Kitchen - fridge,cooker,microwave etc.
Living room - with stove
Struan Cottage is a listed building. It was extensively renovated in 1987-88.
Architect - Stuart Bagshaw, 17 Laxdale ,Stornoway, Lewis.
Builder - Roddy Macdonald, Sollas, North Uist
Thatching October 2002
Thanks to John, Iain and Alasdair
Taigh Tugha "thatched house"
The County Medical Officer of Health wrote, in 1893, "The dwellinghouses
in Tiree are of different construction from that of any other part of the
County (Argyll) .... The reason for this has been forcibly brought under
my notice by the gale of November last which detained me for several days
on that island. The walls of houses in Tiree are about 5 feet thick and
6 to 7 feet high. The walls consist, as a rule, of a facing of stone masonry
on the inside and outside, with sand between. As a rule, there are no overhanging
eaves. On the contrary, the roof rests on the inner third or so of the
wall .... The windows consist of tunnels, with a glass frame at about the
inner end, while the door is met at the end of a passage through the thick
wall which is called the doorway. On the top of the wall, between the roof
and the outer edge, in some instances, flowers or mint are planted and appear
to grow well .... In wet weather, the walls in many cases are damp. This
is only what might be expected as the roof-water runs to the top of the
wall, and percolates through the middle stratum of sand. The soil being
sandy and porous, and the roof water pure, the water drains more easily,
and neither the dampness nor the resultant injury is so marked as might
otherwise be the case .... Built in the orthodox style, a Tiree dwelling
will stand a hurricane without the least injury. The whistle of the wind
is no more heard from within than in the interior of Ben Cruachan. As one
may stand a little back from the edge of a precipice during the strongest
gale, almost in peaceful calm, so the roof of a Tiree dwelling is protected
from the violence of the storm. The wind strikes against the walls, and
shoots over the roof without scarcely touching it".
Older accounts (1802) say that "most commonly, every hut has two doors.
that when the wind blows hard, the one to windward may be shut, and that
to leeward opened". This feature has almost disappeared and the older
houses remaining practically all have one door, facing east in the great
majority - following the proverb "An Iar 's an Ear, an dachaidh as fheàrr"
or, approximately, "east-west, the most comfortable home".
As a matter of interest, this kind of thatched building is often called
in English a "black house", which would translate the Gaelic "taigh dubh".
However, in Tiree at least, these buildings are never referred to as "taigh
dubh", but "taigh tugha" which sounds very similar but means, simply, "thatched
Most commonly, the houses have two windows to the front,
a chimney at each end, and are mortared at least on the front elevation.
Other construction terms include the "spàrr bheag", the little spar, which
often joins the couples near the apex. There were various terms for the
"sìomain", the ropes, which were widely used for securing the thatching
but ropes are no longer used save for the "màthair-shìoman", the mother-
rope, from which the stone weights are suspended .
The rough roof rafters are first overlain with a layer of turfs (sgrothan).
These are cut on the "sliabh" (rough moorland). Ideally, these should be
in the shape of rounded squares, about 18 inches or so across. Thickness
at the centre should be 2 inches or so, and they should taper off to the
sides, to allow a more level finish when they are applied to the roof.
This is done overlapping, roughly in the fashion of slates. As well as
by mere friction, the turfs may be secured by small wooden pegs and/or by
tying to the rafters. There is some variance of opinion as to whether new
turfs should be allowed to dry somewhat before laying, or whether they should
be laid on the roof "wet" and allowed to dry there a bit before thatching.
The thatching material is now invariably marram grass, also known as bent
grass, but referred to locally as muran (Gaelic) and this term will be used
here. On the rare occasions where a completely new thatch is laid directly
into the turfs, a layer of rushes (luachair) is considered to form a good
bed for the muran, but used alone rushes are considered too weak for thatching
and short-lasting (1 year). Apparently in the past, some people used various
kinds of straw for thatching, some of it imported, as well as local reeds,
but again these all seem to require annual replacement on the Tiree houses,
and are considered inferior to muran. With muran, a rethatching is most
commonly done every two years. Rethatching annually is rare but certainly
ensures a good roof. Rethatching every three years is not uncommon, especially
now with the shortage of muran, and if a skilled job is done it should be
sufficient. Patching may occasionally be undertaken between complete rethatchings.
Generally, the new thatch is laid straight on top of the old, which compacts
with time, contributing to the rounded profile of the Tiree roofs. Infrequently,
the old thatch may be partially or totally stripped off, usually because
the roof is becoming too heavy or because turfs need replaced. When thatch
is laid straight on to turfs, rethatching should be done annually for the
first, say, 3 years to build up a decent thickness.
The muran should be cut from the sand dunes outwith its growing season,
that is between about September and March, so thatching must usually take
place during this period also. The cutting is done with a scythe and is
apparently very much harder work than scything corn or grass. It becomes
harder still after the frost has affected the muran, although frost is rare
in Tiree before the turn of the year. Most thatching therefore seems to
be done in the autumn.
The longer the muran the better. Longer stuff ensures a more waterproof
roof, less work, and requires a lesser thickness to be applied (less overlapping).
It may be found up to 4ft long, and below about 2ft it is not really worth
cutting. The cut muran may be stored or stocked for some months.
For thatching, a calm day is chosen. One side of a roof is done at a time.
First, the stones are removed and the netting rolled back to the ridge and
secured. The muran thatch is then applied in horizontal rows starting from
the bottom, the wallhead (tobhta). The first row is laid on right-way-
up, but thereafter all rows are normally laid upside-down (ie: with points
downwards). Once both sides are completed, the thatching is finished at
the ridge where bunches of thatch are intermixed, being laid carefully in
alternate directions. Normal thickness of new thatch will be about 5 or
6 inches, although it is especially important to keep the central part of
the roof well padded out to prevent the netting subsequently sagging and
flapping in the wind, thereby breaking and damaging the thatch.
After thatching, the wire netting is replaced or renewed. The rolls of
netting are almost invariably laid and joined along the length of the roof,
for better stretching, although vertical alignment across the roof ridge
has been seen. The wire should be laid right down to the wallhead and then
the rope and stone weights attached. It is most important that the stones
should initially lie about a foot or more above the wallhead, to enable
the netting to stretch tight slowly without the stones touching the wallhead
and releasing the tension.