Posted on August 31, 2018
On most hot dusty days you can find William Cahill standing in the background waiting for the builder, architects and owner to finish their meeting. He is anxious to speak about his portion of the project. His lyrical Irish accent is out of place in the South Texas heat, but soothing as he launches into a discussion about his art- thatching. He’s in no hurry and has a lot to say.
William hails from a small town where he used to dream about the old Irish farm houses with thatched roofs while riding his bike as a kid. This interest eventually led him to a trade program where he would learn the craft under a “Master Thatcher.”
The project, a large ranch headquarters in South Texas has been underway now for three years. For the last year, William has been at almost every meeting. Although his portion of the project is a small African style hut; what we call the “Rodeval”, set on the edge of the compound, William has traveled from Ohio to be here consistently to coordinate with other craftsmen.
Melvin has grown up in the valley, his great grandparents forging out a living in hostile Indian territory. His job is to collect native timber from the ranch to frame components of the rondeval. Mark, grew up in a family of wood workers. He still cherishes the set of handmade chisels passed down from his grandfather. He will select Melvin’s finds for the material to frame the Rondeval’s structure.
The men have grown close over the year, having coffee and pie at the local café, exploring the ranch for material and planning their roles to create a unique structure. They have spent months at the ranch, not because they are getting paid much for their efforts, but because this is their passion. This is what they live for.
The men drink up discussions with the architect like fine whiskey, savoring the nuances of the vision. Melvin will spend long hours in the thorny brush seeking the ancient cedar that will have just the right character for a beam or a column; seeing what others can’t see within the form of a twisted tree most consider a nuisance to be rid of.
Mark will cull and select Melvin’s material for perfect fit and form. He will meet with the architect, working through mock-ups and twisting and turning heavy columns for just the right configuration of twisted limbs to support the rustic curvature of the roof, and spend days marrying misshapen members into a uniform structure.
Finally, after storing his bundles of reed collected from a distant marsh and harvested “at just the right time as to not harm the plant”, William is prepared to begin thatching the roof, He waxes and wanes about the world-wide use of thatching and the sustainability of thatched roofs and their natural thermal qualities. He can spend hours talking, never loosing his enthusiasm for the subject.
William uses the 5-foot long reeds in bundles, placing each batch in place, and gently coaxing the edges into place. Bundles will then be layered into a 16” thick roof wired in place. The reeds natural silicon will shed water and the hollow core of each reed will offer excellent thermal properties, lowering the temperature within the structure naturally by 15 degrees in the summer and retaining heat in the winter. It will last at least 20 years before needing to be refreshed.
When finished, the structure will provide a cool vantage point for viewing the Ranch’s many African exotics as they roam the prairie below. William will proudly leave part of his soul with the simple building, and will follow the Irish thatcher’s tradition of hiding a whiskey bottle within its reeds for the next thatcher.