Traditional Irish houses are generally rectangular in layout. This design requires simple roofing formats, either gable-roofs or hip-roofs. The gable-roof has two surfaces, front and back, whereas the hip-roof has four roof surfaces, which include the slopes at either end; these styles tended to vary from region to region.

In past times, the general roof covering of choice and economic necessity has been the thatched roof. Reasons for this probably relate to the fact that the organic matter of a thatched roof tended to be available locally and at much less expense than solid roofing materials.

Wheat straw was the most popular material for thatching buildings in Ireland; though flax, rye, oat straw, reeds, rushes and tough grasses have all been used in different parts, depending on the region and availability. The downside of thatched roofing is its high maintenance requirements. There are varying factors that contribute to the decay of a thatched roof, such as neglect, storm damage and the damp Irish climate. The thatch must be regularly renewed if it to last, thus the very oldest surviving thatches can be as much as seven foot deep.

Thatching tools
Copyright David Shaw-Smith

A layer of grass sods was generally sown to the roof timbers with thin ropes; this lay between the thatch and the wood. Three principal thatching methods were preferred.

1. The most common form of holding the thatch to the roof was scollop or ‘pinned’ thatching. This involves pinning the thatch to the roof with thin wooden rods called ‘scollops’. Thatchers would work from the right-hand side of the roof to the left. These wooden ‘pins’ were driven through the thatch to secure it.

2. ‘Thrust thatching’ was not as widespread as ‘scolloping’; this involved using a small wooden or iron fork to twist and thrust handfuls of straw into an existing layer of straw. Strips of about two feet were layered on top of each other until the roof was covered. This method required the thatch to be damped and beaten down, so that it lay flat and flush. The top ridge would then be secured by various methods according to design.

3. In rope thatching, the thatch is not secured directly to the roof, but held in place by a series of ropes that lie over the thatched surface and are tied to the tops of the walls, or held down by large stones. This method was popular along the Western coast, due the prevalence of wild western winds that could tear away other types of securement. When a new layer of thatch was required, the ropes would be removed before the new layer was added. Methods of roping varied; in some a layer of straw or a wooden lathe would prevent the ropes from cutting directly into the thatch.

previousPrevious - Willow, Rush & Straw
Next - Video of thatcher at worknext