ON HOUSING AND THE POLTALLOCH INVENTORY

Since housing is a very large topic, I have limited my sources to only two: Isabelle Grant, "Highland Folk Ways;" and Michael Davis' "Earth Walled Houses", an article published in "Kist," No. 65, Spring 2003.

Given the dearth of wood in Knapdale, stone was commonly used to build walls, as demonstrated in Auchindrain Outdoor Museum. However, Knapdalians also made what we in North America would call "sod houses." As Davis notes, sod, or "turff" were "clods dug off the surface with a layer of vegetation on top." Such sod/turff houses, under consideration in the accompanying "inventory" have left little or no remains in the highlands. It was the 'improvements', initiated and carried out by such proprietors as Poltalloch Estates, that have left the tumbles of stones you see in Knapdale today.

Grant notes (page 151), that "... in Kintyre, Knapdale .... The ends of the cottages were square and the timbers rested upon the sloping walls of the gable ends. The appearance of such old cottages was much like a modern cottage, but it had the important difference that there was no flue in the gable end....The distribution of this south-western type of cottage largely coincides with the area where the local laminated stone is particularly suitable for drystone dykeing and this may explain the style. But when one remembers that it almost covers the area of the old Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada one is tempted to attribute it, at least partly, to racial traditions."

How comfortable or healthy were such homes? According to Grant, "All these types of primitive houses were open to serious criticism. Among their faults was the dampness of their earthen floors, their darkness and that the roof was not entirely water tight. As the rafters and divots lining the roof were thickly coated with peat soot, in the event of heavy rain, drips of inky black water were liable to fall on the inhabitants. There was a special word - snighe - for rain coming through the roof of a house." (Remember: we are, today, incredibly comfortable, compared to everyone who lived earlier than 1850, INCLUDING the 'rich' who lived in damp, drafty castles!)

On the other hand, the drystone walls admitted a little diffused air, so that even cramped and crowded houses with the minimum of ventilation (or draughts) were extraordinarily free from stuffiness, and the roof of divots and thatch made them both cool in summer and warm in winter.

Email: heathermc at northwestel dot net