4 January 2017

Map of Ulster Cottages

I have an old friend in Donegal. By old I mean that he is over eighty years of age. He owns a cottage that I sometimes rent for a few days. I am quite attached to the place and its view of Donegal bay. It is a traditional cottage, with a range and a thatched roof, and is the house he grew up it. Now he lives elsewhere but he has not done up the cottage for the tourist trade. It remains how it was when he lived in it. Turf is the only means of heat, there are only two electric sockets for the whole place and, on the roof, is a practical but ungroomed thatch. My friend takes a certain amount of pride in the fact that he takes no government grant to preserve the traditional thatch. He just does it himself, growing the crop, drying it and thatching the roof wherever necessary. Yes, he climbs up there and lays it himself, at his age.

My Donegal retreat.

I see that this cottage does not feature in Alan Gailey’s survey The Thatched Houses of Ulster. It is not on the map that shows the location of all his correspondents.

From Ulster Folklife, Volume 7, 1961. Published by The Ulster Folklife Society in Belfast.

I imagine my friend was too busy to bother with questionnaires, assuming he even received one. Or, as a man who takes care off his own thatch, he may have instinctually baulked at nosy questions. Gailey, researching for the Ulster Folk Museum, sent out 400 questionnaires to the owners of traditional cottages and got 200 filled in and returned in time for a 1961 report. He collated and mapped some of the information.

Ulster’s spread of the bed out-shot feature.

One of the maps records instances of ‘bed out-shots.’ The east of the province is strikingly clear of this 19th century architectural feature. The further west you go, the more there are. Sure enough my friend’s cottage in Donegal has one. The bed out-shot is an extension. It is usually at the back, as shown in the image below, and was filled with a bed next, keeping it close to the hearth. It was traditional for this bed to be used by the oldest members of the family. The map hints at how trends can be patterned on geography, kept local by community and the unshifting style of tradesmen who don't travel much, builders in this case. Note, for example, the straight line of white circles following the river Bann north from Lough Neagh (I have indicated it with a red line). There are cottages with bed out-shots all around it but none built in that particular valley.

Cottage in North Donegal. On the right, a small bed out-shot.

In Co. Down Gailey placed a few question marks. Here are cottages with what looked like bed out-shots, but they were so isolated as to possibly require another explanation. Gailey suggested it was equally likely these out-shots were used to accommodate a loom, not a bed, in the homes of hand-loom weavers. These out-shots normally had a window to provide the weaver with light to work by.