THERE’S an old saying about thatched houses, says the proprietor of O’Shea’s pub, Ballysimon – “they’re warm in the winter and cool in the summer”.
Rita O’Shea employed Jim Halpin, who is from Ballysimon, to “ridge” the pub’s thatched roof last week. The pub has been in the O’Shea family since 1931 and Mr Halpin has been thatching roofs for 31 years.
“It’s a link to the past. It was the original insulation. That’s the way I think of it,” said Mrs O’Shea.
Mr Halpin learned his craft in Donegal in 1981 from a fellow Limerickman, John Meaney from Ashford. He has been thatching roofs ever since.
“It continues the tradition and connects you to your past. My kids think the job I’m doing is a real old fashioned job. As if it couldn’t be done in this day and age but it is still going on. They make me feel about 90!” laughed Mr Halpin. “They’re trying to revive a lot of things now and it won’t be long before they will be trying to revive thatching but it is still continuing on,” he adds.
He spent about a week ridging O’Shea’s pub.
“Thatching should last about 20 years but the top of it would want to be maintained every five years. I was putting a new ridge on it. The top of the roof is the ridge. Anybody who has a thatched house would want to keep it ridged otherwise the water will get into it and damage timbers. If it’s not ridged you will need a new roof, it’s as simple as that,” said Mr Halpin.
Thatchers are growing scarce and so too are the men who cut the reeds on the Shannon.
“They are cut in the winter but there are fewer cutting them. Due to the scarcity a lot of reeds are imported from Poland, Turkey and China,” he says.
Whiles there are still a lot of thatched houses in Limerick “numbers are falling away all the time” says Mr Halpin.
“The older people that lived in these houses are passing on and a lot of the younger ones won’t take on a thatched house. A lot of them in County Limerick are mostly farm houses.
“There would sometimes be new houses built in the same yard as the thatched house. When the older people die the thatched house can’t be sold because there would be somebody else living in their backyard. So the house just falls down,” said Mr Halpin.
At O’Shea’s pub he put his tools and scallops – little rods of hazel or sally – in to a welly and climbed on to the roof.
“The welly holds the scallops which you twist to pin in the reeds. There’s new ways of thatching but I stick to the traditional thatching and try and keep it going for as long as I can,” said Mr Halpin.
He works mainly in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary and is kept going as there aren’t too many training to be thatchers.
However, he has noticed that a lot of work is being cancelled due to the lack of availability of grants.
“People are postponing work until next year but then it is a bigger job.”