You are here

Both Cnoc Dubh III

Both Cnoc Dubh III

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

St Martin of Tours is accredited with introducing the corbelled structure into the British Isles in the 4th century although it would be more correct to say influencing rather than introducing, as there is no record of St Martin ever having visited the British Isles. However, that he influenced St Ninian, who is credited with introducing Christianity to Scotland at Whithorn, is well documented. At both Whithorn and Marmoutier where Martin was established, archaeological evidence reveals that all the early buildings on site were of timber with no stone structures whatsoever until St Ninian introduced French masons to build his Cnadida Casa at Whithorn and the claims made for St Martin's involvement in these structures appear to be spurious.

In the ecclesiastical field, the term Both appears in the early Irish manuscripts of Glasnevin where the term is used to describe the monastic cells of the monks and, again in Pictland, the term Both is repeatedly found describing a monastic cell at very early dates. Certainly, the descriptive term Both which has almost died out in the academic field in relation to these structures was due in no small measure to Capt Thomas' paper 'Notice of Beehive Houses in Lewis and Harris in 1857' and has been carried through to the present day to describe these structures. It is time that the word Both was resurrected and used again in line with its European cousins ie: Clochain/Ireland; Borie and la Cabane/France; Barraca/Spain; Trullo/Italy; Girna/Malta; Kuzan/Croatia; Kutja/Slovenia; Koumoi/Greece. Certainly the indigenous people of the Hebrides have to this day both 'Both', singular and 'Bothan', plural, in their everyday language to describe these structures.

Other evidence in Scotland suggests an even earlier date than the 4th century AD for the use of corbelling techniques to at least the 5th century BC, when we have extremely complex structures starting to evolve such as Brochs and Wheelhouses. It is an interesting side note at this juncture to note that the only other European parallels for these are the Tayalot culture on the Balearic Islands and the Nuraghe builders on Sardinia. Both cultures saw their demise in 500 and 400 BC respectfully.

We have in the Hebrides another structure with striking parallels to the Mediterranean; that of the Horizontal Mill or, as it is known in the Hebrides, the 'Muileann'. These little mills have a closely related technology with the Mediterranean mills, which can be observed across the Mediterranean from Cyprus to the Pyrenees. The 'muileann' having an undercroft that to all intents and purposes is a corbelled Both, capped in this instance with a millstone or 'bra'.

At the present stage of evaluating the corbelled structures, one is left speculating, as there is just insufficient archaeological research at present to come to an informed conclusion. However, since the writer started looking at the Mediterranean structures in the early nineteen nineties, the scene is changing for the better and there appears to be a growing realisation as to the value of these structures in their respective countries. Nowhere does that express itself more than Malta where the redoubtable Father Michael Fsadni has produced an excellent publication on the Maltese 'Girna'. In Croatia, Borut Juvanec has also produced some excellent works.

We in the Hebrides of Scotland have our part to play in the European scene in order to collate our own structures and so to encourage others to do the same. The Cnoc Dubh restoration should be a catalyst in that process. We have been sitting since the Thomas paper in 1857 and one hundred and fifty years have passed by with little real progress in the understanding of the 'Bothan'. The writer started his research on Cnoc Dubh in 1990 from a pre-existing interest in the shieling system in the Hebrides, and has lectured twice on the subject at the Hebridean Forum on Archaeology (Orbost, Skye and Kinloch, Rhum ). It is fair comment to say that academics generally do not take the shieling system seriously and that is quite wrong in my opinion.

Although there has been no serious work done to date, there is now enough evidence coming forward to challenge that view. At Cnoc Dubh where some thousands of research hours have been spent, it can be quite clearly shown that these sites will have to be taken more seriously, as they are providing proof of long standing occupation. During this research, at least ten university archives have been accessed together with several Government ones so it seems ironic that the site has languished despite the overwhelming amount of material on the importance of this site. There exists some thirty odd articles on the Cnoc Dubh files, some expounding at great lengths, and some just a few paragraphs but even these brief comments give some insight into the effect that the site has had. Suffice it to quote one - that of T.S. Muir who was preparing his book on 'Characteristics of Old Church Architecture of Scotland and the Isles' in 1861, visited the site and commented ".... and the curious little conical-capped stone bothy on Cnoc Dubh". Perhaps more endearing are the photographic images that exist in many archives and books of Cnoc Dubh, of which there are several hundred dating from the early eighteen nineties up to the late nineteen nineties.

The Cnoc Dubh Both sits on a remarkable 'Gearraidh' (cultivated shieling ground) and although there is speculation that the structure was built in 1770 AD, evidence on site points to a much earlier date. With a careful recording process already in place and continuing, producing a recording of the whole of the Ceann Hulivig peninsula at the end of the restoration project, we should be further down the road to understanding these sites and their evolution and act as a model in the future study of these sites.

previous excerpt

Title: Both Cnoc Dubh III
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Report
Record Maintained By: CEBL
Subject Id: 46016