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Hello all and welcome to my St Patricks day blog. So instead of going out and drinking my custom 6 guiness’ and watching the rugby I decided to research the traditonal irish cottage and hearth.

Typical irish cottage with chimneys on the gable end walls

Typical irish cottage

Early cottages did not have any foundations however as trenches were dug and filled with stones, clay and mud to stabilise them.

Floors were often constructed of compacted mud or clay although flag stones were often used where available.

The fireplace or hearth was generally formed of stone and located at the center of the house with a bedroom behind it to absorb the heat.

Wattle and daub makes up the construction of old irish huts and cottages

Wattle and daub

Some fireplaces were built of wattle and daub, however remnants of these are few and far between as the introduction of the hotter burning fuels such as coal, meant that stone flues were built to as a method to prevent chimney fires.

Although a central hearth was prevalent there are many examples of cottages where the fire is located on a gable end wall and yet more where they were at either end of the cottage, sometimes to the heat room above and sometimes for aesthetics.

The hearth wall itself was usually very deep and extended to the ceiling with the chimney stack protruding further above the roof. As a result of this, the chimney wall is often one of the best preserved features of abandoned cottages today.

A traditional irish hearth similar the that of an inglenook

Traditional Irish Hearth

The fireplace was the true heart and soul of every cottage, daily life truly revolved around the fire all cooking, drying, heating was undertaken using the fire. The fire was also a focal point for social gatherings. The fire was never allowed to extinguish with ashes put over it at night to keep the embers alive for morning. The importance of the fire in cottage life is illustrated in one of our most famous sayings, loosely translated as ‘there’s no place like home’, the actual literal translation is ‘there’s no fireplace like your own fireplace’:

‘níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin’

Happy St Patricks day.

Master Chimney Sweep

13 Responses to “A Peak into, Irish Fireplaces, Chimneys and Cottages”

  1. Geraldine Callaghan

    I actually was born, and grew up in a house with this type of fireplace. I left home at 17 and it was still there. Then my brother married and they installed a range. I used to get up in the morning and pull out the coals that were “banked” from the previous night and start the fire to boil the kettle for the breakfast. Imagine an Eleven year old being allowed to do that today. I baked cakes, boiled the potatoes, meat and vegetables. My mother died when i was 9 years old. I dont ever remember getting burned or a fire getting out of control. I remember making the toast on a long fork, best toast ever. There is a lot of memories and a lot of nostalgia looking at these type of homes, in these times of Technology and Advancement: the reality is, they were hard tough times. Thanks for listenening.

    Reply
  2. Daniel Hodgson

    Thank you for your contribution Geraldine, we certainly wouldnt let out little one bank the fire these days. My great grandma used to do the same thing up at 5am to the stoke the fire so everybody is warm. I remember when she had her 3 bar gas fire installed she was amazed at how easy it was to produce that much heat.

    Reply
    • Cathal Greene

      I live in a cottage that was built before the famine (Around 1835) and would have had a fire place like this. The previous owners had a proper red brick fire place around it which I strongly remember as it was 10 years ago when we changed it for a Black mantlenplace. Thanks for writing this.

      Reply
  3. Mary Novak

    I grew up in a similar thatched cottage in Connemara. We had an open turf fire with a kettle on the hearth ready to hang on the pot hooks to make the tea at any time. Every day we baked bread on the open fire. The flat pot (oven) for baking the bread had a lid and we put red coals on the top to ensure that the top crust was evenly baked. There was a hob on each side of the fireplace where we would sit when we all gathered round the fire to talk in the evenings. We were a large family and all chairs and stools were used for sitting round the fire. Sometimes a neighbor came visiting and as children we heard all sorts of interesting stories and songs. My father would sometimes sing a song and sometimes our neighbor would sing. One song in particular I remember her singing was ‘The Maid of the Sweet Brown Knowe’. When the evenings were coming to a close we all knelt down and said The Rosary……. Lovely memories of a time gone by. ☘️

    Reply
    • Daniel Hodgson

      It is lovely to revisit these memories. This is part of the reason modern technology is so great it can bring these memories to life.

      Reply
    • Margo Brown

      Sweet memories, days without tv. Loved the turf fires in youth hostels in 1979 when traveling all over Beautiful Eire!

      Reply
      • Daniel Hodgson

        I don’t know them times I grew up on gas central central heating. Very different times. That’s why its great to explore the history.

        Reply
    • Maureen Lafferty

      How wonderful it was in those days. I too remember as I was born in a cottage just like this one that you describe. I said the Rosary with the whole family each night. My memory is running away with itself. Thank you for posting this Mary.

      Reply
    • Mary Nolan

      Wonderful times back then. Hard times but nevertheless beautiful. I was born in a cottage in Shandrum Drumfries Donegal and am so proud of the fact. Thank you Mary Kovak for the memories.

      Reply
  4. Michael Dunne

    Many people try and recreate the original fireplace but the nearest they can get to it in suburban housing estates would be the ‘log burner’ Be careful here as when they are being installed, it is critical to include an aluminum Flu Liner from the chimney breast to the top of the chimney. Some installers of log burners will tell you it is not necessary. When the unlined flu catches fire you will be left with a hefty repair bill so at least make sure you have structural insurance. And as for the ladies belief that its good luck to meet a chimney sweep at the door, that may be the case but not for the householder. I hired a ‘Yellow Pages’ chimney sweep who gave my chimney a mother and father of a cleaning and lit a nice cheerful log fire. About hours after this lucky Sweep left, parts of the chimney packing from the flu began to crash down onto the hearth. We had a chimney fire as we did not have a flu liner, being told by the installer it was not needed. I contacted the Chimney Cleaner and Lucky was sympathetic but then the phone went dead and I haven’t heard from Lucky since. I still have this log burner complete with flu liner, but I only light it for effect at Christmas time and Holy Days of Obligation.

    Reply

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