The Poor House, Langal
(The Old Poor's House on the O.S. Maps)

by Tim Roberton

Doris Parrish lived in The Poor House at Langal for over forty years.

I went to see her in 2003, when she was already well over 80 and we spent the afternoon speaking about the history of the house. I asked her what year she bought it, why it was called the Poor House and what did it look like originally.

She provided answers to all of these questions.

The Parrish family had been coming to Loch Shiel for many years and stayed normally in the Loch Shiel Hotel. Many of the other guests were regulars and there was a good party atmosphere.

Doris's husband, who was in publishing, was starting to plan ahead for his retirement. They decided to try to buy a house in the area and in 1964 were offered "a third of an acre with a ruin on it".

They inspected it on a cold February day and, although it was a wreck, they could see its potential and were able to respond to the magnificent view across the Loch to Ben Resipol. Their ten-year-old son, who had come up too was, according to Doris, appalled at the mess and the animal droppings inside the house.

The Parrishes acquired the land and the ruin for £450 and then liaised with some local workmen to get the necessary work put in hand. Jochen (joiner) and Alastair (stonemason) McGillivray took on the task of turning the Poor House into a dwelling. The building Doris and her husband had bought comprised the original Poorhouse with a ruin behind, and in plan form looked like this:-

The house itself was a single storey building of four rooms, each cut off from the others and each having a door to the outside. There was a fireplace in each room.
The ruin at the back was a small square of stones set between the hillside and the rear of the house.

One day, Jochen telephoned Dorris in Essex for instructions on the ruin. It was agreed (alas) that it should be removed. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that this might have been the remains of a chapel, brought into use when Catholics were once again permitted to practice their religion in Moidart after the troubles in 1745. It is said that they were given the use of meeting houses in Moidart in various locations, one such being at Langal and the others being at Kinlochmoidart and Dorlin.

Having removed the ruin at the rear, Jochen, together with Alastair set to work on the house itself. They removed all the rubble and stone, which they placed outside at the front, together with the stones from the "Chapel". These have subsequently been made into a raised flowerbed.

During conversion, a number of new dressed stones were also brought onto the site from Dorlin House, recently dynamited, but still remaining as a ruin opposite Castle Tioram. Some of the stairs, which Doris had climbed at Dorlin, before demolition, were incorporated by Alastair in the living room at Langal and are visible today in the fireplace and chimney.

The Parrishes moved into the Poor House, as a holiday home, in 1967.

In due course, Doris's husband retired. The Parrishes came up to live permanently at the Old Poor's House in 1979, swiftly putting down roots and making it their only residence. They started a Nursery and extended their landholding towards the "Next burn", at the same time giving an undertaking to the Lochshiel Estate, from whom they acquired the land, that it would be used for "Agricultural purposes" only. Being close to Dalilea, they called their nursery Dalilea Nursery, although subsequent Local Authority signage seemed to indicate that they were probably in Langal.

Doris and her husband slowly learned the history of the house. They were particularly helped by Father Ireland, who had kept an eye open for artifacts of interest whilst Jockan and Alastair were effecting the conversion. Father Ireland told Doris that the Poors' House had been actually occupied by people within living memory. This is borne out by the Minutes from the Moidart and Arisaig Council 9 December 1896 (see elsewhere on site):

Christina Kennedy, Eilean Shona: one boll meal per quarter
Marion MacDonald, Dalnabreck: offer ticket to Poorhouse
Angus MacDonald, Langall: Poorhouse, admit at 1/5 per week
Widow John Gillies, Creag Mor: 1/3 admit to another poor house
Donald MacEachan, Keppoch: 1/8 per week plus have him certified as a pauper and lunatic

In 1980, Doris met Peggy and Jessie Macdonald, who had been brought up in the Poor House as children. They described to her, their walk past a "sweet spring", on their way to school in Mingarry. When Doris met them, they were about 70 and living in Kinlochmoidart and, as she says, smelling of mothballs and bombazine.