Traditional methods draw the tourists and keep a roof over James’s head

An age-old skill being perfected by James Lee is ensuring the imposing Co Limerick village of Adare maintains its picture-postcard image.

James, a professional thatcher, from Ballyorgan, Co Limerick, has just completed re-roofing of the village’s famous thatch cottages with reed cut from the banks of the Shannon.

Each day, hundreds of visitors stop to marvel at the thatch cottages that give the heritage village an olde worlde appeal.

Mike Lonsworth from Boston said: “I thought it was some kind of street theatre organised by the tourism people. It was only when I stopped to talk to the man on the cottage roof [that] I realised it was the real thing.

“I didn’t know they still did the thatch the same way as it has been done for hundreds of years. I thought it arrived in pre-made sections. This is cool, to meet with a thatcher at work.”

James, aged 35, says he got a “notion” some years ago to become a thatcher.

“It seemed like a good idea as I did pretty much everything you do in rural life, growing up on a farm,” he says. “After leaving home for a time, I did the obligatory six months at Dell and then I went to art college in Galway for a time.

“About 10 years ago I started helping an older thatcher, going around with him and picking it up from there.”

While some thatchers import reed from Poland, James’ raw material comes from the boatmen at Coonagh, near Bunratty, who have supplied thatchers in Clare and Limerick for generations.

“It’s been a very bad summer for thatching with all the rain,” says James. “Some weeks, I could only get in day or two’s work. It’s nearly better to thatch now in the winter as the summers have been so bad.”

However, there’s still plenty of work for him in Co Limerick.

“There are about 150 thatch buildings in Co Limerick, the second biggest number in any county,” he says. “The thatch lasts about 15 years if it is done well.”

And with heat conservation uppermost in the minds of many households, James said the thatch is great to keep a house warm.

“The reed is hollow and basically it traps the air and this forms a great insulation,” he says. “The thatch on a roof is about three-and-a-half feet thick and is put on in layers which are about a foot thick.

“I have done work on a lot of the thatch cottages in Adare and it’s lovely to work here with people stopping for a chat and asking to take photographs.”


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