The message on the back says, "To John from mother with love." It has no address or postmark, so it probably came over in a letter to my great-aunt Laura's husband John Jameson from his mother in Ireland. The dates of most of the postcards in this collection are 1910-1912.
I would have to guess that the pot is boiling over a turf fire:
Turf, known also as peat, is partially decomposed vegetable matter, an early form of coal. Farmers who cut their own turf must devote about a week each spring to harvest enough sod to last a winter. A culture has arisen around turf cutting. Sleans (turf-spades) differ from area to area and a person's religion, we are told, can be determined according to whether he digs with the right foot or left. A turf cutter is expected to leave a "straight face" in the cutting bank for the next cutter, reinforcing a sense of community responsibility. The entire family takes part in turf cutting, the weaker members stacking the heavy sods on their ends to dry. A broken back, a girl from Kerry alleges, was preferable to a broken sod. After a summer of drying, the turf bricks are hauled on the back of a donkey to the east side of the home for protection from the elements. Before turf was made available commercially, a wet summer meant a cold winter, for 50 days of clear weather are needed to dry the turf harvest.
And as for the thatched cottage, here's what a scientific report on thatching has to say:
The evidence suggests that wheat straw was more commonly used than oat straw in many areas in the last century, along with barley and rye straw. Somewhat surprisingly, combined barley straw was still used in some areas until very recently. Truly appalling examples of straw thatching are not difficult to find in Ireland. Cases exist of newly applied thatch that could not withstand a winter without major repair, and the oat straw currently used rarely lasts for more than five to seven years. In contrast, straw roofs in Wales and Western England - districts with 'Irish' rainfall and shallow-pitched roofs - routinely last for 20 years with minimal maintenance. Ethnographic records suggest that roofs were expected to last from 10 to 15 years at the beginning of this century, and the reduced longevity is at least partially linked to the introduction of modern hybrid varieties with straw too short for use as thatch.
Unusual main coat and fixing materials survive in profusion; corrugated iron shields older base coats of heather in Wicklow and Antrim; decay-resistant eel grass (Zostera maritimus), collected in bulk on the shore after a storm tide, was used in a similar way in coastal districts in the North; the almost ubiquitous turf 'scraw'- whether exposed or underlain by a thin flecking of straw - provided a firm base for scollops throughout much of the country; marram grass cut on a sustainable basis from coastal dunes was used effectively on rope thatched dwellings in many coastal areas; and flax was widely used in parts of Ulster when the harvest could not be sold for the production of linen (and continues to be popular in some regions).
Water reed has been cut from beds along the River Suir in Waterford and Kilkenny for generations, but in this area it is applied in much the same manner of straw and is not dressed into position as in Norfolk-style water reed. In contrast to England and the Continent, however, native reed was generally considered to be inferior to straw for reasons rooted in population genetics as much as technique. Rapid improvements in the quality of domestic Irish reed could probably be achieved with relatively minor effort.
In general, the in situ, ethnographic and historical evidence suggests that 'traditional' lrish thatch once performed better than is commonly believed, and a relatively small number of material and technical changes could increase significantly the average longevity of such roofs while preserving the visual, technical and material continuity with ancient Irish thatching traditions.
The cottage itself was probably whitewashed mud.
Do you have any further information about this postcard -- including historical details about the image, etc.? Put it in the comments, please!
Anyone may feel free to use cards from my turn-of-the-century postcard collection as long as they remember to credit me (Gail Hapke) and Scribal Terror as the source.