The History of Irish Bothies, Barns, Byres and Cottages
Bothies, barns, byres and cottages both in ruins and reconstructed for holiday homes dot the landscape throughout Ireland. There’s a history that goes back centuries around the construction of these Irish dwellings.
A History of Irish Bothies, Barns, Byres and Cottages
The Traditional Irish Cottage
‘The Traditional Irish Cottage’ is usually two bedrooms with a central living and cooking area. This living space was the heart of the house that had an open fire for cooking and heating and very often a small ‘outshot’ which would fit a mattress perfectly for Granny or Granddad to sleep in. The outshot or hag protruded from the main cottage wall and was around 6 foot by 3 this was an area of the external wall that protruded out from the main cottage wall. There was a curtain for privacy but it was a great place for the old ones to be at the heart of the family.
These cottages were built with whatever materials where to hand, many simply constructed and dry fitted from the rocks and stones found in the landscape. Any timber that was used was salvaged often times near the coast from shipwrecks. There were very few windows because glass was generally far too expensive. If you did have windows the size and number of them were limited by the glass tax. Window taxes were levied on houses with more than six windows from 1799 until 1851. The main reason for small windows was to retain the heat in winter and the cool in summer. There were often small windows on the first floor of the gable walls but where there was a second floor or loft area the windows were placed here.
Cottage roofs were generally thatched and the thatch was held down with ropes and pegs hammered into the upper walls of the cottage. Thatch could be found free all around in the fields, medieval wheat often grew 6 feet high and it was a common thatching material. Thatching was later replaced with slate tiles, unlike North American homes the Irish don’t use asphalt tiles as they would rot in the damp weather.
The byre was a slightly larger cottage that was shared with the animals. Livestock were an extremely valuable asset to poorer farmers so they tended to keep them inside. The floors of the cottage were sloped on one end (you can guess why). This was convenient because the animals could be protected and kept warm in bad weather.
Bothies or Bothan Scóir
A bothy is a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge. It was also used as a generic term for a small working man’s hut, usually for gardeners or other workers on an estate. They are found all over Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England and many are in use today as small barns and some have been made over into tiny perfect BnB’s. They are particularly common in the Scottish Highlands but wild camping huts or wilderness huts as they are known are also available in Finland, Sweden and Norway, there are some available in France and Spain but they do tend to be occupied by shepherds depending on the season.
Traveling laborers would build these one roomed houses as they moved from farm to farm, working the land for about 80 days of year to pay rent and the rest of the year as their wages. These houses are simple affairs with mud floors, sparse furniture and often not even a window.
Although it seems cottages have been around forever, they are a relatively recent occurrence dating back to around the 1700’s. Prior to that, the Irish lived in round hut style dwellings built of wattle and daub, these dwellings would be built together in a community and surrounded by a ‘moat’ type defense mechanism. The remains of many of these settlements can be seen today – although they are commonly referred as fairy forts and arouse many superstitious tales. Another form of these dwellings were the Crannóg’s which were similar structures built on stilts in a lake, again this would have been a defense mechanism. Take a look at Graggaunowen for more information and perhaps a visit.
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