St Johnston - Carrigans     ~ Co Donegal.

Thatching

Thatched houses in the St Johnston and Carrigans area were in accordance with the traditional Irish methods of house building.

The walls were very very thick and made of stone and mortared with clay, mud or cement.  The stones were not usually transported far.  They were generally found or dug close to the site. 

Roofing was done with timber and a layer of sods of grass were put on the timbers for insulation purposes.  Ropes were made by twisting straw and when they were ready they sent for the man or men to come and do the thatching.  They were called thatchers.  Flax was the most popular material locally for thatching.  It had the advantage of being very durable and lasting up to twenty years maximum. Other thatching materials could be expected to last seven years or thereabouts.  Reeds reashes as they are called locally were popular too.

But any thatched roof was a nuisance for it needed repairs pretty often.   it was known for hens to dig into the thatch and lay their eggs there.  Also they would do damage by looking for worms in the thatch.

The thatched roofs had a high pitch.  The walls needed to be extra strong to support and facilitate this. 

The Thatcher had to do one layer at a time.  He used scollops to fasten the bundles of thatch down.  Briars were the most popular scollops in these parts with hazel sticks being a close second.  Sometimes the ropes that were twisted from straw were used.

Sometimes there was a straw rope placed over the roof at every foot or so.  The rope hung down over the wall where it was weighted at the front and the back of the house with heavy stones.  This helped keep the thatching down so that gales wouldn't lift it off as easily.  These ropes with the weights were called sugans.

The thatching of a new house was often a time for socialising and festivity.

Rats in the thatch were a concern.  The solution was often to use ashes from the Palm Sunday palm branches scattered around to keep them away.  A more reliable method was to purchase guinea hens.  The horrific screeching noise they made was thought to be a deterrent to rats.

The houses were whitewashed with lime.