I [Henry Morris] saw the founding of a new house near Dungloe about the year 1909. The bride, about nineteen years of age, had been selected, the match made, and the day of the wedding appointed. One morning, I saw an unusually large number of men building a house. These had been at the wedding early that morning, had come back to the bride’s house, where they got a good meat breakfast, washing it down with a couple of glasses of whisky. Then they tackled the house-building for the young couple. The site was a small space cleared in the heather, convenient to the road, on land belonging to the bridegroom’s father or father-in-law. In the wedding group were three or four masons for every third or fourth man in Donegal is a stone-mason! A couple of the group were carpenters, and those unskilled in either trade made up mortar and attended the masons and carpenters. I should state that the bridegroom and his friends had previously collected stones, sand, lime and some timber on the spot. The house grew like a mushroom.

An original thatch house from the mid 1800s still in use in Miullaghdubh

The carpenters had the door case and window cases ready when the masons had the walls built high enough to receive them, and when the walls had reached the eave course the “couples” and the roofing timbers were ready. When these had been set up they were covered with “scraws”, tough sods of old lea cut very thin and rolled up. This also had been done in advance. It was a short winter’s day, but before the daylight faded the shell of the house was complete. The workers then repaired again to the bride’s house and were rewarded with another good meal, and more uisge-beatha drunk to many wishes of good luck for the young couple. The bridegroom bade his bride good-bye and went home to his father’s house. During some weeks he visited the house almost every day, put in a door and window, thatched the roof with straw, prepared the floor, plastered roughly the inside of the walls, and generally made the house habitable, while the air dried the walls. Then a night was appointed for “dragging” home the bride. She was supposed to be unwilling to leave her parents’ abode. This event was attended by all the neighbours and friends of the young couple. No one attended without bringing a wedding present, all practically useful in an empty house. One brought a pot, another a kettle, a third some delph, and so on. Except a bed and a kitchen table, the bridegroom had nothing to buy in the way of furniture and equipment. The bride now entertained them all in her new house, and a very jolly night was spent, rivalling the wedding day.

Mary Sharkey knitting while her son Patrick repairs the thatch roof of their home in Mullaghdubh Mountain in the 1960s (photo by Time Magazine)

A couple of months go by, and the bridegroom goes off to Scot land, while the bride brings her sister or some other female relative to stay with her. All the summer and harvest the young fear-a’ loighe toils in Scotland, and then comes home for a few months in the winter. In this way a young pair, who perhaps had not £5 when they got married, will live and rear a family of a dozen or more children, fine hardy boys and girls, their cheeks bronzed by the air of the heather all around them. When the boys reach nine or ten years of age they hire out in the neighbourhood for herding, and then after the age of twelve or thirteen they hire out with farmers (mostly Presbyterian) in Derry and Strabane. Later they go to Scotland with their father, if he is still alive, and about the age of twenty they marry like their parents, and thus life goes on.

Author(s): Henry Morris, Seamus Ó Duilearga and Domhnall Ó Cearbhaill.  Béaloideas, Iml. 9, Uimh 2 (Dec1939), pp. 288-298

Published by: An Cumann Le Béaloideas Éireann/The Folklore of Ireland Society