The Road to Drumleman at Machrihanish

SKDT/TRTD present:

A Community Celebration of Coal Mining Heritage in Kintyre. Saturday 2nd September 2017 

This year is the 50th anniversary of the closure of Argyll Colliery. Following on from the exhibition, The Road to Drumleman, at Glen Scotia Distillery in April and the presentation at Campbeltown Museum of some of the work made/gathered throughout the last year, we are organising a wee celebration of our coal mining heritage, in Machrihanish. There will be a brief walk round the site, with some former miners, where the colliery once stood. This will take place at 6.30pm at the Machrihanish Holiday Park (Thank you Ian and Euan!) and then we’ll be meeting at Machrihanish Village Hall at 7.30pm where there will be an opportunity to see a digital presentation of all the material gathered throughout the last year. We will the screen the film, The Road to Drumleman, and have an informal sharing of stories with some of the men that worked at the mine and some refreshments. We can provide teas and coffees but if you wish to bring a bottle of wine or some snacks to share that would be most welcome. Spread the word just in case anyone slips through the net!
Hope to see you there!

Link to the event details on Facebook

Jan Nimmo

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Argyll Colliery Trade Union Banner Made by 3rd year art pupils from Campbeltown Grammar School. Here, the banner is being displayed at the Road to Drumleman exhibition which took place in April 2017 at Glen Scotia Distillery. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Drumlemble excavations – 1982

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Article in the Campbeltown Courier, 2nd April 1982. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

Following on from the article by Elizabeth McTaggart about the Drumlemble Diaspora  here is an extract from a conversation I had with someone who was involved in the excavations.

Jan Nimmo

“I was involved in the NCB (National Coal Board) investigation of the old mine workings at Coalhill, Drumlemble, in I think it was in the early eighties.

“I was employed at that time with McFadyen’s Contractors, and was tasked with excavating an area of ground in the gardens of number 19 Rhudal Cottages, and 30 Rhudal Cottages. Mr and Mrs Beattie (nee Flo Brown) lived at number 19, and Flo’s mother Mrs Mary Brown occupied number 30. So, mother and daughter lived directly across from each other. 

“Two representatives from the NCB were present and explained to me what the excavation entailed: I was to dig down until I hit rock, which they expected to be fairly deep below the surface.

“I started digging roughly midway between the two houses, and there was a huge heap of spoil by the time I actually reached the predicted rock. At one point, I was beginning to doubt whether or not I would have enough reach with the digger to actually hit rock. It was eventually exposed, and after a good deal of measuring the depth, it was located. The men from the NCB had maps and documents that they were checking and, after some deliberation, I was instructed to burst a hole through the rock, as they were certain that the area I had exposed was the roof of one of the old mines said to be in that area; so off with the digging bucket, and on with the rock breaking attachment. The first few thumps from that brought Mrs. Brown running from her home in fright! She said the banging from the breaker made her house shake, and she was scared it would fall around her. After some banging away at the rock, I managed to break through. The hole was made large enough for one of the men to go down into with, if I remember correctly, a ladder. I had lowered him into the excavation with the digger. He took some photographs down there, and said that it was indeed an old mine working. It wasn’t all that deep or wide, and the direction it seemed to go in was roughly between 22 and 23 Rhudal Cottages, and across the road and under 8 or maybe 9 Rhudal Cottages.

“The hole in the roof of the shaft was covered over, and the entire area was filled and levelled. In a matter of weeks there was very little sign that anything had been done there”.

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Looking north towards Drumlemble. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 

Fatal Accident at the Coal Pit – Charles Armour

Further to the other blog post about the death of Charles Armour – here is an other extract from the Argyllshire Herald (1875) about his death.

Fatal Accident – An accident occurred in the Trodigal Coal Pit on Tuesday to one of the miners named Charles Armour, which we are sorry to say, terminated fatally on the day following, although at first serious consequences were not apprehended. It appears that while at work in the pit on Tuesday forenoon a mass of coal became detached from the roof or side of the pit and fell upon Armour crushing him severely against one of the hutches. The injured man was promptly rescued and brought to the surface. He was afterwards taken home and Dr. Cunningham sent for, however, gradually sank under the injuries, which were found to be of a very serious nature, and expired on the Wednesday forenoon. He was married and leaves a wife and five of a family.

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Extract from the Argyllshire Herald, 1875 on the death of Charles Armour, coal miner, Trodigal. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library and with thanks to Angus Martin.

Accident at Drumlemble Coal Pit – David Brown, coal miner

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Extract from the Argyllshire Herald, Saturday 28th August 1886, reporting on an accident at Drumlemble Coal Pit which involved coal miner, David Brown. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library and with thanks to Angus Martin.

Sailor’s Grave Centenary (1917-2017) – Angus Martin

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Inneans Bay, South West Kintyre, 2009. Photograph by Paul Barham ©

Exactly 20 persons, including myself and my wife Judy, were in the Inneans Bay on Saturday 6 May for a centenary memorial ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave. I had chosen that date mainly because it was a Saturday, and more people, especially those in work, would be able to come, but I later realised that it was the precise date of the body’s discovery: 6 May 1917, a Sunday.

The date on the succession of crosses erected in the bay has always been 16 May 1917, but a police report, which turned up in 1985, established that the skeletal torso was found on the shore on 6 May and buried on 12 May.

The finder was Duncan Sinclair, a young shepherd at Largiebaan and later head shepherd at Ballygroggan, and his witness statement was included with the report. This conclusively resolved the contentious issue of who had found the remains – see my Kintyre: The Hidden Past, pp. 144-45, published in 1984, the year before the police report emerged. According to Duncan, in a statement dictated to his daughter Mary, in September 1981, the burial party consisted of Machrihanish lobster-fisherman Robert Rae, whose boat took the party round to the Inneans Bay, his daughter Nelly Rae, Duncan’s sister Annie, and John MacDonald, the village police constable who had dealt with the report.

The various dates, however, are of little relevance, because the date of death, which is normally what appears on any grave memorial, will never be known. On to the previous cross, which by 2016 had fallen to bits, two small aluminium plates had been nailed, one with ‘God Knows’ engraved on it and the other with ‘16 May 1917’ on it, and these were salvaged and transferred to the new cross, thus preserving a degree of continuity.
Both that cross and its predecessor were made by Neil Brown, a Campbeltown joiner whose father, James, belonged to Drumlemble. Neil, for health reasons, was unable to attend the ceremony, but I telephoned him earlier that week to remind him of it. I asked him who had made the plates; he was unsure. After the ceremony, I was chatting to Angus Nimmo, who had come with his wife Valerie, who filmed the event, and he told me, when I described Neil, that he was actually his cousin – Angus’s mother, Bella, was a Drumlemble Brown.

The first cross Neil made was carried to the bay on 29 July 1981, by himself, son Stephen, brother-in-law George McKendrick and Teddy Lafferty (another who should have been at the event, but was unfit to go). Neil couldn’t remember when he replaced that one, but it would probably have been in the last years of the century. By my calculation, the present cross is the seventh, but there may be have another of which I am unaware. The evidence was laid out in Kintyre: The Hidden Past (pp. 145-46) and, again, in A Third Summer in Kintyre (pp. 168-74). Whatever the true number, it is clear that the average life-span of a wooden memorial on that exposed coast can’t be much more than 12 years.
The new cross is the biggest and heaviest ever erected there. It was made from durable pitch-pine salvaged from a renovation job in Campbeltown and donated by Mr Barry Colville of the local building firm, McKinven & Colville. The cross was crafted by Graham Sopp, a joiner with the firm and grandson of Mrs Elizabeth McTaggart, who took a keen interest in the memorial project from the outset and secured Graham’s involvement. Also crucially involved was Gary Anderson, a builder with McKinven & Colville and himself a keen hiker with an interest in local history. All previous crosses have been free-standing, but this one is lodged a metre into the ground and its base is protected by a bolted metal sheath and enclosed in a concrete basin. It has been further stabilised by a small cemented cairn. The cross has four coats of varnish on it, and Graham is confident of its potential for longevity.

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The maker of the new cross, Graham Sopp, attaching the plates from the previous cross prior to the ceremony on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis ©

The final work was done on 23 April, and it was work! Cement and sand, required for the first time in the history of the Sailor’s Grave, was carried out from Ballygroggan on a quad bike, by arrangement with Duncan McKinnon, head shepherd there, but the load could be taken only as far as the head of the Glen. From there, Graham, Gary, and Gary’s cousin, Steven Coffield, had to drag the bags into the bay – this after lugging the heavy cross and tools overland. When George McSporran and I arrived in the bay, early in the afternoon, the boys were almost exhausted before the work of erecting the cross had begun. Elizabeth McTaggart and her friend, Catherine Dobbie, had also gone out and were cooking over a fire on the beach in the sunshine.

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The work party at the Sailor’s Grave, before erection of new cross, 23 April 2017. L-R: Elizabeth McTaggart, Steven Coffield, Gary Anderson, Angus Martin, Graham Sopp, and George McSporran. Photograph by Cathy Dobbie ©

There was an additional monument, which I had carried out in my rucksack. This was a polished granite plaque in which Bill Armour, a monumental sculptor who lives in Campbeltown, had cut: ‘SAILOR’S GRAVE: 1917.’ The plaque was to have been incorporated in the cairn, but was too big for it. After discussion, George’s suggestion, that the plaque become a separate feature, was adopted, and Gary set it in a neat cement mount in front of the cross.

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The new cross on the Sailor’s Grave, propped in place to allow the cement to set, 23 April 2017. Photograph by George McSporran ©

The day of the ceremony was sunny and breezy, perfect for the walk out. The assembly point for most folk was the Kintyre Way car-park at Ballygroggan and we set out at 11 a.m. in a group which soon broke into smaller parties, proceeding at their own pace.
I gave the number at the ceremony as 20, but there should have been 22. Anne Leith was to have sung two songs at the graveside, her brother Alastair’s ‘The Inneans’ and Willie Mitchell’s ‘Road to Drumleman’, but near Innean Mòr sheep-fank she was so stricken with vertigo that she could go no further. She was willing to make her way back to Ballygroggan alone, but her friend, Iain McKerral, insisted on accompanying her, so, after a look at the new memorials, he left the bay before the ceremony began. Ann’s contribution would have enhanced the event and intensified its emotional impact, and she was missed.

First to arrive in the bay were Angus and Valerie Nimmo, who joined Will Slaven from Glasgow at his camp-site. Will had gone out with his tent and gear on Thursday afternoon and stayed until Sunday. He had guessed, from the date on the cross, that a memorial event might be pending, and had ’phoned and spoken to Judy, who provided the date and time. I had met Will and his brother Mick camping in the Inneans in 2006 and, camping again, with a son, almost ten years to the day of the event, on 7 May 2007. He is a devotee of the bay, its solitude and peacefulness, and recounted that, during his stay this year, as the sun sank away in the west the new cross assumed an eerie luminosity.

Last to arrive in the bay were Mike Peacock, Kenny Graham – who had already been to Largiebaan – and Alex Docherty, from Stewarton, who had left his car at Lochorodale and walked out via Killypole. I had hoped that Agnes Stewart might conduct the ceremony, but, at 80 years old, she understandably didn’t feel physically capable of getting there and back, so I did it myself.

After I had spoken on the history of the Sailor’s Grave and its past custodians, the cross was unveiled by Helen Bapty, a daughter of Stewart Hamilton, who, with his brother Malcolm, had been one of those custodians in the 1960s. Helen, who was accompanied by her husband Neil, sister Liz, and sister Margaret and her husband, Finlay Wylie, then delivered a brief personal statement, which was followed by a few impromptu words from Angus Nimmo, who had first heard of the Sailor’s Grave as a boy growing up in Drumlemble. I was grateful for the attendance of these members of mining families with a childhood connection to the place. There were three others present, Morag McLean, her brother Malcolm McMillan – their father was Kenny McMillan – and Malcolm’s son, also Malcolm.

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The ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis.

After the ceremony, I opened a bottle of Glen Scotia malt whisky, donated by Iain McAlister, distillery manager, for anyone who wished to have a celebratory nip. As it was cask-strength, some preferred a dash of water with it, and what better water than that from the spring at the foot of Cnoc Maighe, which Neil Brown piped many years ago?
So much money for the project came in that I didn’t have to fund-raise; and none of the creative participants wanted paid (but all were modestly rewarded with meal vouchers for the Ardshiel Hotel). The first, and main, donor was Alistair Thompson, who lives in Canada, but was back in Campbeltown for his mother’s 90th birthday party that night. He was one of the many who wanted to be at the ceremony, but couldn’t go. Happily, however, he was represented by his son Kenneth and partner, Anna Miccolis, two of whose photographs illustrate this article.

The other donors were: John MacDonald, Kenny Graham, Anonymous, George McSporran, John McSporran, Catherine Barbour, Jon Hooper, and Ann and Graham Baird. The total raised was £470, and, after expenses, £135 remains. I suggested at the gathering that this money could go towards a get-together later in the year in a local hotel, where an edited film of the ceremony and historic photographs could be projected in a continuous loop, both for those who were there and those who couldn’t be there.

An expanded version of this article will appear in the Kintyre Magazine No. 81 in Autumn, 2017.

Angus Martin

Memories of Archie McGeachy, shotfirer, and of Drumlemble by Betty McSporran

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Archie McGeachy, shot-firer at Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Betty McSporran ©

My Dad, Archie McGeachy, was born on 11th September 1924. As we grew up, Dad often spoke in detail about his times at the coal mine in Machrihanish and of the camaraderie between the men. He worked as a shot firer.

There were mine shafts which extended to the Aros Farm, north of Machrihanish, and out under the sea. I recall there was actually flooding in the mine before the fires [and total extraction] eventually closed it down.

One of the things I remember is my Mum and aunts talking about the time a Clydesdale horse was turned out into the field, above Coalhill, between there and Trochoillean Farm. In the morning it had fallen down a hole which appeared in the field. The horse was called Jacopa (I hope that is the correct spelling of its name). It was a sore loss to the farmer concerned.

In the heavy snowfall of February 1963 my Dad and I got stranded at Westport cottage and spent from the Tuesday till the Friday with a retired teacher, Miss McDougall, and her brother. There was quite a number of us including two policemen who divided all of us into two groups and the remainder went to Low Balevain Farm to enjoy the hospitality of the Binnie family. Drifts were above the Telegraph poles but Mr Binnie walked through the snow every day bringing baking, milk and potatoes to help feed us. We had the Jacobs Biscuits traveller with us too but his only samples were coconut mallows to help supplement our diet. I have never been able to eat one from that day till this! Hughie Anderson from Machrihanish was stranded as well. He drove the pit lorry and it was loaded with coal. Craig’s coal lorry was stranded likewise. Miss McDougall’s coal bunker was well filled .

Hughie, Dad and I set off on the Friday and walked the shore line to the Backs Water where we parted company. Dad and I stopped off at West Trodigal farm where Mrs Armour fed us with a bowl of homemade soup. We then stopped off at the miners’ canteen at Argyll Colliery where Dad bought some cigarettes – he hadn’t smoked for days. When we reached home we had to call the police station and let them know that we had made it! The  Campbeltown Courier reported the story. I was the only female stranded but they obviously thought I didn’t merit consideration as they made no mention of that fact. I may add that I was the only person who went back in person to thank Miss McDougall. Dad and I were so grateful and felt we were lucky to be alive as we wouldn’t have stood a chance against the snow.

I remember playing in the houses in Drumlemble that ran along from the hall to where the bus shelter now stands. The roofs were off the houses by then and the windows were covered by corrugated iron. The side row houses’ ruins were really only an outline of where the houses had been, as were the ruins next to Coalhill cottage. On the left hand side down the side row there were a few allotments and some had wee sheds standing on them.

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Postcard of Drumlemble Main Street showing the now demolished miners’ houses on the RHS. Courtesy of Charlie McMillan.

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Drumlemble Mission Hall, now a private residence, and where a row of miners’ houses used to stand on the Campbeltown – Machrihanish road. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

There was a miners’ bus transporting the men from town out to the pit at Machrihanish to suit the shift times. We used to walk from Drumlemble to Campbeltown on a Sunday and catch a lift home with the miners’ bus.

Miners’ gala days and Christmas parties were always so exciting for us as we grew up. The Miners’ Welfare Hall in Bolgam Street in Campbeltown was where the parties were held. The picnics were huge family outings and are well remembered for such happy times.

My Dad developed a lung disorder due to the coal dust and spent a year in the sanatorium in Oban due to that. He was never able to do mine work after that and actually never able to do any manual work. He passed away as a young man aged 43 on 8th January 1968.

In 1982, when part of the playing field collapsed in Drumlemble, the whole of Rhudal cottages were decanted but the four houses in Burnbank were left. We were literally over the fence from this gaping hole. My brother, Leslie, worked with McFadyen Contractors then and he had a Coal Board official on the bucket of his JCB, with arm extended, in the shaft that ran between numbers 19 and 30 Rhudal cottages. I also recall where a mound appeared further along the playing field and the water spouted out of it like a fountain. Many years later the National Coal Board had to backfill underneath the self same Burnbank homes as one of the houses was sinking.

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Katrina, Cameron, Betty McSporran (née McGeachy), Betty’s sister, Margaret Blaylock and Alice McMurchy. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The bard of Kintyre is an ancestor of ours (James McMurchy). Interestingly enough his art has passed down through the generations. I myself have been published on six occasions and have written some lyrics for songs. At present I am working with Charlie McMillan who had written a pipe tune and I have added the words. We are at present in the process of trying to get it recorded to a CD. My brother, Leslie McGeachy, and my sister, Margaret Blaylock, are both prolific in the poetry genre as well.

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Leslie McGeachy , Betty’s brother, and Debbie. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©