What is Thatching?


Thatching is the craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as straw, water reed, sedge (Cladium mariscus), rushes, or heather and layering the vegetation so as to shed water away from the inner roof.

The thatch is applied to the roof by pinning bundles of reed side by side on the roof and fixing a sway or ligger two-thirds up along the bundle. Then opening the string and tying the bundle together. Each bundle then has to be dressed into the other coarses.

Thatching in Ireland through the years


It is a very old roofing method and Thatched roofs can be traced back in Ireland for over 9,000 years. The thatched dwellers would use whatever local vegetation was available to them; like water reed, oaten straw, rye straw.

An even earlier form of thatched house was the round houses that were built on a Crannog and these are a good example of an early thatched dwelling in Ireland. The Crannog refers to Small Island which was often man-made. These islands in most cases were fortified and lived on by people with their livestock. The Crannogs (island dwelling) were usually round or oval in shape, constructed from oak poles set in the ground in a circle and the walls were woven with split hazel to make wattle walls. The interior surfaces were built up with any mixture of clay, peat, stone, timber or brush- whatever was available. The roof was them made from ash poles and thatched with water reed.

The History

Crannogs have been used by man probably as far back as 4,000 BC, and there are several excellent reconstructed Crannogs around Ireland one is located 10 km east of Quin, County Clare, adjacent to 16th-century Craggaunowen Castle. There is another excellent example of a Crannog in Briget’s Garden, Rosscahill, Co. Galway on which I worked as part of the thatching team.

The tradition of thatching has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years in Ireland.

As stated in an article by Soina Kelly “The Finest Peasant Roof in Europe” on the Aran Islands the thatching of a house was regarded as an occasion for a festival. The man whose house was being covered was the host rather than the employer and he would hire a fiddler so that the whole community would alternately dance sing and work while the daylight lasted. Thereafter continuing the festivities inside under a new roof until the dawn of the next day.

In later years the thatched house owner would sow an acre or so of either wheat or oats for any repair work that would be needed for the following year.
One of the most common used thatch material in the west of Ireland is water reed, (Phragmites communis).