The tiny house movement is becoming a big thing in many places, including this wee island. The same dynamics are at play in Ireland as elsewhere. Post-Celtic tiger Ireland faces not a shortage of housing, but a shortage of affordable, available housing at the same time unemployment and the cost of living are quite high. Home repossessions are triggering the cultural memory of Famine-era evictions.
A decade ago, young people were buying four-bedroom homes in new developments largely on the strength of their potential future earnings or a parent co-signing for a loan. Now they’ve seen the value of their homes plummet, often to less than half of what they paid for them. Many feel there is a lesson in this and want to trade the excesses of the boom era for a tiny house with a relatively tiny price tag.
This isn’t the first time a desperate housing situation has inspired a revolution of tiny houses. More than a century ago, workers in Dublin and other urban areas largely lived in overcrowded slums. Tenement housing was common even in the early days of the independent State. Tenements were generally crowded to the point of being unhealthy, and the stress of such living conditions was harmful to society as a whole.
Two decades after the Famine, legislation was being drafted that lead to a boom in Ireland’s previous tiny houses – artisan cottages. These small homes had already been built in some areas, including small towns and large estates in the country, to house workers. Birr in County Tipperary has many lovely artisan cottages.
Tiny Houses in the Big City
Large sections of inner city Dublin are filled with charming, tiny artisan cottages that have been modernized and expanded. While the houses are still tiny by today’s standards, generally less than 600 square feet, the price tags are generally not.
Originally, these homes were generally designed with one main room and one bedroom with an outdoor toilet. They lacked a kitchen, and cooking was done over the fire in the main room. There were no sinks, but an outdoor tap provided water. Water was heated over the fire, and people bathed and washed dishes in large basins and metal tubs. Improvements came in over time, and today these artisan cottages can be very chic dwellings in the heart of Dublin, perfect for young and childless people who want to be close to work and nightlife.
Many people have commented that the post-Celtic tiger economic crisis in Ireland has brought us closer to our roots and our real culture of neighborly support and down to earth values, but maybe it has also brought us full circle to thinking of housing in more basic terms. Arguably, Ireland’s traditionally small homes and large families are the root of our pub culture. One thing you can’t do in a tiny house old or new is to have a dozen friends over to hang out!