold on to something from their ancestral past.
There are very few tiny Irish cottages like this one preserved today.
They would have been quite a common sight in the 1800s in
Ireland. The original door may well have been a half door. The
half door were a wonderfully practical solution to an everyday
problem. Air was needed in the houses because of the lack of
ventilation, the numbers of people who lived in them, the amount of
cooking, the open fire, etc. Opening the door would have
allowed the hens and the pig to wander into the kitchen so the
half-door was invented whereby the top half could be opened
independently of the lower half. The half door became an
important part of the social life of the occupants of the
house. At any moment a neighbour could put his/her head across
the half door for a chat or the occupant couuld stand inside the
door, resting on it, and smoke a pipe of tobacco. You can
still experience living in an Irish Cottage by renting an Irish
Holiday Cottage for a few weeks in many parts of Ireland.
|The fire in this
wonderful Pete Weber picture is assisted
by the fire machine or
belt operated bellows which was a feature of most houses
with an open fire. The wooden bench on which his cousin,
Julia Cronin, sits is called a
'Form' pronounced 'furm',
Gaelic word for bench. A pot hangs on the adjustable
Weber-Cronin Collection 1932.
Peter Weber, California.
Cronin tending the open fire.
|As with all Irish Cottages of the
period, the fireplace would have been the centre of the home
-figuratively speaking. While others claim "There's no
place like home", the old Irish proverb is more
specific...Níl aon tintean mar do thintean féin.
"There's no fireplace like your own fireplace."
Whether the house had mud or stone walls, or the roof was of
thatch or corrugated iron sheeting or slate, the fireplace was
always built of stone. In most cottages the fireplace was in
one gable end wall but in houses of a larger design the
fireplace was in the middle wall of the house, and the centre
of the home in the literal sense.
||Simple Floor plan of two roomed
Irish cottage with centre wall fireplace. This plan allowed the
occupants to have a fireplace in two rooms served by a single
chimney. It also allowed for a sort of internal porch.
The room on right could be either a bedroom or a
parlour. A small bedroom loft was often a feature of the
kitchen. Access was gained by a ladder type stairs. In some
areas it was common to have a tiny projection from the wall of
the kitchen called an 'outshot'. Here, an elderly member
of the family could sleep at night and be part of the days
events by day. It was closed off by a curtain which allowed