Old Irish cottages are popular vacation rentals. Spending a week in one leaves you with amazing memories and perhaps a dream to retire and renovate one to live in. But what is really involved? How much can you modernize an old Irish cottage without robbing it of its charm? Which details are critical and what exactly gives it its unique character?
Traditional Irish cottages are small. They usually consist of one main room that serves as a kitchen and living room and two bedrooms. Sometimes the entire ground floor is the one main room, and the two bedrooms are upstairs. Cottage walls are thick, perhaps two or three feet thick, which gives the home nice deep window sills. The exterior is traditionally white, and the door and window sills can be a deep or bright color such as green, blue, or red. But perhaps the most distinctive aspect of a traditional Irish cottage is the thatched roof.
A thatched roof can incorporate different designs to make it stand out. But thatching is more than just postcard pretty. It’s an environmentally responsible roof using a natural, renewable resource that provides excellent insulation. A 12-inch thick thatch roof, which is normal, also offers great sound insulation. The type of reeds traditionally used for thatched roofs are strong and repel water effectively. Our ancestors knew what they were doing! The angle of the thatched roof is critical. When knowledgeable thatchers use the traditional water reeds, a thatched roof only needs the ridge replaced every eight or ten years in the Irish climate.
Beneath the Thatched Roof
The big question when renovating an old Irish cottage is whether to add any kind of extension. In most cases, the answer is yes. These homes were not built with indoor plumbing or bathrooms. Outhouses were standard. And the kitchen was often a table and a hutch for dishes. People cooked over the fires, which means traditional cottages do have huge fireplaces. But they did not originally have sinks. So adding a modern kitchen and bathroom makes sense. Every other aspect of the house can stay as traditional as possible. Of course, some cottages were modernized decades ago and have since become derelict. Those would probably have a kitchen and bathroom.
Irish cottages are beautiful, but they are not light and airy. Windows were expensive. Glass was taxed heavily, and it wasn’t as insulating as the options available today. Keeping a cottage exactly as it was originally would give a very small, cozy living space.
If the tiny house movement appeals to you, restoring an old Irish cottage might be a dream come true. It’s a fantastic venture for anyone who wants to downsize and tackle a project when they retire. But it is possible to add sensitive additions that increase the living space without diminishing its traditional charm. Extending to the rear of the house does not change its appearance from the front. Or an extension can be made to make the appearance of the original building. And many rural cottages had outbuildings, which could be a great solution for a home office, craft space, or playroom that didn’t alter the original floorplan.
All of this begs the question, would you enjoy life deep in rural Ireland where you had more cows and sheep outnumbered your human neighbors?