William and Mary
You might wonder why anyone would spend five years apprenticing as a traditional roof thatcher in his native Ireland and then emigrate to the United States to pursue his craft in a land that favors asphalt shingles. Simple. In William’s case it was love. He met his Mary, a beautiful, kind-hearted schoolteacher from Southeast Ohio, at the Middletown (Ohio) Irish Festival where he was demonstrating the ancient roofing technique in the cultural area. There was no going back. They were married the next year and started a family with twins that were anxious to join them.
The best career is one you truly love and that suits your natural talents. William’s brothers and sisters have enjoyed rewarding careers in healthcare, law, finance, and technology. His own calling was roof thatching. He thanks his late parent, Teresa and Billy Cahill, for setting him on this course after graduating from a Jesuit high school back in County Galway on Ireland’s scenic west coast.
Roof thatching’s golden side
William says it’s a lovely feeling to know you are preserving an ancient building craft, using sustainable/green materials and creating a unique custom product with each handmade roof: Handcrafted construction at its best. When you enjoy the outdoors, a choice view and meeting interesting people as he does, it’s better still.
William’s thatch clients are mostly wealthy estate owners, living museums, resorts and zoos. Architects for the private clients are after something old world or whimsical that their friends can’t match. Public clients want authentic recreations of a lost art or distant habitat whether it is crafted from palm fronds or water reeds.
Thatching is hard work
For all its personal rewards and natural beauty, thatching is hard, physical work that begins with harvesting acres of water reeds over the winter when the stalks are dry and the wetlands frozen. It was an unseasonably warm and wet East Coast harvest season this year, but William remember others when he couldn’t feel his fingers and his socks nearly froze in his wellies. Once cut, reeds must be tied into tight bundles and left to dry in stokes for several months awaiting transport to anywhere from Maine to California. Finally comes the actual thatching. Since you can’t stand on thatch, all of the rooftop work must be done from long ladders laid flat against the surface to distribute one’s weight.
Installing a thatch roof requires hundreds of hours placing the bundles of reeds and securing each course with steel rods, wire and screws. Then the layers must be feathered to create a uniform plane. Finally, the eaves are trimmed and shaped and a decorative ridge is installed at the top. William says he has never taken the time to count one, but he estimates the average bundle that covers one-square foot of roof contains about 1,000 reeds. That’s 100,000 reeds for a 10×10 ft. “square.” So a large roof would require millions of reeds.
Nature’s original reed instrument
Thatching is a solitary building art that gives one lots of time to reflect. However, he has met some of the country’s most gifted architects and landscape designers and their exclusive clientele. There’s something to be said for the opportunity to have a simple cup of tea with a celebrity or top CEO as well as gardeners who are passionate about roof thatch and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Multi-cultural harmony from nature’s original reed instrument? The world could do with a bit more of that!