Our host Dearbhail welcomed us to her home in Cnoc Suain, and she was gracious enough to explain the history of the house and its culture. This location clearly has a very traditional way of life, based upon the ways of living from a couple hundred years ago. The cottage was built in 1845 in the design of one main, central room with four bedrooms. Two of these bedrooms had entrances much higher up than the ground floor, so the children would get up to their rooms by leaning a ladder against the wall and climbing up. The average family had about eight to twenty children, so the bedrooms would often be crowded. There was no electricity or running water until about 1980, and the cottage is three and a half miles from any shops, doctors, or banks. The flooring of the cottage would be dirt, so the family would often put rush – a reed-like plant which grows in water – down on the dirt inside. This would keep people’s feet cleaner because they didn’t wear shoes inside, and scented herbs would also be placed on the reeds to be crushed underfoot.
Meals in this home would be cooked over a fire created by burning peat. There was a crane which would hold pots over the fire, and as a sort of “oven”, a pot would be placed on coals and more coals would be placed on top of it. The peat itself, small brick-shaped slabs of dried organic matter, is collected from the fields outside the cottage. Our second host, Charlie, explained that they would use a tool called a slain to harvest peat from the ground, after removing the top layer of grass. These bricks of peat would be laid out in the sun to dry, causing them to shrink and eventually be used for fuel. One of these peat bricks would only burn for fifteen minutes, so large amounts of peat would need to be collected for the family to survive the winter. These peat fires would need to burn constantly at all times of the day, as it both heated the home and cooked the food.
The culture of this sort of home, particularly in the past, was very community-oriented. It was considered a “rambling house” because people from around town would gather at the fire to share stories and music during the winter. This was important for the Gaelic culture because the children would be absorbing the music and stories even after they went to bed.
Dearbhail and Charlie work hard to preserve and educate about this traditional way of life.