Tigh a Chaolais
(House of the Channel)
The History of Tigh a Chaolais
Tigh a Chaolais was originally built in 1833 and is the oldest inhabited house in Bernera. The western end of the house was added to the original building after which time they were two separate homes. It was common during this period to utilise the wall of an existing house to save on the construction materials required to withstand the harsh Lewis winters.
The house was under the ownership of John Macdonald when Glasgow-born Scottish writer William Black came to stay in the house where he penned his notable romance novel A Princess of Thule (1873). It is clear that he took inspiration from the house's spectacular Hebridean surroundings. The opening lines of the novel read: ‘On a small headland off the distant island of Lewis, an old man stood looking out on desolate waste of rain-beaten sea.’
A copy of Black's novel can be found on the bookshelf for any guests who wish to pass the odd rainy day reading a classic love story in the very house in which it was written.
When the house was left unoccupied in later years the local youngsters used the building as an unofficial meeting place, or 'Tigh Ceilidh'. Duncan Maclennan wrote a song about the ceilidhs they used to have:
'Nochd an darna h-oiche againn
a danns an Tigh a Chaolais'
(Tonight we have a second night of dancing inside Tigh a Chaolais)
Two of the boys even marked their heights and names on one of the panel’s of the house’s characteristic v-lining upstairs. Keep an eye out for them!
Tigh a Chaolais came under its most recent owner John Maciver (Iain Tharmoid Bhig) in the 1960s. John rented the property to holidaymaker, Thelma Noreen Willet. Noreen (as she preferred to be called) was a professional London-based singer. In 1967 she packed up her life into her green Mini Cooper and headed North on a spontaneous solo roadtrip to the Western Isles. She had no idea at the time that this far off holiday destination would become her home for the rest of her life. She met John, the oldest son of Iain Tharmoid Bhig, at Tigh a Choalais and the unlikely pair, a crofter and a professional singer, fell in love. Their holiday romance was to last a life time. John and Noreen were married and rennovated the house where they lived happily ever after.
As a local Bernera family, relatives of the late John Maciver and as the new owners of this special house, we wish to respect the memory of all of the previous occupants of Tigh a Chaolais. It is our hope that this house that is steeped in so much history will continue to be the host of many adventures and its visitors will write new stories for years to come. Stories about summer garden parties; sandy feet after long walks on Bosta beach; day trips across the channel to Little Bernera and cosy nights beside the fire. Maybe you will write your own stories here too...
We look forward to welcoming you to Tigh a Chaolais.