Nostalgic images of Irish cottage windows adorn postcards, calendars, placemats, mugs and numerous other mementos created to help tourists remember their days spent in the Emerald Isle.
Some claim this image is overused and just plain touristy, but for me it is synonymous with my homeland.
Simple, small wooden windows often sport old black kettles. Red geraniums are striking, when highlighted by whitewashed walls.
Nostalgia For Irish Cottages
This summer I often paused to photograph cottage windows. My children just could not understand my interest in windows.
“Hurry up, Mom,” was a frequent instruction from my kids, who grew impatient with my constant dilly dallying, and car halting maneuvers to snapshot old windows that caught my fancy. In years to come I hope they’ll understand their mother’s fascination with Irish cottages and windows.
Whenever I see a lace curtained window, I smile.
Simple, yet beautiful, these windows are fitting symbols of our rural heritage.
The History of the Window Tax
Irish cottages usually boasted less than six small windows, and often only two or three.
The size and number of windows in a house were limited to avoid the dreaded ‘window tax’. From 1799 until 1851 more than six windows in a house resulted in a window tax being levied on the homeowner. As a result cottages were built with as few windows as possible.
Cottage interiors were often smokey and dark. The window tax was often called the ‘typhus tax’ because of respiratory problems caused by poor ventilation.
The general rule was that the front door of the cottage should face south.
Northerly winds are colder than southerly breezes. Elemental considerations dictated the door free rear wall should face north.
Small Windows – An Economical Solution
Cottage windows were small compared to the vast glass panes of today. The main reason for this, was to retain heat in the winter and to keep cool in the summer. Cottages truly were an Irishman’s cave.
Glass was also expensive. Economy dictated use of the smallest possible amount of glass.
Cottage walls were much thicker than today’s home structures. This design feature helped support the roof and beams. Thick walls meant deep window recesses, just perfect for flower displays.
Deep window ledges were also perfect for displaying statues, the Infant of Prague, being a favored window fixture.
And of course, flowers adorned cottage windows in abundance, and still do, to this very day.
Every Irish cottage is slightly different, each seeming to boast a unique personality. And behind these windows family stories of love and loss evolved…. if only windows could talk.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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