The Island Village

Limerick City Library

Scattery Island’s most intact village dwellings date back to the 19th century, and some further back to the 18th century. From a heritage viewpoint the dwellings are important because they were not altered from their original state.

In the village itself, the Island’s post- office box is still visible on the front wall of McMahon’s house. The dwellings were traditional in their layout,typical of 19th century village dwellings, with a one-roomed wide open ground plan, two doors at opposite ends of the house, garret rooms aloft in some cases, flagged floors and gabled roofs that were thatched.Walls were whitewashed and kept in pristine condition by the Islanders.

The building materials for the houses on Scattery came from the Island itself, apart from the cement and timber.  Sand from the Island was used to build the houses and they were thatched with straw from the harvest. The Islanders learned the skill of thatching. The last house was built on the Island in 1935.

In the 1950’s the houses on Scattery Island were described by one Sean MacCraith, who visited the Island, as follows:

The majority of the houses faced North West, with two chimneys. A spacious kitchen area was the main living area, with a large hearth at the gable end, complete with hob-seats ensconced at either side. Most Island houses had 3 rooms along with attic rooms occupied by the younger family members. A second open fireplace was usually found in one of the ground floor bedrooms.

There were also sheds or “lean-tos” which housed animals and turf. These buildings referred to as linneys by Mai and Don Scanlan, were roofed with flags or slates, not thatch.

A common item to be found in the Island houses was a large dresser, in some houses located opposite the hearth against the partition that separated the bedroom from the living area. The contents of the dresser comprised of four two- gallon sized earthenware jars, to keep salt, sour milk,bread-soda and butter. Various types of delph was also kept on the dresser, with the best stored on the top shelf and kept for special occasions. A four to five foot press was found beside the dresser. Tea, sugar and bread were stored here, and pots and pans kept on a shelf at the bottom. This press doubled up as a stairs, Don Scanlan attested, with a stool placed in front of it to enable access to be gained to the bedrooms aloft.

Sugan chairs, the closed settle bed, the form and the hob seats all provided seating in the kitchen area. Two of the sugan chairs were placed at the big table, and were used only by the man and lady of the house, not by the children at mealtimes. The “form” was kept under the table and was used also as an Altar rails on Mass day.

A noteworthy feature of the Island houses were the large numbers of books found inside in every kitchen, few of which were about the sea, interestingly.

Storage bins were a feature of the houses on the Island also to keep in bulk a supply of items such as flour, bran and meal, with each bin having a capacity of 12 stone. Large supplies of essential items were important to have in each house as trips to the mainland for supplies, were at the mercy of the conditions of the river at all times.

Near the back door on a stool was the milking equipment with a smaller table alongside that to serve many working purposes.

Interior features of the Island houses that made them different from houses in West Clare, at the time was the seafaring characteristics the items of furniture and lighting bore. A “seaman’s Chest” was often found in a built-in window seat in the kitchen. These chests generally contained documents such as post-office books, pension books, wireless licences, sea going documents, a dictionary, prayer books and Old Moore’s Almanac.

The wireless was a feature in the houses also, and was stored in a screened- in shelf. The wireless was more common in the Island houses than it was in the houses in the mainland in the early years.

On the mantle-shelf could be found various “bottled ships” with amazing detail depicting sailing ships. Pictures of sailing ships were brought home by the Scattery seafarers and hung on the walls, as were items such as gramaphones, radios, books and clocks. Eight day clocks and other ships-clocks were to be seen in many Island houses. Some of these were most unusual with great stories behind their arrival to the Scattery Island.

The Scattery Island houses were occupied by seafarers,lighthouse keepers, pilots and part-time farmers, which made them different to other dwellings in West Clare at the time, also. Farming became the occupation when Scattery men retired from their sea-related positions. Once retired, they received pensions and then took to part-time farming, which added to their secure incomes.

The women of the Island ran the houses and farms and reared their children single handedly while the men were away at sea, which was often.

Sean MacCraith commented that the houses were kept in exceptionally good order, in 1954, something that may be attributable in part to the training the Islanders had at sea and brought home with them.

The dwellings, both inside and out were at all times ship shape and cared for diligently by the Islanders.




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