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28/02/2024 - Rope Thatchers & Thatch Materials Needed


Have you experience of rope thatching or of growing materials for thatching?  If you do, Donegal County Council would like to hear from you.  Its Thatch Repair Grant Scheme is open until Friday, March 8 and the implementation of the scheme over the past five years has highlighted the shortage of rope thatchers and the availability of thatch materials in the county.


County Donegal is one of the few places in Ireland where rope thatching is still practised.  “Rope thatching is the predominant thatching method in the west and north of the county” explained Joseph Gallagher, County Donegal Heritage Officer.  “Originally the thatch would have been held in place by a network of straw ropes (or súgán) that extended from eave to eave via the ridge of the roof and from gable to gable.  These ropes were then tied to stones (or bacán) or metal pegs projecting at the top of the walls underneath the eaves.  Nowadays, the rope thatch is often held in place with chicken wire and nylon ropes.”


“The skill of the rope thatcher is usually seen in his or her attention to detail around the chimney, the gable, the eaves or the ridge of the roof.  Our concern is that this indigenous method of Donegal rope thatching is being replaced by scollop thatching, non-traditional styles and even synthetic thatch particularly in the west and north of the county.  This iconic form of thatching and the craftsmanship of the rope thatcher are being erased from County Donegal’s cultural landscape.  It’s remarkable that this deficit in traditional building skills hasn’t been addressed by training agencies as it has the possibility to provide apprenticeships in thatching, careers as thatchers and badly-needed skills in historic building conservation to support the construction industry.”


Thatching materials used in rope thatching include wheat, barley and rye straw in the west of the county and flax in the north of the county.  “The availability and affordability of thatch materials has become an issue in recent years” said Collette Beattie, Conservation Officer with Donegal County Council.  “The Conservation Office and the Heritage Office of Donegal County Council are intending to pilot a scheme this year to grow sustainable materials for thatching.  This initiative will be supported by The Heritage Council and the Creative Ireland programme under the implementation of the County Donegal Heritage Plan.  We would like to hear from farmers, thatch material growers and landowners who are interested in growing materials for thatching to increase the supply of materials available.  Growing crops for thatching is labour intensive and requires planning and careful supervision.  This investment is reflected in the price of thatching materials.  The continued success of our Thatch Repair Grant Scheme relies on the availability of rope thatchers and the increased supply of thatch materials.”  Donegal County Council’s Thatch Repair Grant Scheme won the Heritage & Built Environment Award at the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards in 2020.


If you are a rope thatcher interested in working in County Donegal or are willing to grow good-quality thatch materials, please contact Collette Beattie, Conservation Officer or Joseph Gallagher, Heritage Officer on (074) 917 2576 or by e-mail at [email protected]