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Personal Glimpses of Gravir III: The Peat Fire Flame

Personal Glimpses of Gravir III: The Peat Fire Flame

An account of life in Gravir, by Calum Macinnes, 8 Gravir.


III The Peat Fire Flame

I was about a year old when the family - my parents, Finlay and I - moved into the new house. Although I can't remember the move, which was regarded as an up-market one from the housing point of view, one difference between the new and the old soon became apparent: the new house had little heat insulation. The corrugated iron, being a good conductor of heat, carried the warmth of the fire to the outside of the house and we really felt the cold during the winter months. The old barn was extremely well insulated: the stone and clay of the walls were poor conductors of heat and the thatched roof, with air trapped in the straw, was also a poor conductor. The heat generated by the open fire in the living area was thus contained within the house, resulting in comfortable, if smoky, warmth. Little attention was given to house insulation is those days but people who moved from cosy thatched houses to corrugated iron houses soon became aware of the fact that a covering of thin corrugated iron was inadequate protection against winter frosts when ice formed as readily on the inside surface of the iron as it did on the outside.

The source of heat in the new house was the open fire in the gable end. The smoke could escape through the chimney, which was an innovation unknown in the thatched houses. The fires were, of course, burning peat and high priority had to be given to the cutting and drying of sufficient peat to last through the year.

Peat was carried home in creels. All members of the family were required to assist in this chore, the young children when they were old enough to carry a few peats in a gunnysack. Later, when I was about ten or eleven, I decided to make a creel for myself with proportions commensurate with my size and weight. The sides of my creel, and the depth, were about half the size of a standard creel for adults, giving a fraction of the capacity of a standard creel, and thus suitable for my size and strength at that time. Cliabh Chaluim (Calum's creel) was the subject of family fun at the time but this ceased when I used it, not only to carry peats home from the peat bank, but also to carry manure from the byre and seaweed from the shore to the cultivated plots - the 'lazy beds' - at the start of the spring work.

The fact that all the peat was carried on the back, encouraged people to seek workable peat banks as near the house as possible, but, as peat forms only in damp, flat or slightly sloping areas of moor land, the hilly nature of the ground near the house precluded an adequate supply of it in the vicinity of the house. Our peat was cut from the banks, which were at least a mile away from the house.

The fire in the living room of the house was kept burning continuously. At night, some peat embers were placed in the ash under the fire irons. This was called a' tasgadh an teine (conserving the fire). In the morning when the embers were removed from their ash covering, they burst into flame quite readily. They were then covered with dry peat and soon a bright, cheerful blaze was burning in the fireplace.

Carrying peat home was a daily chore in winter. The work always reminds me of the story of my maternal grandmother's death. She was in her forties when, after carrying a creelful of peat home, she stooped to lower the top end of the creel to empty it. She collapsed on top of the creel. She had died of a heart attack. The year was 1904. A small but very fine, granite memorial stone, still unaffected by the weather, was placed at the head of her grave in the seclusion of the south-west corner of the old part of the cemetery.



Title: Personal Glimpses of Gravir III: The Peat Fire Flame
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Reminiscences
Record Maintained By: CEP
Subject Id: 41061