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Thatching in Ireland                                          Thatched House and Thatched Cottage Insurance
 

Covering a house with a roof of straw, reeds or heather is a tradition that has existed in Ireland for 9,000 years.  During that time it has evolved into an art form that is appreciated by all, and the Irish thatched cottage has  become one of the features of our heritage that is most photographed and most loved. In spite of the reduction in the number of houses now using thatch, there is still a demand for thatchers and they continue to command respect wherever they ply their trade.  Irish Thatched Cottage holidays have become very popular in recent years as people from Ireland and overseas grasp the opportunity to experience just what it was like to live in a Thatched Cottage.  This has been a welcome development, as it means the skills of thatching are being preserved for future generations.

 

In Memory of Mick O'Gorman - Master Thatcher 1927 - 1998

 Thatching a thatched cottage    

spires for  thatching

thatching in Ireland with spires and scallops

Mick the Thatcher has arrived!

Helping unload the spires

        Mick the Thatcher at work

'Getting the thatcher' has always been a ritual that owners of thatched houses have to be adept at.  You never risk annoying the thatcher by calling on him too often at his place of work or by showing too much upset at not being next on his list. By all means, you have to remain on the list!  The local pub or shop is always a good place to find out where the thatcher is currently operating as his schedule is of importance to every thatched house owner in the area. Someone at the pub can always be relied on to say how long Sheehy's house is going to take -  "Sure, it's only a bit at the back of the house he's doing there", or "I think it's the 'boook'* that he's doing at Murphy's". Armed with this knowledge, one can always 'accidently' meet 'himself' on the way from work or stop to admire the roof he is presently working on and hope he will mention your roof and set a date. 

Scene from 1890s Avoca in County Wicklow showing how thatch was used to cover the house, the turf-rick, and the cocks of hay in the small field..
Help the environment and stay warm:        Wood Burning Stoves  Wood Chip and Wood Pellets  

 * Boook comes from a Gaelic word that, at a guess, is related to Buach├ín which means 'lofty' or 'high point' which describes the thatch ridge on top of the house.  This ridge is always susceptible to the weather, being the most exposed part of the roof.   

      

 Reed Spires growing near Youghal in County Cork.

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Another reason the ridge is susceptible has to do with the method of finishing the thatch.   The first row of thatch - usually 'reed spires' these days - is applied to the lower part of the roof. This row is fitted all along the roof. If the roof is being completely replaced or is a new thatched roof, then the thatcher's assistant goes into the attic roof space and between them they 'stitch' the layers of reed to the roof timbers.  A second and sometimes, third, and fourth course is added to the first.  These are held down by sliced sally (willow) sticks about 2 feet long and twisted and bent over in a U shape.  These are called scallops. The ends are pointed and the U is pushed and tapped down pinning the new bundle of thatch onto the thatch beneath.  The rows are applied from the lower part of the roof up. As each row of thatch bundles is pinned down by the scallops, the next row overlaps and covers the scallops and protects them from the elements.  A problem arises when the thatcher arrives at the top of the roof and the scallops holding the last and uppermost row of thatch have nothing to cover them.  A solution is to put an extra course on as a ridge, (the aforementioned Boook) and it was accepted that this would be replaced every ten years or so while the main roof could last for up to thirty years.

 

  Picture of Irish Thatched Cottages in Adare, Co. Limerick clearly showing the recent repair to the ridge. Very often, the ridge and the underneath of the eaves are covered in chicken wire to prevent birds from dragging at the thatch during nest-making season.
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Advice for Owners of Irish Thatched Cottages.
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*Always seek independent advice from a couple of different sources before stripping a roof to have it re-thatched.  Very often, a shabby looking roof needs no more that a surface stripping and a layer a few inches thick of new thatch replaces.  Obviously, this is far less expensive that having the entire roof replaced.

*Remember to keep workmen away from the roof, and only allow those who are prepared to follow your instructions to go near the thatch. A general list of workmen who might wish to go on your roof could include:-  chimney cleaner; aerial erector etc.  I once watched in horror across a field as a plumber who was putting in a new cooker at the house, walk across the ridge of a thatch roof and I knew immediately that he was causing serious damage to the scallops (hazelwood pins) and the thatch, but I was too far away to do anything about it.  Sure enough, the ridge began to slip within a year or two of the plumber's roof-walk and the thatcher had to come back and do a few days work.  All for the want of a good roof ladder and a bit of common sense.  

*As a general rule, T.V. aerials (antennae) should be kept away from your thatched roof.  Water dropping from the aerial is damaging but the biggest danger is from the people going on your roof.  There is also the danger of the aerial blowing onto the roof causing damage.  Perhaps one of the main reasons for not having a TV antenna on your thatched cottage is because it would look terrible. Sometimes, there might be no other option but most areas can now get satellite reception so a satellite dish on a pole in the yard away from the house is a better option. 

*It goes without saying that naked flames should be kept away from the thatched roof but I have seen flat roof extensions to the rear of thatched houses that are cause for alarm.  There was a time when bituminous substance was used to affix layers of roofing felt to flat roofs, and that was okay as long as the heating of the bitumen was carried out a distance from the house.  Modern roofing felts tend to be of the torch-on variety and are heated with a blow-torch in-situ to melt them to the timber subsurface of the flat roof.  I imagine this behaviour beside thatch would negate every insurance policy ever written for a thatched house.

*Remember to enjoy the visit of the Thatcher when you do need him.  Thatching is something that cannot be rushed and it is rewarding to have seen the roof being created for your own Irish Cottage.

*Local Authorities usually have information regarding grants available for thatching and thatch repairs. If your house is a protected structure, you may qualify for a grant from the Heritage Council.

*When seeking insurance for thatched house, don't be put off if the first company you approach, refuses to give you a quotation.  Use the Yellow Pages, the internet, the local Authority, etc.  We will gladly list (for free) any Insurance companies who provide Insurance cover for thatched houses in Ireland.

 

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