AN important part of our country’s heritage is being lost because of the cost of maintaining thatched cottages. And unless action is taken, there will be no thatched houses for the next generation, Cllr Kevin Sheahan warned this week.
The cost of insuring thatched cottages, Cllr Sheahan said, was prohibitive and he called for Government assistance for owners to cover the annual loading for fire insurance.
His comments came as council conservation officer, Tom Cassidy explained that County Limerick had approximately 200 thatched properties listed as protected structures. But this list was not comprehensive, he told councillers at the Rathkeale area committee meeting this Tuesday.
Some 40 houses had been “culled” from the list under the most recent county development plan but another 20, not listed up to then, had been added. And he admitted there could be others not on the list.
He told councillors at the Rathkeale area committee meeting this Tuesday that insurance for thatched properties cost 200% more than for a slated house.
The debate on thatched houses was sparked by a proposal from Mr Cassidy that a thatched house at Dollas Lower near Croom should now be removed from the list of protected structures.
The house, Mr Cassidy explained, had been very carefully restored by new, English owners but had burned down in February last year. A month before the fire, the Lloyds company which had been providing insurance to thatched properties had sent out a circular saying it was withdrawing from that particular market. That left the Dollas house uninsured, Mr Cassidy said. Unfortunately, on February 3, 2011, the house was completely gutted by fire.
The fire, Mr Cassidy understood, resulted from the installation of a stove which raised the temperature of the glue gasses, bringing about the ignition and venting of burning soot which landed on the thatch. There was a high wind that night, he said, and the fire spread from the east end of the house to the west. The loss of its traditional roof and internal joinery meant a protection order was no longer warranted, Mr Cassidy said.
“I understand under some insurance policies you can’t have a fire in a thatched house,” Cllr Kevin Sheahan said. The Askeaton councillor also said that a fire starting within 100 feet of a thatched property rendered the insurance void
“Not unless the chimney is certified to meet a certain standard,” Tom Cassidy replied. It was possible to put a spark guard in the flue, he said, adding: “It is difficult to set thatch alight. Because of the amount of cellulose in the thatch, it needs a significant source of it to set it alight.”
“I don’t think the protection of the heritage of Ireland should rest on the shoulders of a handful of people and that they should carry the burdern,” Cllr Kevin Sheahan said. There was a case to be made for an annual grant to cover the extra cost involved in insuring a thatched property, he said. “It is only the loading,” he added. “It wouldn’t cost peanuts.” Cllr John Sheahan queried how many of the county’s 200 thatched properties were habitable and Cllr Stephen Keary argued that any heritage grants made to properties should be re-imbursed to the council in the event of a sale.