Thatched roof houses can be found in many corners of the earth, but those found in Ireland hold a special place in our hearts. Can there be a more enduring symbol of Ireland than the quaint, thatched roof cottages that still dot the countryside, and still bring a smile to our faces, no matter how many times we see them? On our last trip to the Emerald Isle earlier this year, I lost count of how many times I put us in danger, suddenly pulling off to the side of the narrow roads, or forcing the car in reverse, just to snap a picture of one of those cute cottages that seemed to appear out of nowhere. It got me thinking, however: What is the history of these thatched roofs, and why did they become ubiquitous in this part of the world?
Thatching goes back hundreds of years, and thatching methods have traditionally been passed down from generation to generation. It is a craft of building a roof using dry vegetation such as straw and water reed, layering the vegetation to shed water away from the inner roof. Thatch has some natural properties that are advantageous to its performance. It is naturally weather-resistant, and when properly maintained does not absorb a lot of water. Thatch is also a natural insulator, and air pockets within straw thatch insulate a building in both warm and cold weather. A thatched roof, along with the fact that most cottages had few windows, ensures that a building is cool in summer and warm in winter.
Those beautiful thatched roof lines you see atop the stone Irish cottages were created by skilled craftsman using domestic cane. This cane grows well in the moist soils of Ireland and was inexpensive and readily available. Typically, naturally abundant sod turf was first placed on the wood roof beams to provide another layer of insulation before the cane thatching was placed on top.
Many people, and insurers, think thatched roof cottages are more susceptible to fire, but thatch is not as flammable as you may believe. It burns slowly, like a closed book, thatchers say. The vast majority of fires are linked to the use of wood burners inside and faulty chimneys. Nonetheless, today, a layer of aluminum has replaced the turf layer as a fire precaution.
Thatch has fallen out of favor in much of the industrialized world not because of fire, but because thatching has become very expensive, and alternative “hard” materials are cheaper. This situation is slowly changing, and while thatched roof cottages are not being built in the numbers they once were, there are still more than 2,000 of them dotting the Irish countryside.
When you have a chance to visit Ireland, make sure you get outside the major cities and enjoy the thrill of spotting one of these beauties for yourself. The charming town of Adare, in County Limerick, has an unusual concentration of the adorable thatched roof cottages (although a fire a few years ago completely destroyed several of these iconic structures). Let us know, and send us a picture of your favorites. (And you can check out some of our favorites.)
Also, don’t forget that Ever Irish Gifts has many lovely items that would look fantastic in your or a friend’s Irish “cottage”, whether it’s thatched or not. discover more