In the 1800's in Ireland the most common style of home was a single storey thatched cottage. As much as half of the population slept under thatched roofs. It would often take as many as 5,000 handfuls of straw to complete a roof. The art of thatching was passed down through the generations. Today, thatching has become rare as a family trade.
The cottage consisted of two rooms, a kitchen and bedroom. Some cottages had a loft directly under the thatch for children to sleep. Stone walls covered in lime plaster with small windows and a half-door. The top part of the door was always open, which admitted most of the light, its lower part closed while keeping out unwanted animals. It also served as a handy arm-rest for when a neighbour passed by and a friendly chat ensued.
In parts of Ireland animals were brought into the house. Perhaps a pig or chickens often kept the tenant company. It worked out for the benefit of both tenant and animal. As a warm cow would produce more milk. Flooring were often constructed of compacted mud or clay although flag stones were frequently used where available.
The fireplace or hearth was usually built of stone and located at the center of the house. The hearth was usually very deep and stretched to the ceiling. Daily life revolved around the fireplace. Can you just imagine - how important the fireplace would have been. The conversations, local gossip would be discussed. Perhaps singing and story telling. Perhaps some poteen drank. Babies being suckled. Every day water heated and meals cooked. It would not be an easy life at times.
Water was brought to the cottage from a well. It was the daughters duty to bring water each day for drinking and cooking. Water for washing cloths, floors and other domestic duties came from the rainwater. This rainwater would have been collected in barrels. Interestingly electricity did not reach rural Ireland until the governments 'Rural Electrification ' began in 1946 - 1979.
As time moved forward, new features were added to the cottages. A screen wall was built inside the front door to give protection from the draughts. A parlour room became a feature. This room was kept meticulious for visitors of special note. Dignitarys's such as the priest, doctor or teacher were allowed inside while rarely the family.
For many the movie 'The Quiet Man' featuring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara made in 1952. Depicted the parlour room.
So when in Ireland, perhaps photographing a pretty 'Thatched Cottage'. Please remember all the families that lived in these cottages. Try to visualize their every day lives. Their joys and sad times. Marriages and wakes. Perhaps you may be sitting in the parlour enjoying a cup of tea.
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