Owners of Ireland’s thatched cottages fear they will face extinction unless the state steps in to help them secure affordable insurance coverage.
Hatched cottages have been a typically Irish symbol for hundreds of years, but it is estimated that there are just over 1,000 left across the island.
Some owners have not been able to get insurance since the recession, while others have had home insurance quotes of up to €8,500 and cannot afford to pay.
Irish companies that have offered such insurance are no longer taking new clients due to a “serious deterioration in claims experience” and UK insurers who previously insured these homes have exited the market since Brexit.
High insurance costs have led some to take the risk of living in an uninsured home, with owners fearing losing everything in the event of an accident.
Seán McLaughlin (78) of Malin Head, Co. Donegal bought his thatched house in the village of Culoort in the 1970s. The house was one of six thatched lots within 100 yards, but now his is the only one left.
Roughly 300 years old, Mr McLaughlin’s home has become a popular attraction in the area, with tourists regularly stopping at it for photos.
“The locals didn’t appreciate these houses years ago as they reminded them of poverty and growing up in crappy conditions, but now that it’s the only house in my village they really appreciate it and they like the fact that I kept it. It’s traditional and brings people to Culoort,” McLaughlin said.
However, despite considerable efforts to preserve his home, he has been unable to obtain insurance coverage for the past 15 years. “I was insured for about 10 years. I didn’t have any claims or anything, but around 2007, when the big slump came, I got a letter from my insurers saying the insurers weren’t willing to continue underwriting. That was the last time I was insured.
“There was a time when there were some options (to get insurance) but it was so expensive that I couldn’t do it. Now there is nobody who will insure houses like mine. There are also now so many conditions and regulations that it has prevented the houses from being traditional.
“When you think of Ireland you think of a pint of Guinness and a thatched house, but it’s an aspect of our history that’s fast disappearing.”
Some thatched houses have been in the same family for generations, others have been acquired recently. With insurance companies no longer accepting new customers, these people in particular are struggling to get coverage.
OBF Insurance Group has been one of the main providers of coverage in recent years, but a spokesman said: “Due to the serious deterioration in the thatched property claims experience, Lloyd’s insurers have decided not to write any new thatched property policies.
“They continue to offer renewals and will continue to offer insurance to a buyer of a thatched property if they are already insuring it for the seller. If thatched roof property insurance were profitable, other insurers would flock to the market. Insurers made this decision to protect their current policyholders for thatched properties.”
Jennifer Grace from Dublin bought a thatched house in Ballyedmond, Co. Wexford in 2019.
It was originally intended to be a holiday home, but she now hopes to live there permanently. Efforts to insure the house affordable have so far been unsuccessful.
The house has been completely modernized inside and extensively remodeled.
She had the property rewired and the chimneys sealed to increase the chances of getting insurance, but the only offer she received was a price of €8,500. Other companies would not quote them at all.
“When I bought it, Brexit hadn’t happened yet. We made the offer in June 2019, but the sale didn’t go through until November. It was the new year when we started getting insurance. I wasn’t prepared for all the stumbling blocks or the expense, I got a bit scared.
“If this house burns, we will lose everything.”
In Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford, a village famous for its traditional thatched houses, some owners told the tale Irish Independent They struggled to get insurance because there are so many thatched houses in one area.
Trish Donovan contacted numerous brokers and insurers and had to meet a number of conditions. She has removed the stove from the house, there is no open fire and the chimney is sealed. However, she would still not insure any Irish company as there are other thatched houses within 50 meters of the property.
“It’s not like I can open and move the house,” she said.
“We had to go to a German company abroad. Ours is over €2,000 and that is with normal household contents insurance. That’s a lot of money for a three bedroom house.”
Thatched pubs in rural Ireland are also asking the government to help businesses with insurance coverage, with some paying up to €20,000 for buildings insurance alone.
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said her family had been forced to close their pub because she couldn’t afford insurance. It was the last remaining pub in the area and some locals were unhappy that the pub closed its doors for good.
“My father passed away in 2020 and it fell to my mother to get insurance. In 2021 she received a letter telling her that the company that had covered her insurance all along was leaving the Irish market.
“The pub was closed for a long time and I ended up getting insurance but it wouldn’t cover everything. Basically, you might want to buy insurance for around €12,000 to keep a business success open with Covid restrictions.”
In the last 10 years there have been a small number of incidents of thatched houses catching fire.
In 2015, three buildings in Adare, Co. Limerick were badly damaged by fire. A family home in Duncannon, Co. Wexford was also destroyed by fire last month. An old thatched cottage in Drogheda, Co Louth was partially destroyed in a suspected arson attack in 2020.
However, thatched roof owners have argued that the number of fires is not enough to justify high premiums.
A petition urging the government to address the discrepancy between regular property insurance and thatched roof insurance has garnered hundreds of signatures so far. “If this insurance situation persists, our legacy will suffer,” the petition reads.
A spokesman for the Heritage Council said it was hopeful that the market gap among insurance providers could be addressed and “that a basis for premium calculation could be established that worked for all parties involved”. “The Heritage Council will consult with the insurance and heritage sectors and make recommendations to a working group composed of representatives from the Heritage Council and the Department of Housing, as well as heritage workers from the local government sector, outlining a way forward,” added she added.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/our-history-is-disappearing-fast-thatched-cottages-under-threat-as-insurance-continues-to-soar-41677060.html ‘Our story is fast disappearing’: Thatched cottages under threat as insurance continues to skyrocket