Notes from Local Thatchers

Joe Moss: Rathfeigh

Joe Moss, Riverstown, Rathfeigh, Tara began thatching c. 1965. Before that, he used to thatch his own house and a few others in the locality. His uncle, James Kennedy, was a noted thatcher who died in the 1950's. Pay was seven shillings per day (about 44 cent), starting at ten and finishing about four-thirty or five in the evening. Dinner and tea were provided. A normal day's work would be two or two and a half strokes. In the case of a bad roof which required much filling progress was slower with cleaning off and packing out. A stroke measured about twenty inches. There would be a deduction of one-third payment where attendance was provided. The last thatching he did was on Riverstown House for Sir Richard Musgrave and his pay was £2 per hour (about €2.53). It was his first experience of thatching with reed and the method was demonstrated to him by an expert.

In the old days mud was used on the first layer to start at the eaves. Then the straw was tied to the roof timbers with tarred twine. There was very little red rope but sometimes straw ropes were used even to tie the ribs to the rafters. Handmade blacksmith's nails were scarce. He preferred oaten straw because when sprayed it held its colour, to spray it after rain would bring back its colour. He also used the straw of winter wheat. The straw of spring wheat was not considered much good. He preferred to finish the ridge with bobbins but boards were quicker and they looked well when painted white. Often the thatcher might not have a choice regarding the type of ridge as this might depend on the circumstances of the owner.

Sometimes, too, the owner might be anxious to have the work completed and he would not look too kindly on a time-consuming method to satisfy the artistic whim of the craftsman. Bullwire was the most popular at the eaves, instead of scollops, one row or maybe more. A section of netted wire at the gable was useful in stormy locations. Valleys had galvanised iron under the thatch. A layer of thatch would be about 6 inches and the total depth of the thatch on a roof could be as much as two feet. The tools used were a thatching fork, rake, trowel for cleaning off old thatch, a sheep shears and thatching needle. He recalled that very few houses had back doors. Half doors were popular. In his young days all houses, except two-storey and those of the well-off, had the thatch exposed on the inside. Fires were always a hazard with thatched houses but the tendency in recent times to use a stove or cooker with metal flue projecting through the roof has caused many tragedies.

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