The stories told on these pages are from  a collection of folklore compiled by schoolchildren in Ireland in the 1930s. 
The children recorded (over&nbsp740,000 handwritten pages) of this material from their parents, grandparents and neighbours.

These are their stories in their own words.

Donegal Houses

SCHOOL: Baile an tSagairt | ADDRESS: Ballysaggart, Co. Donegal

Proud Irish Heritage - Stories from Ireland - Old Houses
The Old House Interior

The houses of a hundred years ago and prior to that were practically all thatched houses, the [?] few slate houses belonged Protestants who owned comparatively extensive farms.

Generally they comprised apartments a kitchen and a room. The kitchen was considerably larger than the present day for cattle were very often housed at the end opposite the middle gable.

Occasionally this section reserved for the cattle was cut off from the kitchen proper by means of curtains made from sacks and hung from the ribs of the roof. There were instances of a back room built to the rere [sic] of the kitchen. This was always a very low structure the highest part of it outside being just [?] the eave on the side wall so that he rain would drip from the side roof on to the roof of the back room. This roof was flat and slanted slightly towards the rere [sic].

The thatch used was reeds (a sort of cane in appearance, reaching a height of four to seven feet and a diameter of from a quarter t othree quarters of an inch. These reeds grow in marshes along the shore locally and are still used for thatching purposes by those who have no land). (2) rushes (3) oat straw) (4) rye straw and occasionally wheat straw.

Wheat straw was discontinued as thatching material because people maintained that it attracted hosts of rats.

Glass windows were not in common use. Indeed they were used only in slate houses. The usual window was a small wooden door roughly measuring two and a half feet by approximately two feet. This door was on hinges and was open in daylight and closed at night.

In the case of houses which had a back room built to them there was another smaller window (also of wood) just about opposite the kitchen window. The room also had a window similar to the kitchen.

There were two doors on the houses of the bigger class and one on the smaller type house. In the case of the two door houses the people came in and went out on the front door and the back door was built so that the cattle could be driven out to the field without encroaching on the kitchen proper.

Doors were invariably all low. Very rarely did they measure five and a half feet and the majority of them considerably lower. The door from the kitchen leading to the room was sometimes as long as five feet.Half doors were not common then. They came at a later date. There were instances of tall barrels being used as doors.

The floors were all of blue till and were never level being higher at the fire than at the door. The method of putting in this floor was to mix the till until it was a soft paste then carry it into the house and tramp it with the bare feet.

Turf was the common fuel and was always brought home in baskets. The places where these cargoes of turf were discharged are still called “Turf Ports.” In summer cow manure deposited by grazing cattle was collected (if dry) and used as fuel.

If the summer was particularly dry and [?], manure which might have lain in the manure heap for a number of years was cut in blocks like [?] of turf and when well dry was burned.

Kitchen Bed
There was always a bed in the kitchen and sometimes two. It was placed in the corner touching the middle gable and rere [sic] side wall. In the case of two kitchen beds they were placed end to end along the rere [sic] side wall. They were sometimes called the “Corner Bed.”As a rule it was the very aged people that occupied the kitchen bed (such persons as grandfathers and grandmothers), the idea apparently being that aged persons require more heat than younger persons furthermore they were easier attended to in the kitchen than in the room in the case of illness.

The fireplace was originally in the center of the kitchen and this custom is within the memory of persons of ninety years of age. The spot in which the fire was built was rather above the level of the floor surrounding it.

The method of cooking was as follows:
Two stakes (pieces of trees) were stuck in the ground opposite one another, one on each side of the fire. These stakes were forked at the top. Then another stake was placed in the forks of these standing ones some distance over the fire. From this horizontal stake the pots and such were hung. An iron bar was sometimes used for the horizontal bar. The wooden bar when not in use was removed.

Another method of cooking was to suspend a chain and hang the pots from the chain.(There were two couples in the kitchen one in the center of the kitchen proper and the other over the curtain cutting off the cattle section.)

Method of hanging pots for cooking purposes when fire was in center of kitchen.
To allow smoke to go out a hole was made in the center of the roof. Much the fire was placed in the center of the gable but there was no chimney. The smoke went up along the gable and out through a hole in the roof just above the fire.Sometimes a small creel (with no bottom) or a fish basket (with no bottom) lined with blue till was placed over the roof opening to form a sort of chimney pot. This make of fire is within the memory of men who today are about fifty years of age.

For cooking on this type of fire a bar of crow was inserted in the gable and protruded about two feet into the kitchen and from the bar a chain was hung and the pot hung on the chain.

Sometimes instead of the chain a thick straw rope was attached to the bar of iron. In such cases the end of the rope was attached to a big ring and from the ring the pot was hung by a long crook.

Then came the chimney of today. The chimney brests [sic] were not really built with small stones. They consisted of two tall flags placed one on top of the other and the space from the top of the upper flag to the roof was closed in by means of boards.

A horizontal iron bar resting on the upper flag was inserted in the gable. It often protruded into the kitchen by a foot or more. From the bar the chain or straw rope was suspended as crook.

From the protruding section of the iron bar fishing lines, buoys and other things were hung.


The Schools’ Collection, Volume 1039, Page 49” by Dúchas © National Folklore Collection, UCD is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

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