A thatched cottage and its sole occupant have been recognised at the recent Heritage Angel Awards NI held at the Guildhall in Derry.

Margaret Gallagher lives in the 280-year-old cottage in Mullylusty, not far from Belcoo with no running water or electricity.

And at the awards night, funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and supported nu the Department of Communities and Derry and Strabane District Councils, she was awarded with the Best Heritage Research, Interpretation or Recording award for her interpretation of architectural heritage.

Margaret has lived in the cottage for all of her 76 years and maintained her traditional cottage and a way of life which otherwise may have been lost or forgotten; and she welcomes visitors, locals, school groups, media and all who are interested into her home.

This has aided the active interpretation of architectural heritage but Margaret is keen to stress that it is not a museum.

"I don’t like that, I don’t think it’s a museum…everything in it is used. Everything you see in this cottage as museum pieces, I use because I need them. They are all I’ve got. I do not see it as a museum. I see it as my home with my things that I use every day. That my father and grandfather have used before me," she said.

Margaret has recorded and helped the interpretation of heritage on many levels, including founding the Belcoo & District Historical Society and working for the Historic Buildings Council for Northern Ireland; however it is in the upkeep and conservation of her thatched building that Margaret has conserved and recorded our ‘endangered’ thatch heritage, and an understanding of vernacular architecture.

Speaking about winning the award, Margaret was delighted to be even nominated in the category.

"It was a wonderful category to be in and all those nominated would have been deserving winners.

"Ulster Architectural Historical Society are a wonderful body, who do wonderful work.

"It was a fantastic evening. I was presented with my award by Joe Mahon of Lesser Spotted Ulster. I loved every minute of it. I was very nervous and never thought I would be called up on stage as a winner, I was delighted to be shortlisted, winning it was like winning the lottery.

Margaret believes that interpretation of history is vitally important and this needs to be passed on to challenge perceptions people have.

"The only way to interpret it is to live it.

"There are perceptions that people have that need to be addressed and that is done through schools and historical societies.

A visit to Margaret at Mullylusty – hearth fire, cake that has been baked over the hearth fire, knees burning from the heat- the atmosphere, the smell, the spirit of the vernacular- is not something anyone, young or old is likely to ever forget.