Irish Thatched Cottages with Liam Broderick
There is an inexplicable joy in encountering an Irish thatched cottage. Indeed, no other symbol of Ireland so conjures a sense of Irish welcome: a turf fire burning, freshly baked bread, the old lady waiting at the half door.
At one time, Ireland was dotted with such picturesque dwellings, built of stone and sometimes earth and capped with straw or reed. Thatched cottages were homes for the ordinary farming people. As such, it
was once considered a poor man’s option to thatch
the house. Richer folk would have used slate on their stately homes as it was not part of the fashion to include thatch. On a practical level however, a thatched roof offers superior insulation to slate and across the hills and valleys of Ireland, a cosy retreat during the storms of winter. The nature of rural life saw to it
that the raw material of thatching, mostly straw, was readily available in plentiful supply. According to Liam Broderick, reeds came to be more widely used in the sixties and today the use of reed has entirely overtaken that of straw for thatchers. Reed, of course, is more water-resistant, being a plant grown in the marshes. The knowledge of reed harvesting was passed down from father to son for generations and continues to this day particularly along the river Shannon basin in Limerick.
I spoke to Liam Broderick who offered some insights into the life of an Irish thatcher today. Liam has com- pleted work for the OPW, the Irish Georgian Society and the Heritage Council in all parts of Ireland. He describes himself as the youngest thatcher working in Ireland today and, while demand is high, he has been concerned for the future of the craft in Ireland. Thatching is big business in England and there is a demand in Ireland for experienced thatchers here. As one cannot train here to a high standard, an opportunity is being lost.
“I bought an old cottage and decided to do it up. An old man of 76 did the thatching and I decided to train in it myself. A person could be paying €2,000 euros a year for a thatched house whereas it would be €300 for an average house. There are numerous benefits to having a thatched roof however. Apart from the obvious beauty of the traditional thatched roof there is the practical advantage of the warmth and natural insulation such
a roof provides. Heat rises and the thatch really keeps that heat inside the building. Thatching is not your normal job today, it’s very weather dependent and you could be working 12-14 hours a day, working straight for 10-12 weeks. A hundred years ago, thatching would have been undertaken through a meitheal, whereby the locals would come together and enjoy the process helping one another. A farmer would also maintain his own thatched roof and thus as such there were no specialist thatchers.
You can still see these picturesque cottages dotted around the country today. With thanks to Irish thatcher Liam Broderick.

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