Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Of Black Cattle, Kyloes and Crodh Dubh

The written historic sources regarding the cattle of the Western Isles refer repeatedly to 'Black Cattle', often described as somewhat smaller than is usual, but without any further clarification.

This is not so surprising when you consider that the Scottish Highland Cattle Society, which registers the breed, only came into existence in 1884 yet the accounts I refer to date from the previous century.

I wanted to know more about these black beasties that would have been so plentiful on the isles before they, and many of their masters, were displaced by sheep.

The island term for the cattle is 'Kyloe' and one story has this referring to the Kyles (Gaelic Caolas) or 'Sounds', of the isles. The cattle were driven over the land and swam across the kyles then ferried to Skye before making the final crossing to the Mainland via their own four (swimming) feet.
Video of cattle making that crossing may be seen here.

Whatever the origin of the Crodh Dubh and of their island name, these hardy, horned Highland beasts must have made an impressive sight, especially at the Summer grazings, and I can imagine them making for interesting company in their Blackhouse byres during the long, dark Winter nights...

...when stories from those long cattle drives to the Lowlands and to Northern England must have helped fill the night air, too.

Update: An engraving by William Home Lizars from circa 1835 of 'British Kyloe' can be seen here in this collection. This is the earliest image of the Kyloe that I have been able to discover online.

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