Plainly put, Ireland's traditional thatched roofs are facing extinction. The latest warning from a conservation group, in a new government-sponsored study, estimates that only 1,300 thatched-roof buildings remain in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. If more disappear, thatchers will go out of business, and the remaining roofs will rapidly fall apart.
For years, the government contributed to the problem by encouraging people living in thatched cottages to save on maintenance costs by covering the thatch with corrugated tin. But the homes topped with reed or straw no longer represent the rural poverty that generations of Irish people wanted to forget. Now, thatched roofs are occasionally tacked onto pubs and suburban homes as a startlingly incongruous status symbol.
When it comes to the cottages, though, it seems that few people in wealthy 21st-century Ireland have any interest in living in 18th-century homes with one bedroom and thick walls made of mud. Cottage dwellers are quick to list their advantages - cool in summer, warm in winter, environmentally sound - but the easily damaged roofs must be replaced about once a decade, and the earthen floors guarantee dampness.