Duncrun Cottiers House has been exhibited at the Ulster Folk Museum for almost 60 years. It was the first dwelling to open at the Museum, having been dismantled and removed from its original location and rebuilt at Cultra prior to the Museum’s official opening in 1964.
The house originally came from the townland of Duncrun in the district of Magilligan in north-west County Londonderry. Situated below the slopes and inland cliffs of Binevenagh Mountain, the front door of the house led directly onto the Duncrun Road. Views from Duncrun on a clear day include Magilligan Strand, Lough Foyle and Moville and Greencastle in County Donegal. The house was located on a small patch of land on the boundary between two farms. The only land that was attached to the house was a small garden patch at the rear. When it was relocated to the Museum, the house was originally positioned close to the main entrance. Today it sits in the rural area of the Museum on a roadside location. From this higher location, a glimpse of Belfast Lough is possible.
The exact year of construction for the house is unknown, though it is thought to be mid to late 1700s in date. Prior to its relocation to the Museum, it was reputed to be one of the oldest surviving vernacular houses in the locality. By the 1940s it had even started to attract visitors who were interested in seeing one of the few remaining thatched houses in the north-west.
The house has two rooms – a kitchen with a bed outshot and a separate bedroom. A third room was added at a later stage but it was not recreated at the Museum. No electricity or piped water was installed in the house. The hearth fire, candles and paraffin lamps provided heat and light; whilst water was brought from a roadside pump.
The house has a number of interesting structural features including:
- a roped down and pegged thatched roof
- a roof that is supported by cruck trusses or beams (rather than the walls)
- sods of turf used in building construction (within walls and base of chimney opening)
- a wattled clay-covered chimney hood
Several generations of two local Magilligan families lived in the house – the Doherty family and the Clyde family. Both families descended from the poor landless cottier class. The Ordinance Survey Memoirs from the early 1830s reveal that cottiers were attracted to Duncrun principally due to the turf which was readily available on the mountainside and could be cut for free.
At the time of the 1901 census, the house was inhabited by Patrick Clyde, his wife Catherine, daughter Margaret, son William and 10-year-old grandson Robert Butcher. The census reveals that Patrick and William were agricultural labourers, whilst Margaret was a dressmaker. The census of 1911 shows a similar picture, with all of the same inhabitants, although by this time William had found work as a railway labourer and Robert, now 20, was working as an agricultural labourer. The census also shows that Margaret continued to make use of her sewing skills, as a seamstress. Patrick and Catherine died a few years after the 1911 census was taken; Patrick in 1914, followed by Catherine in 1917.
Margaret continued to live in the house following her parents’ death and remained there for the majority of her life. According to Margaret’s niece Mary McLaughlin, who lived with her for a time with her siblings following their mother’s death, Margaret enjoyed making patchwork quilts and had her own homemade quilting frame. She was a thrifty person and saved flour bags which she boiled with soda and leached to remove the print. They were then used to make sheets and cloths for drawn thread work. Margaret had a good set of laying out linens and was called upon locally to help lay out the dead. Clothes were washed in a tin bath and were dried by placing them over hawthorn hedges near the house. Baking was a regular occurrence, with scones on the griddle and soda bread in the pot oven. Margaret grew potatoes, rhubarb and gooseberries in the small garden patch at the rear of the house and she used the rhubarb and gooseberries to make jam. The house was known as a céilí house, particularly for card playing (Forty-Five, Old Maid etc.) and conversation. Mary also recalled a practice called ‘coving’ being carried out in the home, which consisted of the floor immediately around the cleanly swept hearth being decorated with a chalked spiral pattern.
Margaret’s nephew Eddie Butcher (Robert’s brother) often visited his aunt and recalled repairing the thatched roof of the house using bent or marram grass from the coastal sand dunes:
“I done repairs to it, and went and pulled the thatch for it in the back strand hills there – the bent – and took it up and put it on and roped it down. I maybe done it, oh, maybe ten or twelve times for her while she had it. It had to be done very two or three years, you see. She always liked to keep it dry.”
Eddie coincidentally grew up to become a well-known traditional singer. You can listen to a selection of his songs on the Irish Traditional Music Archive’s website.
Margaret lived in the house until the 1950s when ill health obliged her to move. She was the last person to live in the house.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Duncrun Cottiers House. All information contained within this story is believed to be correct at time of publishing. I would like to extend my thanks to one of our volunteers, Rowena Cairns, who has carried out a significant amount of genealogical research on the Clyde family in recent months.
If you have any information to share about the house please contact Victoria Millar.