In 2017 Bumblebee Cottage was re-thatched with the generous support of the Heritage Council. In an attempt to preserve traditional vernacular architecture, we employed Donegal thatcher Ivor Kilpatrick and his team to do the job, as they work in conventional Donegal techniques and use exclusively locally grown materials.
Over a period of three weeks, Kilpatrick and his team removed decayed patches of the old thatch. On top of the existing layer, they applied a new 10-inch coat of rye straw, a material traditionally used in Donegal. In accordance with historical Donegal practices, they used willow scallops and ropes on the roof to stabilise to straw and protect the roof from high winds. Kilpatrick completed the job by spraying the thatch with copper sulphate, which reinforces the strength of the straw and preserves its golden colour.
Q: How did you become a thatcher?
Ivor: I started at the age of 16 with my father in the family business and when he retired I took over from him.
Q: What do you enjoy about thatching?
Ivor: I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a roof completed and playing my part in keeping the heritage alive.
Q: What are some of the challenges?
Ivor: The biggest challenge I have is the Irish weather. No doubt about that.
Q: Where do you source your materials?
Ivor: We grow our own materials, straw and flax, on the farm.
Q: Can you describe the condition of the roof of our cottage when you first saw it?
Ivor: I found the condition of the roof in a very poor state and in need of a lot of attention.
Q: What method specific to Donegal did you use for our cottage?
Ivor: I used a coastal rope thatching method, which is commonly used along the Donegal coast.
Q: What makes Donegal thatching different than techniques used on other countries/regions?
Ivor: Thatching done on the west coast of Donegal is different due to the storms coming from the Atlantic Ocean. That is why we use the ropes. To keep the thatch in place.
Q: How has thatching developed over the years? What did you father do differently than you do?
Ivor: There has been no great change in thatching over the years. The craft is still done by hand.
Q: How do you see the future of thatching?
Ivor: Thatched roofs will always be a part of the Irish countryside. For that matter, I can’t see new techniques being developed.
Q: How important are thatching grants in your view to keep thatching alive?
Ivor: Thatching grants, such as those from the Heritage Council, are very important because the responsibility of keeping our heritage is not only on the owners of the cottages, but also on the Irish government.