Irish Cottages were built and continuously used from the 1860’s to the 1960’s before they became unfashionable with the advent of central heating which allowed for larger rooms and windows. The classic cottage was 10 metres long and 4 metres wide with three windows to the front and a front door off centre. These cottages were often constructed using a Meithal or community work group and when several were built together this was known as a Clachan. The back door or doras na gaoithe (the draughty door) was parallel with the front and had a half door with hinges on either side, so it could be hung to protect from the prevailing wind.
There are two distinct types, east and south of the of the River Shannon they have a small lobby separating the front door from the central room or kitchen, while west and north of the Shannon the visitor would walk directly into the kitchen. The central focus of this room was the hearth where all cooking was done. There was a hierarchy as to who sat closest the fire, the man and woman of the house sat on the right and left-hand side respectively.
The bedrooms were accessed from the main room, while some houses had a loft space opening to the kitchen where children slept. The beds on which the occupants slept had fabric covered straw mattresses and tended to be shorter in size than today. This was on account those that people tended to sleep sitting up because of the range of respiratory diseases common at the time.
One of the most important pieces of furniture was the settle which was a deep wooden seat with a high back. This kept the occupants back off the damp wall and was positioned close to the hearth. The underneath could be opened and often doubled as a playpen for a child or animal or additional storage.
Important traditions were upheld in the building of a cottage, sometimes an animal was stabled in the house before the family moved in, if the animal was healthy after a period than it was safe to move in the family. The first fire was traditionally lit from embers removed from the parents’ house.
The Claddagh fishing village is part of Galway’s rich maritime heritage. The area is located on the west side of the River Corrib and outside the walls of the city. However, it provided an important service in feeding the habitants of the city. The area had its own traditions including an elected King and traditional dress and cloak. In 1836 there were nearly 200 fishing boats and 820 fishermen, while over 2000 people living in thatched cottages. The favoured boat utilised by its fishermen were the Galway Hooker or Bád Mór. It had distinctive red sails made of calico and weatherproofed with a mix of tar and butter or a tree bark solution. Though disputed, the style of the Galway Hooker may be derived from Dutch Hoeker boats of the 17th century.
There was a curious division of labour among the men and women of the Claddagh for this period. When the men landed the catch the women took over, undertaking the selling of the bounty in the Fishmarket Square next to the Spanish Arch. During the 19th century many painters and anthropologists came and studied the village with great fascination. One such man was Albert Khan, who sent two photographers there in 1909. The autochrome images were the first coloured photographs taken in Ireland and captured local ladies dressed in their distinctive shawls and red petticoats. Sadly, the traditional method of line fishing and drift fishing for herring was supplanted by trawler fishing and this together with the shoals of herring moving further off shore saw the demise of the industry. The people of the Claddagh continued their relationship with the sea, when during WW1 many of the young men joined the British Navy. This proud maritime tradition continues today with the Galway Hooker Restoration project and Katie’s Claddagh Cottage.