Abandoned temperance hotel for fishermen brought back to life

Donald MacLennan, wife Catriona and daughter Matilda will move into the former temperance hotel, the ruined interior of which was photrgraphed by John Maher. Picture: John Maher
Donald MacLennan, wife Catriona and daughter Matilda will move into the former temperance hotel, the ruined interior of which was photrgraphed by John Maher. Picture: John Maher
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A century-old former temperance hotel for lobster fishermen that became a symbol of the abandoned buildings of the Outer Hebrides after featuring in Lonely Planet is to brought back to life as a family home.

The interior of the Coffee House overlooking Leverburgh Pier on the Isle of Harris was seen around the world after featuring in an acclaimed exhibition by former Buzzcocks drummer John Maher, who lives on the island.

The room been seen around the world on Lonely Planet. Picture: John Maher

The room been seen around the world on Lonely Planet. Picture: John Maher

His images of abandoned cross houses, taken throughout the Western Isles, have been touring Scotland for the last four years after an initial exhibition at the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway.

The Coffee House, which is understand to have been lying empty for the past decade, is understood to have been built by Lord Leverhulme, the teetotal owner of Harris in the early 20th century. It will be the first abandoned building Maher has photographed to brought back into use.

Maher, who has a workshop close to the building, recently returned to capture local fisherman Donald MacLennan, his wife Catriona and their daughter Matilda on film.

READ MORE: Photo exhibition charts abandoned Harris houses

Picture: John Maher

Picture: John Maher

Mrs MacLennan, who works in Gaelic media in Stornoway, said: “Our problem is that we live in Crossbost, about six miles south of Stornoway, which is a good hour’s drive away from Leverburgh.

“I’m originally from Leverburgh and Donald has been a shell fishermen there for around five years. It’s where we met. But we seem to spend our entire lives travelling separately. Our paths are crossing once or twice a week, so we’re trying to rectify that.

“I’ve only ever known the building as ‘the Coffee House.’ The family who previously owned it certainly had it in the late 1920s, but it’s definitely more than 100 years old.

“It’s going to be next year before we can get going properly on it – it’s definitely a long-term project. We have a massive amount to do. We are there as and when we can, but we both work, we have a two-year-old and we don’t live nearby.

“We knew that we wanted to live in Leverburgh and it became an option for us to buy the building. What’s really important for us is that it’s going to be a family home that we’re going to be in all year. It’s near-impossible for young people to get their own house here, either by renovating one or getting and to build one on.”

Maher, who moved to Harris in 2002, said: “Donald called in to my workshop a couple of months ago. He told me he’d bought ‘the dog, the cat and the bird’ house and about his plans. Donald told me they’d already started stripping out the place but they’d left the room with the dog and cat intact because they wanted me to take a family photo in front of that classic baby blue Rayburn stove. I’m looking forward to going back for the next chapter in this series: Matilda, Catriona and Donald enjoying life in their fully renovated home. Donald’s promised me that’ll happen before Matilda finishes school.”