Meenagarragh Cottiers House
In the 1841 Census of Ireland, County Down had the highest standard of housing of all the counties of Ireland, yet about a quarter of all its houses were small one-roomed dwellings, often referred to as cabins. While this later example is of stone, cabins were more usually built of sods. Local unproved tradition maintains that this house was built in the 1880s as accommodation for a widow related to the family living across the road (the townland boundary) from the Cruckaclady farmhouse.
Houses of this type had no land apart from a small garden plot on which the family could grow potatoes, a major part of their diet.
In 1807, the poet Andrew McKenzie of Ballywalter, County Down, writing under his pen-name of Philip McClabber, described his life in such a house as this:
"My mansion is a clay-built cot,
My whole domain a garden plot.
So little straw defends the roof
Against the rain it is not proof."
McKenzie, his wife and "six naked children" lived on a diet largely comprised of potatoes and water, and for this each 1st May he paid a rent of thirty shillings (£1.50), which in 1807 would have been a small fortune. With living conditions such as these, and frequently worse, it is little wonder that the repeated failure of the potato crop in the 1840s had such a devastating effect on the Irish countryside.
Original location: Meenagarragh townland, near Plumbridge, County Tyrone.
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