Gaels (Irish) - Settlements



Villages are small, usually with 100-200 inhabitants, and consist of dispersed farmsteads, each surrounded by a few acres of farmland (or "townland"). There are four important centers of interaction in a Gaelic village: the pub or pubs; the post office or store (if there is one); the space outside the church; and the crossroads, which was the traditional place for dancing, gossip, and interaction among the young people on a summer's evening. The main farmhouse is usually next to another building that houses cattle, horses, donkeys, and farm implements. This latter building may be a relatively new structure, or else the ancestral home of the family that they have recently relinquished to their animals. Prehistoric and medieval stone buildings ( clocháin ) have sometimes been preserved in this manner. The traditional Gaelic home is a long one-storied cottage divided into three rooms, its long axis roughly oriented east-west. The west room has a special position in Irish folklore, for it is where the aging parent or parents traditionally live out their last years amid family mementos before "going west." The middle room, the largest, is the general living and dining room, and also serves as the kitchen. It has two external doors, on the north and the south sides of the house. The small eastern room is a bedroom, but in the more northerly Gaeltachts it is common for the living room to have a protrusion or "outshot," which also can contain a bed. The cottages are sturdily built of cut stone, with wooden rafters supporting a thatched roof. The kitchen fire provides the only heat, and so peat (the usual fuel) is burning there fairly constantly. An adjustable iron pot hanger ( crock ) hangs over it to support a pot or kettle; the smoke escapes up a chimney.


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