Two Houses, Wool and Dyeing


By Concubhar Ó Laoire


The following house plans compare two old houses in Ballingeary. One house is now in ruins, the other is now an outhouse. Following the plans are some interesting items of information on building, wool and dyeing.


House A (late 1700’s)

A = goat house attached to main house

B = chimney breast

C = two storage holes either side of chimney measuring 10"x 10"

D = hole in south gable measuring 19"x 17" probable only light source into the house,

(apart from an open door). It had a wooden shutter open by day if the weather conditions permitted.


This internal measurements of this house are 18 feet 3" x 10 feet 3"

(try comparing this with the largest room in a modern house).

The whole family lived and slept in the one room.

The main food source was potatoes and goats milk

Neighbours supplied cows milk if needed.





House B (late 1800’s)


A = bottom room. A modern house design would make this a bedroom.

However at the time an animal house would be of more importance.


B = stream diverted to house then put in a covered drain into well (D)

The stream then flowed on top of a ditch to make an aqueduct to bring

it to another yard

C = three or four slabs approx. 2 feet high to lift goats to a comfortable

milking height.

D =well

E =potato garden

F =meadow

G =drainage hole at bottom of wall to let out any water.

H = elderberry tree. These were planted near every house to provide dye for home dying of clothes.


Even though house B is much older than house A by fifty to a hundred years

it is over double its size. House B was built on a slope and the floor was not level

so the floor sloped from top to bottom.

Both houses were built with a dry stone wall. House B had a flag floor which

survived until recently. As all the interior decor magazines now show quarry slate

floor tiles in all the best houses it is nice to realise that our ancestors were two

hundred and fifty years ahead of us on that point.




House building in times past

The wind was a major problem for the 19th century builder so ash trees were often

planted as a windbreak before the introduction of conifers.


However when the people started adding another floor in height they built the houses against a bank for support. Turf sheds had to be built against a bank as the weight of turf was thought to push the walls out.


Most houses were narrow usually one room wide because of the shortage of suitable lengths of roofing timber to cover a longer span.



Most families in Ballingeary had some sheep running on the hills regardless of land ownership, as sheep were needed for wool. The wool was used to make cloth or lining for quilts. The sheep would be gathered down from the hills and dipped in a pool of water to clean the wool . The wool dried faster and easier on the animals back. The sheep were then shorn and if used for quilting the wool was washed again. If used for clothes it was then carded and then taken to Ronan’s Tuck Mill in Kilmore, Ballingeary. One of the most important raw ingredients used in the tuck house was urine, which was collected from the village houses. (Dying in a urine bath is an ancient way of using indigo dye as stale urine two weeks old is an alkali and the bacteria remove oxygen) . The thread was then spun and woven. Sullivans from Gurteenakilla were the local weavers. The cloth then went home for the travelling tailor’s annual visit or to the local tailors house if he lived in the area.



ELDERBERRY -- elder was planted next to most houses. It is the only native tree rabbits find distasteful. The leaves bark and berries can be used with the colour ranging from green (leaves) brown\pink (bark) to purple from the berries. Children also made fop guns from the hollow stem. A fop gun is like a pea shooter. You block both ends with chewed paper etc and ram a T shaped holly twig in and one plug is shot out. To get the Ballingeary show water pistol effect it could be filled with water before the shot.


MOSS; moss was used to get a brown colour. However the garment faded fairly rapidly.

GORTAFLUDDIG was known for its muddy hole which allowed clothes to be coloured black which was one of the hardest colours to achieve