Chimneys and fireplaces
The evolution of hearths and chimneys can be traced back to early times when a central hearth and a smokehole, rather than a chimney, were used. The hearth was relocated close to a wall after medieval times although many houses still lacked chimneys.
Alan Gailey, in Irish Rural Housing (in Thomas,C. (ed.) Rural landscapes and Communities 1986), analyses the data from a unique survey of Irish housing in the 1840s. These data were produced by Maurice Collis of Dublin for houses on the estates of Trinity College Dublin, and on some other estates. If data from rural County Clare can be inferred to be representative, then about 45% of houses had no chimney in the 1840s. Almost 50% had a single chimney and only 5.3% had more than one chimney. Elsewhere, Gaily reports that houses in the Inishowen parish of Culdaff were chimneyless (and often windowless) in 1816 and refers to accounts that describe chimneyless houses as "...resembling vapour-issuing dunghills". The conditions within these houses were thought to be responsible for respiratory and eye complaints for their residents.
The first chimneys in vernacular buildings probably date to the end of the 16th Century and were large canopies usually made of mud-plastered wattle extending from the wall. These were then usually white-washed with lime. The width of the chimney would have been about 2 metres wide at its base about 2 metres above the fire, which gradually decreased as the smoke was funnelled upwards. The wattles continued above the roof where they often were capped by sods. Sometimes the thatch itself was extended up to the end of the wattles, producing a 'thatched chimney'.
Stone and brick built canopies, as in this photograph, had been an integral part of the Planters' houses in Ireland in the early 17th Century. These were much the same in form as the wattled canopies and became a requirment in leases later on in the 17th Century. In time the chimney breast became smaller and the flue became built into the wall. These more efficient flues became even more important as coal, rather than peat, started to be burnt from the 1850s. The newer chimneys had a constricted flue and a raised grate for more efficient burning and were usually finished with a brick-built chimney.