Updated: Sep 15
The first thatching of Trohanny cottage in 2001 after it had been covered in tin for almost 50 years! We originally had the full building thatched but it was too expensive to maintain.
I have procrastinated so long over this blog mainly because there is so much to say, particularly now on the subject of thatched roofs in Ireland.
In all my 21 years of being the owner of a thatched roof, i have never read so many different newspaper articles and heard so many interviews discussing the topic of the thatch insurance crisis and the rapid disappearance of not only the craft of thatching but of the thatched roofs themselves.
It's been long overdue..
The original thatched roof of Trohanny cottage (Maio House and farmstead) 1950c
The loss of thatched roofs in Ireland over the past 20 years stands at 20-25 per cent,
a figure which is rising annually.
It is estimated there are less than 1,000 intact thatched cottages remaining on the Island of Ireland!!
There are a cumulative of reasons, but as a thatched cottage owner I can personally say the main two are insurance and maintainance (costs)
Not only is the cost of insuring a thatch roof astronomical it's a gamble whether you'll get anywhere to cover you at all.
I had been insured with a British company but since Brexit UK providers exited the Irish market.
There is at present only one company in the whole country that will now cover for thatch insurance as previous companies say they are no longer taking on new customers due to "serious deterioration in the claims experience" and even if they will consider taking you on (after an exhausting list of requirements) you could be looking at up to 4k annually!
Understandably two thirds of listed thatched buildings are now not insured at all (my feeling being that more than that are currently un-insured but afraid to openly say it for fear of consequences)
The corrugated iron (Tin roof) that covered the old thatch /scraw for almost 50 years before we re-thatched in 2001
And then there are the issues with maintainance costs of a thatched roof.
Our own Trohanny Cottage is due repairs and
we've been given a quote of almost 10k.
The Department of the Environment Heritage & local government offer a thatching grant of up to 3,800k that is the same amount since 1990 when the grant was first available, no increase in 32 years!
I was told The Heritage council had an available grant of up to 8,500k but I applied and was refused, as I'm sure many others were.
That leaves me to find 7,200 euros of my own money to cover the cost of my thatched roof, not including annual bluestoneing (application of copper sulphate that prevents rot and helps prolong the golden colour of straw) and other repairs needed.
Bluestone after application as the name says it colours the straw blue!
Photo credit Emma Byrne 'Irish Thatch'
Bluestone applied on the back and small repairs being done
So here I am with a building of heritage (1800's vernacular authentic Irish cottage) declared listed by the government, that I cannot change (not that I would want to) that I am struggling to afford, with minimal support from the Irish government.
Are you still wondering why they are disappearing at a huge rate?!
Our wonderful master thatcher Peter Childs
The main reason I decided to start renting the cottage through Airbnb was to help pay for the maintainance, mostly to literally keep the (thatch) roof over our heads.
But our fee barely covers the costs of fuel, oil and electricity with the rising costs of everything and I've had to increase my own price which will mean less bookings.
And as government states we can only have a certain amount of short term rental bookings per year, we are limited in the amount we can earn anyway.
So where do we go from here..
Ridge bobbins beautifully crafted by Peter Childs
I have a very special little place that I have been told by my overseas guests they came all the way to Ireland just to get a chance to stay in, as it's a genuine thatched Irish cottage in rural Ireland and they are so grateful for the opportunity, as are more surprisingly, the younger generation who actually are beginning to appreciate their Irish heritage.
Tourists appreciate that getting the opportunity to stay under a thatched roof is something very special and something truly unique so why isn't can't the Irish government also realise it's value?
It would break my own heart to have to remove our thatched roof, but unless I do a 'Go fund me' or similar (which I don't feel particularly comfortable with)
it's concerning for the future of Trohanny cottage and other similar places where we, as custodians, are trying so hard to preserve and upkeep because we realise the value and not in monetary terms.
Bottom photo shows the underside of the thatch with scraw (grass sods) and original A-frame beams in place with layers of tar from years of smoke. The top photo is after Joe replaced the original fire canopy made of wattle & daub (horse hair&mud) on a wicker frame supported by the original timber lintel called a Bressumer
Another photo of the original scraw underside of the thatch
In an rapidly changing modern world I feel we owe it to past and future generations at least to retain what is good in our Irish heritage.
Protecting and maintaining our vernacular heritage especially thatched vernacular buildings enhances local areas aesthetically, economically (ie sustainability/environmentally friendly), socially (providing employment for thatchers and ensuring employment for successors of a dying craft)
and of course as Ireland is marketed so strongly in terms of Tradition,
it is vital for tourism we protect built heritage.
And what is more synonymous with the ideal idea of Ireland to most tourists than the quintessentially Irish whitewashed cottage with it's golden roof.
Trohanny Cottage.. The beautiful finished straw thatched roof
A view from the back
If the government of Ireland accept that the retention of our heritage of thatch is important, then they must also accept that they have a responsibility to fund and facilitate traditional thatching and thatch buildings and that includes the ability to protect those buildings through affordable insurance.
I hope my children and their children (if they have them) don't have to 'Google' to see what an Irish thatched roof once looked like or have to pay into a folk park to see an example as a museum piece.
I hope I can always offer people the chance to stay in a genuine Irish vernacular cottage with it's original scraw/A shaped roof structure still in place and a fresh golden straw on top.
As long as I'm alive I'll fight tooth and nail to keep the thatch on Trohanny Cottage, but the sad truth is that certainly at present I'll have to fight alone.
See the thickness of the layers of straw from the underside. Keeps the cottage insulated, cosy and waterproof aswell as soundproof!
The man himself, Stonemason Joe Bergin (1975-2005) who without, Trohanny Cottage would not stand as it is preserved so beautifully today.
*References Barry O'Reilly 'Living under thatch' Mercier press 2004*