Donegal’s Iconic Thatched Cottages May Be Gone In 20 Years

Thatch Repair Grant Scheme opens

Even though 65 thatch repair projects have been supported in Donegal over the past three years the challenges facing the county’s iconic cottages could mean they might not be around in 10 or 20 years’ time.

That was the stark warning from County Donegal Heritage Officer, Dr Joseph Gallagher today as he launched Donegal County Council’s award-winning Thatch Repair Grant Scheme.

He says the lack of available and affordable insurance for thatched buildings, the limited number of thatchers, especially rope thatchers and the lack of availability of thatching materials continue to pose threats to the future.

Now in its fourth year, it assists the owners and occupiers of thatched dwellings and businesses with their maintenance and repair.

This year’s grant scheme has two strands: Stream 1 will provide advice and funding for small-scale thatch repairs up to €3,000 while Stream 2 will provide support for one or two large-scale re-thatching projects up to €15,000 where the historic thatch building contributes to landscape character, history, culture or tourism.

“The success of the council’s Thatch Repair Grant Scheme over the past three years has been considerable with 65 thatch repair projects supported,” said Dr Gallagher.

“Our Thatch Repair Grant Scheme won the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Award in the Heritage & Built Environment category in November 2020.

“The award recognises the best local authority initiatives to promote public interest in, and knowledge, appreciation, and protection of local heritage.

“Despite these achievements, we cannot get complacent. We must recognise that our efforts at present are just slowing the rate of loss of historic thatch.

“It is sobering to think that, and difficult to understand why within the next 10 to 20 years few examples of these once ubiquitous thatched buildings will survive if the current rate of loss continues.”

He added these buildings help to tell the story of most Donegal families and now lend character to the cultural landscape.

Rope thatching a cottage in Straboy, Glencolmcille – Gleann Cholm Cille with support from the Thatch Repair Grant Scheme

“Challenges such as the lack of available and affordable insurance for thatched buildings, the limited number of thatchers, especially rope thatchers and the lack of availability of thatching materials continue to pose threats to the future of these iconic buildings that house so many family memories and social history.

“A concerted effort by key stakeholders such as the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, The Heritage Council, Údarás na Gaeltachta, thatchers, training agencies, academic departments, farming organisations, open-air museums, and the insurance industry is needed now to arrest and reverse this loss.

“The new vernacular built heritage strategy by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage presents an opportunity, and surely one of the last opportunities, to intervene in a positive way to save, conserve and engender pride in our historic thatch.”

He said through the implementation of the Thatch Repair Grant Scheme, they have learned more about the state of historic thatch in the county and the challenges it faces.

“We know that we have a very small number of highly-skilled full-time or part-time thatchers but apprentices and apprenticeships are needed. We know that many people want to maintain their historic thatch but need targeted support.

“We know that the demand for good-quality thatching materials outstrips current supply but there are opportunities for farmers to diversify and produce these crops on a commercial basis.

“We know that insurance on thatched buildings could be more competitive and affordable but the insurance industry needs to demonstrate a greater understanding of, and be better informed about the risks to, historic thatch.

“We know that there are local employment opportunities in conserving historic thatch but these have not been recognised.”

“Donegal County Council considers the conservation of traditional buildings constitutes appropriate, sustainable and responsible development,” said Collette Beattie, Conservation Officer with the council.

“At present, there are over 20 thatched buildings on the Record of Protected Structures for County Donegal and many more are eligible for inclusion.

“The Thatch Repair Grant Scheme addresses several Donegal County Council plans and strategies including the County Donegal Heritage Plan to encourage the conservation of thatch and thatching skills and materials in County Donegal as a distinctive aspect of the county’s heritage as well as several policies in the Donegal County Development Plan to protect and conserve our traditional buildings.

“Types of small-scale thatch repairs that might be eligible to Donegal County Council’s Thatch Repair Grant Scheme include repairs to the eaves, the ridge, flashings around the chimney, holes, furrows, fixings, ropes, wire netting, the gable and the roof timbers or carpentry.”

“The launch of the vernacular built heritage strategy entitled ‘A Living Tradition’ in December 2021 by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage is an important development and provides national government recognition of the urgent need to understand, care for and conserve our vernacular buildings. The conservation of historic thatch is an all of Ireland issue. The issues facing historic thatch are similar on both sides of the border so there is much to be learned and achieved by sharing our experiences and expertise,” she said.

Copies of a booklet outlining the vernacular built environment strategy for Ireland are available free of charge from the County Donegal Heritage Office.

The Thatch Repair Grant Scheme is open for applications until 12 noon on Friday, June 17, and is funded by Donegal County Council and The Heritage Council.

Applications forms for the scheme are available online from the Donegal County Council website: www.donegalcoco.ie/heritage or by contacting Joseph Gallagher, Heritage Officer, or Collette Beattie, Conservation Officer at (074) 915 3900 or by e-mail at thatch@donegalcoco.ie

(Source – Donegal Democrat / Donegal Live – News – Connie Duffy – 24/05/2022)

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