Of Black Cattle, Kyloes and Crodh Dubh

The written historic sources regarding the cattle of the Western Isles refer repeatedly to ‘Black Cattle’, often described as somewhat smaller than is usual, but without any further clarification.

This is not so surprising when you consider that the Scottish highland Cattle Society, which registers the breed, only came into existence in 1884 yet the accounts I refer to date from the previous century.

I wanted to know more about these black beasties that would have been so plentiful on the isles before they, and many of their masters, were displaced by sheep.

The island term for the cattle is ‘Kyloe’ and one story has this referring to the Kyles (Gaelic Caolas) or ‘Sounds’, of the isles. The tale goes that the cattle were driven and ferried to Skye before making the final crossing to the Mainland on their own four feet.

Whatever the origin of the Crodh Dubh and of their island name, these hardy, horned Highland beasts must have made an impressive sight, especially at the Summer grazings, and I can imagine them making for interesting company in their Blackhouse byres during the long, dark Winter nights…

…when stories from those long cattle drives to the Lowlands and to Northern England must have helped fill the night air, too.

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