Sconemac's, Traditions of The Scottish Home

Scone's Scottish and Celtic Internet Book

Highland's and Islands Partnership

"another page in my book"


Traditions or practices or customs in daily life concerning the home. Custom are the practises, habits or observances which are carried out on a regular basis and the home is the center of regular daily living, thus Traditions.

The Gaelic, for custom is GNATHS (pronounced 'Graah') which comes from the old Celtic GNATO-S. It is from this that we also have such words in the Gaelic as GNATH EOLAS - experience, and GNATHFHACAL - wise saying, which does tend to give other indications as to how important the Gaelic Celtic peoples viewed customs.

The first custom that comes to mind is concerning the building of the home itself. If a house was built during the period of a day and a night, so that the smoke of a fire could be seen coming from the chimney at dawn the next day, then the occupants had won the right to live there. This custom was still practised until comparatively recently in Ireland.

The fire being lit in the hearth at dawn reflects the essence of the completion of the house with all the elements in the right order, providing the foundation around which daily life could take place. The protection of the house and its occupants from unseen forces was also of great concern to the people. Rowan trees were either planted just outside the house or small pieces of rowan were placed on all the doorways and openings of the house to ensure protection. The rowan was seen as a favourite of the Sidhe (the unseen beings of the otherworld) and so they would look kindly on places where the rowan could be found.

Returning to the fire, this provided light,warmth and a means of cooking food to the family, in essence the basic necessities of life. This being the case it should come as no surprise that numerous customs concerning the upkeep of the fire still remain. Apart from certain quarter (festival) days, the fire was never allowed to go out. If it did go out it was considered an ill omen and a sign that the good luck of the house was being lost. To prevent the fire going out the folk had a way of settling the fire down at night so that it would remain smouldering without burning away too much precious fuel. This was known as 'smooring' the fire. Different parts of the country had their own chants and blessings which were recited as the 'smooring' of the fire was carried out, to ask protection for the house, the hearth and the folk within.

The night was always considered a dangerous time as it was then that the Sidhe were out and about and great care had to be taken not to offend them. It was thought that if the Sidhe were offended then they could and would cause all sorts of havoc for the house and household. For this reason the likes of ashes from the fire and dirty water had to be deposited outside before dark so as to avoid covering the 'Good People' with the household refuse. In many places it was also the custom to leave gifts of milk and cheese outside the house for the Sidhe to encourage their goodwill.

Great care was also taken to ensure that the house was properly shut up at night for if the Sidhe gained entrance they could cause major upset to the general order of the house. This was also the reason why when a visitor knocked at the door of the house after dark they were not greeted with the customary "thig a steach" (come in); instead the occupants would first enquire as to who the caller was and wait for a suitable reply. It was also thought that the night was a time for 'those of the dead' to be about and apart from the festival of Samhain, they were not really welcome amongst 'those of the living'.

Presented by Scone,
from the writngs of Helen McSkimming, 1993,
Helen graciously let me use her article.

Nancy MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA
Author, Poet,
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland,

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