Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Monday, 16 February 2009

The "Taigh Dubh" (Black House). # 2.

In an earlier post(Clann'ic Iain,"Long","Glass"),I described how, with my mother,I visited the home of my great-uncle,"Long" as he lay on his death bed. This was one of the early blackhouses,with none of the partitions you find in later versions(Gearrannan 1860),or it may have been that,since "Long" and his wife had no family,the "open plan" of the "sean taigh dubh" would serve them just as well as their forebears. "Taigh Shoudie"(my father's house,No.4 Dalmore),had in fact been occupied by a family, before Dalmore was cleared around 1852 to make way for a sheep farm. This would mean that the house was possibly built around 1830,an early "taigh dubh",we may assume.I was told that the walls of this house were in good shape when "Shoudie",my grandfather came across from Garenin to take over the croft at No.4. Walls, traditionally built nearly 100 years before,had weathered all the storms the Atlantic had thrown at them,and yet there they stood,waiting for a roof, absent for over 60 years. In 1920,some new design features were incorporated in the "conversion" of the older 1830's house. But first,let us try to describe how the old style black house would have looked inside - the house itself, we "built" in the previous article.
In the old "taigh dubh",there was just one entrance, which was used by people and animals alike. On entering,the animals(we mean mainly cattle)took their place down in the "todhar",while the people occupied the greater part of the building at the upper end. The cow dung("todhar") accumulated there until it was removed in spring to be spread on the "feannagan"(rig/strip field). The slurry from the "todhar" issued from a purpose-built hole at the bottom of the building. The whole "taigh dubh" was built on a gentle incline,sloping down towards the "todhar". In heavy rain,any water which came through the thatch,formed little rivulets that joined the slurry. Keep in mind that the standard of thatching bore little resemblance to what we see in the typical English country cottage,where thick bundles of reeds and wooden pegs were employed(or in the Gearannan houses,which had eventually to be thatched in the "English style"). Harking back to "taigh Long",you will remember how little there was in the way of furniture.There was a spring well inside the entrance door(unusual)and the peat fire was located in the middle of the earthen floor,with only a small hole in the thatch to allow the smoke to escape. It was not an efficient air conditioner,as the interior of the "taigh dubh" would often be thick with smoke. Modern theorists say that the smoke was a powerful disinfectant,and maybe that's just what was needed! Chain and "striolla" hung from a roof timber and were located above the "teine"(fire)for cooking. In early spring,all of the thatch(but not the timbers)were stripped from the roof,but this was not a spring clean,as we know it. The thatch, laden with a year's build-up of peat soot and tars, was an exceptionally rich source of fertiliser. Bales of corn straw were at hand,that same day, to thatch the roof anew,as the rain is never far away in these parts. This old thatch was used in conjunction with the cow dung as a very rich fertiliser on the croft. In some places,seaweed,mainly sea wracks was also used. It was stored in circular walled enclosures known as "torran poll". (See the post "An Ghearraid.Dalmore's Little Jewel"). It has been said that when the fire was in the middle of the old black house floor,many at a ceilidh could find a seat round the "teine". When the fireplace made its appearance in the "modern" black house,only a semicircle of people could ceilidh,unless you were prepared to contribute a song or story from the byre. The long roof beam, covered in fingers of soot and tar,was known as the "cabar suiche"(soot covered beam). There is a song of yester years which laments the gradual decline in the ceilidh, and the intimacy and warmth of the old "taigh dubh"
"A'Charaid ghalabh a h-uile rud,bho ghalabh an cabar suiche" which said that "Everything went,my friend,when the "cabar suiche" vanished". Yet,in my opinion,nothing destroyed the ceilidh more than the arrival of television in Lewis. "Ghalabh a'cheilidh mar bha sinn eolach." (The ceilidh which we were used to,has gone forever).
Over at No.5 Dalmore,we lived in what I coined a "taigh dubh-geal" a 1923 version of a black house,which now had two entrances(the cows now had their own),fireplaces,separate rooms,barn and stable. There later followed the "taigh a'bhord",the bungalow and later the T.V. I would have to echo the sentiments of the song in repeating that line:- "A'Charaid,ghalabh a'h-uile rud". The Dalmore I remember has changed forever. Every single thing I knew and loved has gone,and the clock can not be put back for me.
N.B.(a) The timbers used in building the roof at No.5 Dalmore in the 1920s were all transported from the previous house in Garenin.
(b) The main beam of the old Dalmore Church was reused in the roof of the mission hall in Tolsta a' Chaolais in 1848,and it is there until this day.

1 comment:

Les said...

I've just found your blog and, whilst I have only read a couple of posts, I am amazed and delighted at what you have written. I will read it all.

I'd love to turn this into a proper book so that, perhaps, your friends and family can have copies and I am sure that there are many people in Lewis or exiled from Lewis who would be interested. I'm not a publisher and I'm interested in doing this purely on a non-profit basis because stories like yours should be written down in a more traditional form and made available to others. I'm moving to Lewis next year and currently running the Island Blogging web site which has several bloggers from Lewis and I'm committed to learning about and supporting the island communities.

Please get in touch with me at les@islandblogging.co.uk so we can talk about it. (No need to approve and publish this comment once you have read it, it's just the only way to get in touch with you).