• Making an entrance

    There are two basic forms of entrance into a traditional Irish farmhouse. The first of these is the ‘direct-entry’ form, where the front door of the house leads directly into the kitchen of the house. The second form is the ‘lobby-entry’, whereby the front door leads into a small lobby area. This lobby area is formed by a wall, sometimes called an ‘entry wall’, which essentially forms a screen between the front door and the kitchen fireplace within. These screen walls are typically stone or clay built. In several instances these screen walls can be a simple timber partition. A common feature of these screen walls is a spy-window. This meant that anyone sitting beside the kitchen fire inside the screen wall could keep an eye out for anyone approaching the front door of the house if, as we shall see was commonly the case, the door was left open. These rarely command a wide view, other than the area immediately outside the front door. The spy-window may also have provided a small amount of light into the area around the hearth.

    In Wicklow the two-piece front door appears to have been absent (except for a few modern examples). Instead, the preference was for a lower half-door that would cover the bottom half of the entrance. Where the half-door occurs, the full door opens inwards, whereas the lower half door opens outwards. This allows the main door to be left open, while the lower half-door can be kept closed to keep the draft out. Keeping the front door open was a way of letting in light, as well as changing the air in what were smoky kitchens, and by keeping the lower half-door closed also kept farm animals in the yard, such as hens or pigs, out of the house (though if animals were being kept in the kitchen this may have been a way of keeping animals in rather than out). Also, when the half-door was kept closed it did not block the view out the spy-window from within the hearth.

    Another feature noted in some of the Wickow farmhouses are front doors that have a vertical fold. These are a feature of lobby-entry houses. Such doors open internally and always away from the kitchen, in the direction of the adjacent room. The vertical split allows the door to effectively wrap around the wall. This was a clever way of preventing the door from blocking the lobby area, in particular the passage into the adjoining bedroom or parlour. This is a common feature in the eastern parts of Wicklow.

    The photograph here shows a typical arrangement of the lower half door opening outwards and the full door opening internally, with a vertical fold so that it wraps around the wall. Also note the spy-window witht the glow of the kitchen hearth on the other side of the entry-wall.

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