Houses Long Ago

House Designs
Different Buildings



House Designs

The design of houses back in the nineteen hundreds was very simple. Most people were poor and could only afford one, or maybe, two rooms. The rooms were very dark and smoky because there was a very unfair tax on windows and chimneys, but of course they had to burn a fire because they weren't as lucky as we are now; they didn't have cookers, radiators, electricity, etc.

Most roofs were made from a hay-like material called thatch. If you have got arachnaphobia don't live in a house with a thatched roof because spiders and insects absolutely love thatch because it is lovely and warm.

(Sixth Class, Corbally N.S., Limerick)


Thatched Houses

One hundred years ago, thatched houses were very common in Ireland.



This is an illustration of a typical thatched farmhouse, with a byre built on at the far end. It shows the extra sleeping quarters in the open fronted 'loft' at the left hand end of the house, and the curtained 'covered-car' bed in the room at the other end. The bench in the kitchen unfolds to form a 'settle bed'.

There is a flour-bin in the warm dry corner near the fireplace and, of course, there is the essential 'dresser' with its display of china.

The barrel under the eaves provides water for general household purposes. A pail of fresh water, for cooking and drinking. stands well off the floor on a stool inside the door.

The stack of turf (peat) against the gable wall has its own little thatch of straw to keep it dry, weighed down by tree branches.

The two quern-stones at the front of the house are purely for ornament and interest.


The traditional Irish dwelling is rectangular in plan and only one storey high. Though the number of rooms may vary, their arrangement is always linear, each room opening into the next rather that on to a hallway or corridor. Each room occupies the full width of the house. The line is often extended to include one or more build-on sheds or cow-byres.

The kitchen is the most important room, with the hearth the very 'heart' of the house. The front door opens directly into the kitchen, and usually stands open during the daytime. Very often there is a second door on the opposite side of the room, leading to the backyard. The house would normally be built with its back to the prevailing wind. You were expected to know 'where the wind sat' and not come in by the wrong door, letting a gale into the kitchen.

Water for most household purposes came from a rain-barrel under the eaves, while drinking and cooking water was carried from a well. In villages there was usually a 'Village Pump', a great focus for exchange of news and gossip. Electricity did not come until the great Rural Electrification Scheme of the 1950's.

Most of the furnishings, as well as the house itself, would be made from local materials, as often as not by the owner. Tools and furnishings were simple but practical. If they broke, they could be mended or adapted by the owner himself. There was little or no money for imported goods but a little money was usually found for tea, which attained great popularity throughout Ireland during the 19th century, and of course tobacco.

Whitewash and Thatch.

The traditional thatch roofing was the glory of the Irish homestead. It is an ideal roofing material, cool in summer and warm in winter. Thatching could be of rushes, straw or reeds, or even coarse grass or sedge, and would be renewed as required-and the thatching day was a great event with all the neighbours helping. In exposed regions of the atlantic seaboard, the thatch was lashed down with a rope network against the winter gales. 'Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scoilbe'' - the day of the gale is not the day for the thatching - is a well known seanfhocal or proverb warning us not to wait until it's too late to provide us for the future.


Walls are whitewashed inside and outside the house. The accumulating layers over years helped to weatherproof the house, and the lime's corrosive properties helped to kill off any fungus or insects. Whitewash was a solution of lime in water. First you got your quicklime by burning limestone in an easily-built stone kiln. Most of this quicklime was used on the land as good cheap fertiliser, but the best lumps of pure white lime were powdered and mixed with water to make whitewash. Some districts liked to add some colour - a touch of blue from the various shades of red, brown or yellow. The house thatched, the turf brought in and the rent paid, meant that the people could face the winter without fear.


('Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, A window on the Past', booklet. Published by Shannon Heritage Ltd. 1991.)

Many thatched houses were designed for the people who lived in them, for example farmers' families and so on.


Adare, Co. Limerick still has thatched houses on view. These houses are big attractions for tourists each year.

The old town of Adare, which stood on the northern bank of the river Maigue, near the Desmond castle, was destroyed during the 16th century wars. Almost all of the present village was built in the 19th century. The early developments were very haphazard but from about 1820, streets and buildings were laid out according to the, then, Earl of Dunraven's design. He built houses and rented them, under various agreements, to his tenants, working on his estate lands.

Pictures from



The Post Office





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The Penny post began in 1840 and post offices were soon opened in small towns and villages. By 1900 postmen, known then as Postboys, were providing a service in most areas. It was generally accepted that it was good news to receive a letter but telegrams were supposed to be a bad sign. The Post Office around 1900 was more of a sort of General Store. Aside from the telephone and post it acted like a local shop and sold shirt fasteners, underwear, safety pins and biscuits. 


Local Village Post Office      General Post Office Limerick


Mail delivery in Ireland dates back to 1638, when 'The Deputy Postmaster to Foreign Parts' Evan Vaughan organised post stages from Dublin to Belfast, Coleraine, Derry, Sligo, Galway and Cork. Until mail coaches were introduced in 1789, mail in Britain and Ireland was usually carried by 'post boys' who provided their own horses. Mail was expensive and had to be collected after a conveyance fee was paid at the post office by the addressee. In 1840 Rowland Hill reformed the postal service by introducing postage stamps so that the sender paid for the postage. He understood that if people could be encouraged to exchange letters, postal charges could be greatly reduced.

Traditional deliveries were carried out on remote islands by Donkey Post !


Following the War of Independence, the post office in Ireland came under Irish administration in 1922. Post boxes and mail cars were repainted, and the first Irish definitive stamp was issued in December, 1922.

From 1855 to 1994, mail was transported by rail on special mail carriages, where postal staff sorted the mail as the train travelled through the night, stopping at stations across the country. In a major modernisation project in 1994, Letter Post shifted to the more flexible road transport and also opened a state of the art automated sorting facility, the Dublin Mails Centre. Over 1.6 million pieces of mail are now processed daily at the DMC.

The Post box was first introduced in larger cities and then gradually around the country as the post office grew.


Postmen start their rounds in Galway in the 1920's



Dublin's GPO is one of the oldest and most distinguished in the world and played a central role in Irish history during the 1916 Rising.

Briain, Sixth Class, Corbally N.S., Limerick.


class.jpg (737525 bytes)This photo was taken around 1908 with 39 girls in the schoolhouse


Life at School.

“Oh no I'm late” I gasped as I glanced at the wooden clock. I slipped into my chair as quietly as possible. I was sure Brother Francis wouldn't see me as the classroom was crowded with children all of all ages. “Kate come here please”, ordered Brother Francis. I already warned you about being late” he shouted, and with that he grabbed the wooden cane, took hold of my hand and hit my knuckles so hard my hand went purple and started to bleed. Just then my sister Peggy came in dragging a bucket of small logs of wood along with Patrick. “Sorry we are late Brother Francis, it was very foggy and windy, so it was extremely hard to cut the wood” mumbled Peggy. She was shivering with the cold. I felt sorry for her as she was only wearing thin rags. Brother Francis quickly lit the wood and soon the class was warm and well lit up.

The hole in the roof was getting bigger and the rain leaked in. The school was run down and many children were getting fevers, colds, fleas and much worse some were dying. Brother Francis took out the thick black roll book and started calling out names. When he called out Mary O'Shea nobody answered. "Mary O'Shea" he bellowed again. Suddenly Paddy Casey mumbled “Mary's very sick and Doctor Walsh told me ma she wasn't going to get any better”. I was shocked. Mary was a good friend of mine and now she was going to die. To be honest the only thing I like about school is when we get buns and luke warm milk. At least that was something to look forward to.


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The school in Bunratty was originally built at Belvoir in East Clare in the early 19th century. At this time it was typical of many to be found all over the country. It has two school rooms, each of which accommodated between 30-40 children.

  All of the children would copy out there lessons on slates using a stick of chalk. At break the children would have been provided with buns and warm milk, as this might be their only food for the day.

Most of the teachers were priests and the children would have to call them “Brother” and they would then call a saint's name e.g. “Brother Francis”. They were very strict and would often hit the children with a cane if they were bold or didn't know the answer. Sometimes they would shame the children by making them stand out and force them wear a hat with the letter “D” standing for dunce.

Most schoolhouses would have two rooms but sometimes not big enough to hold the children so eventually they became overcrowded. Schools in the 19th century had very small amounts of light and there were holes in the roof. Children would have to get the turf for the fire. Many children would get very sick by such bad conditions.

The main subjects were writing, religion, arithmetic and reading. These subjects would help them to read write and count. Most children would have to walk to school barefoot because they were so poor . Holy Communion and Confirmation back then wasn't as big as the events now-a-days.

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Teachers/Punishments  1900's

Teachers were all females until there was a shortage of trained teachers and male teachers were introduced. A normal school would have straight wooden benches facing the blackboard. In a class of 40 to 60 students, teachers were very strict.

When the boys got into trouble, they were sent to the headmaster and got caned.

Girls were disciplined by writing out lines or by being sent outside the room. The students were also kept back after school.

They were punished because they spelt words wrong, got music notes wrong, were talking in class, even coming in late, messy work, blotches of ink on their work or punching someone in the back.

The School Day

In class, children learnt maths, history, art, geography, reading, music, writing and went on nature walks.

They were expected to be able to copy a picture exactly, memorise the times tables and learn the rivers of Australia. At the beginning of a school day the flag was raised, then the children marched into class after singing the national anthem. Children wrote on a slate or in the sand. The furniture in a classroom would consist of long wooden desks (4 or 6 people a desk), stools, ink wells, desks with lift up lids, pens and ink.

If children were naughty, they were given the cane and other punishments. If someone misbehaved, the teacher would punish the student by using the strap, leather belt, cane and lawyer cane ( A thin piece of bamboo). The principal would whip the naughty boys with it and give them 1 to 6 cuts. If you spelt a word wrong, you would have to write it out 100 times.

At lunch, the children would play marbles, hopscotch, tops, skipping, bottle tops, cads, cricket, football, hide and seek, round up, brandy, red rover, soft ball, soccer, leap frog, singing, corners shadow puppets, cat and mouse, follow the leader, climbing trees, chasing, mini-concerts, volleyball, basketball, rover come over, marching squad practice, parallel bars, swings, tennis, swimming, cowboys, Indians and most schools had a playground.

Now up to the present !

Teachers can be very grouchy, but they can also be very friendly. They are not as strict (cruel) as the past teachers though they are still capable of screaming their lungs out if we talk, misbehave or fight. This can lead to detention and writing out lines.


Games we enjoy playing in Primary school are football, Rugby, Hockey, Camogie, Soccer, Basketball, swimming, Chess, tag, hopscotch, skipping, and we have a conkers and marbles.

written by Sixth Class, Scoil Íde, Corbally, Limerick.




A day in the life of a shopkeeper

I woke up at half past seven to the sound of Mrs .Brown's rooster. My sister put some bread in the oven this morning for the shop so it should be ready by now. I went into the kitchen and cut myself some soda bread and made a pot of tea over the open fire. My sister and I went to the shop and opened the doors at eight o'clock. Our first customer was Mr.O'Shaughnessy who came in for milk and butter. The shop was very busy with people coming in buying items for their breakfast. At 1.30 we closed the shop so we could go and have a quick lunch and get food for the shop. When we came back there were lots of people waiting outside the shop. When I opened the door they all rushed in to buy ham sandwiches for their lunch. After they were gone we made some butter and put it on the shelves. Then my sister went and bought a few pints of milk off farmer Joe. We only had one customer after lunch and that was Mr.O'Brien who came in to get milk for his tea. We were very tired after a long day's work so we locked the doors and went home.


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Pawnbrokers were a very important part of the village when money was needed.

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Printer works produced pamphlets, newspapers, handbills and notices.

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The lack of a proper description in Irish for shops like the grocer's and hardware merchant's shows their comparative novelty in rural life. The importance of the grocer grew only with the demand for more exotic foodstuffs. He sold imported goods such as tea and sugar and also bought produce from local farms for resale to the villagers. The sale of vegetable, butter and milk to the grocer was a valuable source of income for some households. By custom, the ‘egg money' was always the woman's, to spend as she pleased.

The Hardware store produced items made either at home or from the forge eventually serving as an outlet for factory goods. Country people were very particular about their implements and the shops had to provide for their particular tastes. They sold tools and implements as well as things like tobacco and flour for the farm or home.


The Village.

Before the 19th century, country people produced most of their own food and clothing. They salted fish and bacon, grew potatoes and other vegetables, were provided with milk butter and eggs by their own animals. Luxuries like sugar, tea, tobacco and spices had to be bought at a shop. In the 19th century, however, exciting new products were becoming available; exotic fruits such as lemons and tomatoes appeared, while Christmas cards and coat hangers began to represent what was fashionable and therefore desirable. So shops bought commodities, started to rival and then replace, home production. Shopkeepers took on a new standing in the community.


Old Village shops have been replaced by

larger local shops. Local garages now have large stores. There are mini malls and lots of very large department stores. 

There are now many large shopping Centres to choose from.



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Whiskey, traditionally known as Uisce Beatha (the water of life), ale and wine have been part of life here for thousands of years. Before the close of the 19th century, most socialising took place at home – singing, dancing & conversation still centered on the hearth – but around the turn of the century the pub was beginning to draw people out of their houses and is still the main focus of social life in many areas of Ireland today. The Pub was the place for talking and drinking, picking up the main news and gossip of the day. Before the pub people had gone from house to house for tea, chat or drink.  In this village pub, clients over-flowed into the family kitchen when it was busy. But, as often happens in life, much of its business switched to the newer and larger bar attached to the hotel (for example, Bunratty's P. Mac Namara & son at the top of the street). The pubs sold  varied items like evaporated milk , baking powder, black treacle and even snuff !!

Lighting was by rush light, candles or oil lamps. The rush would be dipped in melted wax and clamped in a holder. The paraffin lamp didn't come until the 1920's.

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Our Local Bar


Many pubs, particularly country  pubs, are still designed in the old manner . But there has also been a growth in what is now called the "Super Pub".



(all info compiled by Sixth Class, Scoil Íde, Corbally, Limerick)


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