Other European tourists made tours round Ireland even earlier than John Barrow in 1835. Almost 60 years earlier, an agricultural reformer from England called Arthur Young completed his “Tour in Ireland” in 1776 in preparation of a book of that name. Arthur wanted to see how the Irish natives ran their farms. Sometimes he was impressed (in the wealthier east of the country) and at other times, like most visitors to the west of Ireland back then, he was alarmed by what he saw; uneducated and poverty-stricken peasants living in primitive cabbins AND paying premium annual rent to Anglo-British landlords for the privilege of remaining at their ancestral homesteads.
For any budding builders or DIY enthusiasts, as an accomplished artist, Young even drew sketches of traditional Irish cabin homes and showed us how they were constructed. So if you want to buy a cheap plot of Irish land out west and build your dream 18th century authentic cottage, here’s how you go about it:
Construction of an Irish cabin (in 4 easy stages)
And here’s what Arthur Young observed:
“If the Irish cabbins continue like what I have hitherto seen, I shall not hesitate to pronounce their inhabitants as well off as most English Cottagers. They are built of mud walls 18 inches or 2 feet thick, and well thatched, which are far warmer than the thin clay walls in England. Here are few cottars without a cow, and some of them have two. A bellyful invariably of potatoes, and generally turf for fuel from a bog. It is true, they have not always chimneys to their cabbins, the door serving for that and window too: if their eyes are not affected with the smoke, it may be an advantage in warmth. Every cottage swarms with poultry, and most of them have pigs.”
Of course, Arthur failed to appreciate that the pet pig roaming around the cabin was also a great source of warmth, particularly on a chilly night when cuddling up to the snoring swine was of great comfort.
Here is an eighteenth century Irish Cabbin that some hardy buck produced earlier, prior to the introduction of chimneys into rural Irish architectural designs.
A few years later in 1790, a Frenchman named Charles-Étienne Coquebert de Montbret took his tour of Ireland while working as a commerce agent in Dublin. Charles-Étienne was fascinated by the culture of the west of Ireland and marveled at how its native inhabitants endured hardship without complaint. Charles-Étienne also made his own sketches of unfamiliar sights observed, and wrote accompanying texts in the French language. Below, I have reproduced one such article kindly translated by NUIGalway.
Floorplan of cabin and sketch of hearth with pot and crane
Translation: “For 5 guineas, one can have a cabin with three rooms, i.e. the kitchen and two behind the fireplace, one for the potatoes where they receive the smoke which preserves and improves them, the other for sleeping in. Only those intended for sowing are kept in earth. The Irish eat a little herring with their potatoes. One is enough for an entire family. One can buy 3 for one sol (penny). Potatoes are measured by the stone, weighing 16 pounds. They are cooked over a very hot fire, in an open pot, with little water; when they are cooked the water is drained off and they are put to dry beside the fire.
A cabin costing 2 guineas has no fireplace. It costs 5 to 6 shillings to have a stonemason build one of these cabins. Their outer face is of bare stone, the inner is rendered with earth and sand from the road. They are roofed with sods laid on a herringbone arrangement of lats, the thatch pinned into it with other thin lats and often held in position with ropes and weighed down with stones. They sleep naked on the straw which covers the floor, under a very large blanket of felted wool, without sheets.”