29 May 2022

Kildare thatcher traces his ‘Katie’ cottage in Suncroft back to 17th Century

John Brereton looking to pass on his skills to next generation

Kildare thatcher traces his ‘Katie’ cottage in Suncroft back to 17th Century

John Brereton outside Katie Cottage. Picture: Aishling Conway

The owner of a 400-year-old cottage in Suncroft has been tracing the history of his humble thatched abode, which is named Katie.

John Brereton, who is a third generation thatcher by trade, lives in Katie’s Cottage, which dates back to the 1600s.

He said: “There were people living in this cottage as far back as 400 years ago — in the 17th Century. It was a workman’s cottage.”

In the 1860s, a family lived in the cottage and one of the family members was named Katie, and John kept this name for his abode.

The original cottage had just a bedroom and a kitchen and at one time it accommodated two parents and 11 children.

John acquired the building in 1993 and set about restoring it using his thatching skills.

He said: “The man knew I would be able to thatch it myself, so he decided to let me have it.”

Two bedrooms were added in the loft and a few modern conveniences were installed without interfering with the traditional character of the property.

The quaint property is sometimes rented out to short-stay holidaymakers.

The quirky interior of the house

John said: “There is no TV, only the radio, and people like that. When people come on holiday, the TV is the last thing on their minds.”

Referring to the construction of the building, John explained: “It has mud walls and there is no foundation — only mud built on top of mud.

But he added: “It is as solid in a storm as a house made of stone or bricks.”

John said he gets passers-by regularly stopping off to take photographs of the cottage or knock on the door to ask him about its history.

John, who is aged in his late 60s, is a grandson of thatcher William Brereton who began the family thatching tradition in the mid-1800s by building and thatching stone and mud houses.

The first thatched roof that John worked on was as a 14-year-old schoolboy with his father Christy and it was located in Prosperous.

That house belonged to the local Ennis family.

John's father Christy at work in the 1960s on a thatched cottage owned by the Ennis family in Prosperous village

An old photograph shows Christy working on the roof with a heavy, wooden ladder.

And John is now looking for a young apprentice to whom he can pass on his well-honed skills.

John works with oaten straw rather than the English style of thatching which uses water reeds.

Thatching keeps him busy 12 months of the year and he can be found on roofs most days, unless the weather is too windy.

Kildare County Council runs an annual Thatching Grand Scheme for thatched properties that require essential repairs and that will be permanently occupied afterwards.

The council’s website also has advice leaflets and contacts for grant schemes to assist with thatching.

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