Farming has been an important way of life in County Westmeath for many centuries. A typical farmer’s house in the 19th century was solidly built of local materials and had a long rectangular shape with an outside stairs and a byre at the end to house the animals. The shape of the house was dictated by a superstition that said, in order for a house to be ʻlucky’, it should only be one room wide. The hearth, an open fire-place, was where meals were cooked and, at night, after a hard day’s work, the family and neighbours would gather to tell stories, sing songs and play music.
The farmer’s house was a far cry from the Bothán, inhabited by farm labourers. An example of a Bothán its located in the Heritage Park.
The farmhouse was sparsely furnished, the only heat being in the kitchen and from the animals in the adjoining byre. The family slept upstairs over the kitchen. There are no windows in this farmhouse. It is believed this is because, at one time, there was a tax on the number and size of windows in any dwelling. However, thanks to the half door, daylight was allowed into the kitchen. When the animal byre was cleaned out, it was the custom for some farmers to pile the dung in a heap in front of the house, instead of taking it around the back. This was done because everyone knew that the size of your dung-heap showed passers by how many cattle you had and was a sure way to boast of your wealth!