Martin’s ByreThis part of Martin’s House was originally a byre, where the tenants would have kept cattle and horses during the winter. It was last occupied in 1961 by Polly and Rona, the township’s last two working horses.
In the 1840s, the people of the township stopped farming in a runrig system, and began to use small fields. Before this, horses weren’t used a great deal in farming – most of the work of cultivation was done by hand. However, most of the tenants would probably have owned a horse or pony to ride, or to pull a cart. After the change to small fields, each of the tenants would almost certainly have kept two horses to work the land with.
The horses used on the land here weren’t large – around 15.2 hands. True heavy horses, like Clydesdales, would have been too big, becoming bogged down in the wet ground. Despite this, they were real workhorses, specially bred for this purpose. They were often a cross between a heavy horse and a large pony, known as a “garron”.[caption id="attachment_22893" align="alignnone" width="659"] the 1890s photograph with Martin’s byre circled.[/caption]
The byre has been altered over the years. In 1892, Martin’s House was the first building here to get a corrugated steel roof, but the 1890s photograph shows that the byre’s roof was still thatched. Until Bell a’Phuill’s House was restored in the 1970s, this was the last thatch roof in the township – we don’t know exactly when it was re-roofed with steel. Looking at the walls, you can see part of the original cruck frame, which would have supported the thatch roof.
The roofless structure outside the byre was the house’s Peat Shed. Until the mid-19th century peat from the township’s own peat bank (on the high ground to the north) was the main fuel used here. Peat was still being cut as late as the 1950s. Traditionally the township’s women cut and moved the peat while the men worked the land.
The peat was carried in back home in creels, often for long distances. Auchindrain has its own ‘Peat Road’ which runs up to the peat banks above the Township. We occasionally burn peat in the fires here, and many of the buildings hold the distinctive smell of peat smoke – you might be able to smell it in the Kitchen and Room of Martin’s House.