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Both Cnoc Dubh I

Both Cnoc Dubh I

A report written by James Crawford, Garynahine who restored the 'both' at Ceann Thulabhig in the first few years of 2000:

'Both Cnoc Dubh' had existed for centuries right up until the second half of the twentieth century before its demise. Warnings had been sounded about its condition some ten years previously by one of the many writers that had visited it. Neglect had left the structure looking precarious enough to give concerned parents enough of an excuse to demolish its roof corbelling by some eighty percent.

And there perhaps the story may have ended, just one of the many collapsed structures lying forlornly on the moor filling up with rusting wire, old fence posts etc. but for a chance remark made in 1990 by a Mrs MacDonald from Garynahine that led the writer to an evaluation of the structure.

First impressions did not give out a great deal of hope as the Both had served as a dustbin to the nearby fank over the years but slowly, as the wire, posts and other detritus was cleared and the demolished masonry started to be revealed, it was apparent that the entire walling and sufficient corbelling remained to make the possibility of restoration just possible. However, that would rely entirely on any photographic evidence or sketches that could be traced.

A visit to the excellent Western Isles library service revealed not just the odd item or two but sufficient leads to people and archives that started to flesh out the history of this remarkable Both. Not only had this monument been of interest to local people, it had inspired antiquarians, writers and photographers to record it. In the process, three serious papers have focussed on and been produced about the building in its one hundred and fifty years of recorded history. One of these papers produced by an eminent Professor of Ethnology of the day, described the Both as "one of the most interesting houses in the world" and, but for the outbreak of World War Two, could perhaps have prevented its demise.

The following years were to bring the writer to visit not only local people who were as usual only too willing to help, but also Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow where each visit led to somewhere else as each person remembered another who had an interest. An example was the daughter of Donald MacDonald author of the classic 'Lewis' who, when asked about a picture in the book of the Both with two young girls outside it, said she did not know who they were nor who had taken the photograph but suggested I contact James Shaw Grant.

He did not know either but said he had some negatives of his own that he had taken in August 1939. I was taken aback to discover he had taken these photos over fifty years ago and still possessed the negatives but he didn't consider it to be very long ago at all!! He went on to explain that he had met a Swede who had visited the Both and who's enthusiasm had inspired him to visit it himself and when there he had taken these photographs. I had never heard any mention before of this Swedish scholar but it was a combination of his and James Shaw Grant's photographs that would lead to the unlocking of how the Both's corbelling had been assembled. Gradually the net was extended to London then Dublin and finally Sweden - it appeared as if this enigmatic little structure had cast its spell far and wide! How had it started life, who had built it and when? Each person had his or her different view.

At the end of the nineteenth century it was home to a young couple and, but for the intervention of the wife of the farmer at Linshader, it would have seen what may have been the first childbirth under its corbelled stones! But where does it sit in history, this Both?

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Title: Both Cnoc Dubh I
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Report
Record Maintained By: CEBL
Subject Id: 46014