The picturesque, white-washed thatched cottage is an iconic emblem of Ireland. The tradition reaches back in history to the ancient crannóg and one-roomed laborers’ cottages.
“Irish Thatch,” a 2015 release from O’Brien Press by Emma Byrne, celebrates the beauty of Ireland’s thatched houses.
Beautiful examples of this still-living craft can be found all over the island, from bustling urban centers to quiet country roads to the wild coasts of the west.
Since moving into a thatched cottage several years ago, Byrne, an award-winning graphic designer and an artist, has become fascinated by thatched houses and the craft behind them.
Armed with a camera, a notebook and a sat-nav, she took to the roads, traveling the length and breadth of Ireland to capture the variety and beauty of Ireland’s thatched houses.
In “Irish Thatch,” which includes over 350 photographs, she celebrates the enduring appeal and wonder of Irish thatch.
As durable as they are environmentally friendly, Irish thatched cottages are the products of centuries of history and tradition. While they currently make up less than 0.1% of the total housing stock in Ireland, in the 1800s as much as half of the population slept under thatched roofs.
Over the years, different materials have been used in construction, varying from region to region and depending upon the wealth of the family. For the walls, lime mortar is the most desirable – but also the most expensive – material. Mud tempered with strengthening agents such as straw, reeds or animal matter was a popular alternative.
The cottages’ iconic roofs were built using overlapping layers of sod placed on the timbers. On top of this went the straw thatch, derived from a variety of materials such a wheat and flax, carefully cut and threaded by a thatcher in either the slice or sketch style. It would often take as many as 5,000 handfuls of straw to complete a roof.
The fact that there are only around 1,500 surviving examples of thatched homes left in Ireland makes Byrne’s efforts to document them even more important.