Taigh dubh

Black house, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

© 2011 – philip vergeylen – all rights reserved

The remains of this black house can be found close to Clach an Truiseil or the Truisel or Trussel Stone. This 6-metre-high standing stone is said to be the largest standing stone found in Scotland.

The origin of the name blackhouse is of some debate. It could be less than 150 years old and may have been synonymous with inferior. On Lewis in particular, it seems to have been used to distinguish the older blackhouses from some of the newer white-houses with their mortared stone walls. There may also be some confusion arising from the phonetic similarity between the dubh, meaning black and tughadh meaning thatch.

The buildings were generally built with double wall dry-stone walls packed with earth and wooden rafters covered with a thatch of turf with cereal straw or reed.

The black house was used to accommodate livestock as well as people. People lived at one end and the animals lived at the other, with a partition between them.

Although the Lewis blackhouses have a look of real antiquity, most of the upstanding ruins were built less than 150 years ago. Many were still roofed until the 1970s but without the necessary annual repairs, they deteriorated rapidly; as people moved into more modern dwellings with indoor plumbing and better heating, most have fallen into ruin. However, black houses are increasingly being restored, especially for use as holiday accommodation.

The blackhouses on the Isle of Lewis had roofs thatched with cereal straw over turf and thick, stone-lined walls with an earthen core.

The immediate origins of the blackhouse are unclear as few pre-eighteenth century examples have ever been excavated. One reason for this is that, unlike their later counterparts, the early examples may have been made of turf and thatch and quickly returned to the earth once abandoned. As one of the most primitive forms of the North Atlantic longhouse tradition, it is very probable that the roots of the blackhouse are well over 1000 years old.

The Lewis examples have clearly been modified to survive in the tough environment of the Outer Hebrides. With their low rounded roofs, they were developed to resist the strong Atlantic winds. Today, only the walls remain.

Philip.

6 thoughts on “Taigh dubh

  1. I wanted to thank you for “liking” my post on 04 August. Your work easily captivated my attention, and your “pure” photographic philosophy is commendable in this age of digital manipulation. I do the very least (mostly cropping). You should enter a work on the National Geographic Magazine Website (ngm.com/yourshot) where they absolutely will not accept any work that has been changed. I was humbled to have a work chosen in November (appeared in the Daily Dozen and Weekly Wrapper). Thanks again and I bookmarked your site to see what you are capturing, Sally W. Donatello

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