Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Beehive Houses

Beehive Houses, the name given to certain primitive structures, built generally of unhewn stones without cement, and having a domed roof, like the common straw hive. These rude houses are principally found in Scotland and Ireland. The majority of them are of great antiquity, but some have been constructed within the last century, and a few are even now used as human habitations. As to the origin of these beehive houses, Lord Dunraven (Notes on Irish Architecture, ii. 136) says: - "The dome, formed by the projection of one stone beyond another till the walls meet in one flag at the apex, and the use of the horizontal lintel in the doorways, are forms universally adopted by early races in all periods of the history of man and in various portions of the globe, before the knowledge of the principle of the arch had reached them." In Scotland and Ireland two forms exist, which may be called ecclesiastical and secular. Beehive cells of undoubted monastic origin are found on some of the islands off the coast of Kerry. The most remarkable are those on Skellig Mhichel (St. Michael's Rock). There are five of these cells, and the largest is nearly circular externally, but the interior is oblong (15 ft. x 12 ft.). The walls, which rise vertically for 7 ft. or 8 ft,, converge internally as each stone projects a little more inwards than the one immediately below it, until at the height of 16 ft. 6 in. the beehive-shaped roof is finished by an aperture, probably once covered by a single stone. In the south-west of Ireland the remains of these structures are common, but they were probably used as ordinary dwellings. In Scotland their use continued to quite a recent period, and it is more than likely that some of them in Lewis are still inhabited during the time the inhabitants are making cheese and butter in the summer and early autumn. The following account of a double beehive house in Lewis is abridged from Dr. A. Mitchell's Past in the Present: - "The house consisted of two hive-like hillocks, joined together, and not much higher than a man, built of dry stones [in the manner described above], and covered with grass and weeds to keep out wind and rain. There were two apartments - a living room and a storehouse or dairy. At the right hand of the entrance was the fireplace, and the smoke passed out at the uncovered apex. A row of curb stones 8 in. or 10 in. high served as seats, and at the same time to separate the bed - some hay and rushes strewn on the floor - from the rest of the house. Three niches or presses completed the furniture of this primitive dwelling." The same author notes that three forms of these dwellings occur - (1) single huts, (2) double huts (as described above); (3) several huts communicating internally, and presenting the appearance of an "agglomeration of beehives." Single beehive huts are still built in Orkney and Caithness as shelters for pigs and poultry.