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 ©

 

 

 

 

 

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Trodigal Cottage: A song by Willie Mitchell

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Bobbins’s Cottage or Trodigal Cottage. The original cottage is the part on the left hand side of the photo.  Beyond that you can see, on the right, Trodigal Farm and beyond that the site where  Argyll Colliery once stood. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Trodigal Cottage, a song by Willie Mitchell was written about Bobbins’s Cottage (or Trodigal Cottage) situated on the Machrihanish – Drumlemble Road at Kilkivan, where the track leads uphill to Kilkivan Cemetery and to Kilkivan Quarry. The cottage took it’s name from Robert Hamilton, the father of three miners at Argyll Colliery, Bobby, Malcolm and Stewart. The house was well known as a great meeting place and somewhere to take a dram in good company. Bobbins and his house were immortalised in this song by Willie Mitchell, who was a great friend of Bobbins. Agnes Stewart, Willie’s daughter, remembers that her father used to say “The Queen has got four Marys but Bobbins has four Willies!” – they were Willie Colville, Willie Broon (Brown), Willie McArthur and Willie Mitchell.

Trodigal Cottage

It was down by Machrihanish
Some jovial friends and I did meet,
We called at Trodigal Cottage
A kind old cronie there to greet.

Oh the liquor it was plenty,
With foaming beads in every glass,
We joined in song and story,
And heeded not as time did pass.

Chorus

For it is not time to go, my boys,
To go my boys to go away.
It is not time to go my boys,
We will booze it out till break of day.

Good whisky gives us knowledge
To talk of matters deep and wise.
We took so much of learning,
That from our chairs we could not rise.

Chorus

It was early in the morning,
Kilkivan’s cock did loudly crow,
He sounded us a warning
That to our homes we then should go.

Chorus

Here’s a health to Trodigal Cottage
And the grand old man who long lived there,
We’ll ne’er forget the nights we met,
His hospitality to share.

Willlie Mitchell.

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Willie Mitchell, songwriter. Photo courtesy of Agnes Stewart ( née Mitchell) ©

Agnes Stewart relates that it was quite amazing the number of people that could be squeezed into the cottage during these sociable occasions. Willie Colville wrote a rhyming couplet about his friend, Willie Mitchell, heading home by bicycle to Campbeltown after a few drams at Bobbins’s Cottage:

Wi’ erse weel up and heid weel doon, He set his course for Cam’ltoon!

Willie Colville.

Collier, Robert Hamilton, known as Bobby, remembered by his daughter, Mary

My father Bobby Hamilton was born in 1919, he was a ‘middle ‘child in a family of twelve, six boys and six girls. Sadly my Aunt Agnes MacKenzie, 96 years old is the only remaining sibling. They were brought up at Trodigal Cottage or Bobbins’s Cottage at Kilvivan, between Machrihanish and Drumlemble, The cottage was so called because the my grandfather, Robert, was known as Bobbins.

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Four members of the Hamilton Family. L-R Bobby, Agnes, Stewart and Malcolm, Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton ©

My father joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1937, and when he was ‘demobbed’ he returned to Kintyre and began working in the Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish. He married Jean MacBrayne in 1948 and they had three children, Sheena, Mary (me) and Robert.

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Bobby with his daughter, Sheena. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton. ©

My father had a few accidents whilst working in the Pit and I remember one time, 1960 (I think) that he had hurt his shoulder, back and his left foot. I think coal fell on him.  He could not wear a shoe or slipper and cut his sandal, put holes in the side and crisscrossed this with string and could get this on his foot to walk about in the house. I remember the noise the buckle made when he was walking about. 

My father left the Pit with some other miners from the area, in 1961 or 1962 to work in Corby in Stewart and Lloyds Steel Mills – the idea being that we would eventually move to Corby.

I can remember the Miners Gala days, going to the beach and the Christmas parties, and the old Rex Cinema to see a film.

My mother’s health was not good, however as a child I was unaware of how ill she really was and in March 1964 she was admitted to Campbeltown Hospital. My father came back from Corby.  My mother later transferred to the Western  Infirmary Glasgow and sadly, she died at the age of 46. My father was then a widow caring for three children, aged 13, 11 and 8 years old. He never returned to Corby.  

Not long after my mother died I walked with him to the cemetery and after visiting my mother’s grave, we walked to another gravestone. My father told me that this man had been  one of his closest friends and he had died in an accident in the Pit. This was of course Jimmy Woodcock.  My father had never mentioned this before,  and I never heard him talking about his ordeal being trapped under the coal. [Bobby had a narrow escape in February 1951 when Jimmy Woodcock was killed].

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Extract from the Campbeltown Courier, February 1951. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

My father had several labouring jobs after this, he worked when the Jetty was being built at the then NATO base down Kikerran Road, then when the oil tanks were being installed and then later as a storeman. This was the only job that he ever spoke about with disdain, as he felt there was not enough to do and he was indoors.  He then worked in the Shipyard and his last employment on retiring was with the local Council, cutting the grass, maintaining the plants.  He enjoyed this as he was outdoors and was a keen gardener.

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Mary Hamilton, far right. Photograph: Vicky Middleton ©

My father was a quiet man who loved reading books and poetry.  He never had a television, preferring to listen to the radio.  The poems I remember him reciting to us was Ogden Nash, the Camel, The Lama, etc – nonsense poems when we were young, and then later, some of his favourites, usually when he had a ‘wee dram’.  ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’ by J.Milton Hayes, ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ by Robert Service and of course anything by Robert Burns.

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Bobby Hamilton, left, at Campbeltown Day Hospital. Photograph courtesy of Mary Hamilton ©

My father died in Campbeltown Hospital, aged 86 in 2006.  He is still missed.

Mary Hamilton

Lines on “An Accident at Coalhill” by James MacMurchy

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Typed version of “Lines on the “Accident at Coalhill” (Drumlembe, Argyll) by James MacMurchy, the so called “Poet of Kintyre”. Photo” Jan Nimmo ©

When my father’s widow, Ros Nimmo, decided to leave Campbeltown to move to England to be nearer to her daughter, she gave me a few odds and ends that belonged to my father. Amongst them was the above typed up sheet with the lines of a poem. My father, Neil Nimmo, a former employee at Argyll Colliery, must have asked someone to type it up for him – he was a Drumlemble man who came from a family of miners and was always interested in stories related to mining.

When I started to do some research for the documentary The Road to Drumleman, about Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, I discovered that the poem was by James MacMurchy (McMurchy/McMurchie). According to an article by Ron Booth in the Spring 2000 edition of the Kintyre Antiquarian and Natural History Society Magazine,  John MacMurchy started work in the mine in Drumlemble “at a very young age”. He apparently had a good singing voice and wrote many poems that relate to South Kintyre. You can read more about James in Ron’s piece. The typed version of the poem that my father possessed varies a little from the one in the collection of poetry  published in a book of MacMurchy’s poetry in Campbeltown Library, so I have typed up the published version. If anyone can shed further light on the victims mentioned in this poem please get in touch. (please see the photo of the headstone at Kilkivan Cemetery below).

Jan Nimmo

Lines on the “Accident at Coallhill”

July has come in wi’ a sweet balmy gale,
To waft o’er the flowers on the mountain and dale,
And the wee smiling daisy with fragrance to fill;
But alas! it brought sorrow and grief to “Coalhill”.

The miners, just finished their labours below,
To the clear light of day, they hurriedly go,
When a noise, loud as thunder came fast to each ear
Which caused all the miners to tremble with fear.

It’s the ‘waste’ broken in, Hark! the waters now roar;
There are nine men below, we may see them no more,
May God them protect, who is mighty and wise,
And help them, for safety, to flee to the “rise”.

As Providence ordered, the manager near
Descended the mine, braving danger and fear,
He reached the six men in their perilous cave,
And saved their lives from a watery grave.

Then down through the workings so wild
Like a fond hearted father, in search of his child,
But no sound of the three missing men could he hear
But the wild roar of water, sae gloomy and drear. 

Go back from the danger, you’re duty you’ve done,
The men are no more – their life’s journey is run
But we hope they are safe in a happier shore,
When the struggle of life, they’ll encounter no more.

May the men who are safe, give to God all their praise
Who sent them relief, and lengthened their days;
May they trust in His bountiful providence all –
For without His permission a sparrow can’t fall.

James Todd left his house, just a short year before,
And his friends in Tollcross will see him no more;
When he came to Kintyre, how little thought he
To have died in the waters that flowed from the “Ree”.

Neil Smith, young and fair, in his manhood and bloom,
And Donald McPhail shared his watery tomb;
Their friends and relations, now sadly do mourn
For the loved ones that’s gone and will never return.

James Mac Murchy

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It appears from the date on this headstone at KIlkivan Cemetery that Donald/Daniel McPhail was drowned at Drumlemble Pit (Coalhill) in 1878. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

An angling story from 1959

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Angling competition at the Lussa Loch, Near Campbeltown. Second from the left: Willie McKinlay. Photo courtesy of the late Willie McKinlay.

Oor angling lads, they aw’ went fishing
Tae hae their annual competition
Some took hook and bait and line
But Wullie Kinla’ took VP wine
Without delay they set their task
But Wullie lay upon the grass.

He had a swim and then his tea
But aw’ the while he drank VP
As time went by, he heard a shout
When every expert caught a trout
But treated this with sheer contempt
Until his VP wine was spent.

The keenest man was Hugie Lee
Although he’s only five foot three
To get first prize wis his ambition
He spent his whole life at Crosshill fishing
Wi’ expert hand he cast his line
he knew that it was nearly time.

When all at once he got a bite
His reel began to take its flight
Wi’ skill and brawn he fought this bout
No doubt this was the heaviest trout
He’d show them all, he’d stop their bounces
He landed it, it weighed twelve ounces.

Then Wullie staggered tae’ his feet
This canny lot his he’d hae tae to beat
As time was short, he’d really try
And tak’ the auld wife hame a fry
He staggered in and cast in line
Ow’ bleary eyed and foo’ o’ wine.

The trout then queued up for his bait
They knew that he had left it late
He took eight fish and left the rest
The prize was his, he’d done the best
Still Hughie Lee runs round and bounces
I wis only beaten by fifty four ounces!

Many miners who worked at the Argyll Colliery were keen anglers and fished the lochs, reservoirs and burns around South Kintyre; The Lussa, Crosshill Loch, Aucha Lochy, The Backs Water and the Machrihanish Water. Some, according to John McNaughton, a former oncost worker at Argyll Colliery, also did some sea fishing. I imagine that it must have been an enjoyable pastime where miners, who were stuck down the mine all week, were able to enjoy fresh air and relaxation.  The above poem is thought to have been written by Sandy Smith, who worked in the winding house at the Argyll Colliery. Sandy wrote various poems which we hope to be able to publish here on the blog.  This humorous poem was written about an angling competition in 1959 and relates the story of coalface worker, Willie McKinlay, who won the competition that year.

Listen to the late Willie McKinlay read the poem…

Jan Nimmo

You can read another poem by Sandy here.

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A man’s ambition…

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Sandy Smith, Willie Durance and Gus McDonald, Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, Kintyre. Photo courtesy of Willie Durance ©

Sandy Smith, who worked in the winding house at Argyll Colliery, was well known amongst the local miners for his humorous poetry. Willie Durance, a former electrician at the mine, wrote down this poem written by Sandy for me to share.

A man’s ambition must be small,
And great must be his need,
To creep in here when all is quiet,
To steal the wee birds’ feed.

Sandy Smith

Sandy looked after the 20 or so canaries that were kept on site and used to detect gas in the mine. Willie told me that Sandy wrote this poem when he discovered that someone was stealing the bird seed. He left the poem in the kist with the bird seed and the pilfering stopped!

Priceless!

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Detail of mining themed bunting made by the children at Drumlemble Primary School. When they heard about the role that the canaries played at the mine, the children were inspired to create images of them to put on their bunting. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Jan Nimmo

Lines to memory of James McArthur: Killed at Drumlemble Coal Pit

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Kilkivan Cemetery, between Drumlemble and Machrihanish, Kintyre, with the Oa of Islay in the background (2007). Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Lines to memory of James McArthur: Killed at Drumlemble Coal Pit

‘Twas a lovely Spring morning in April
And the lark sang his song loud and clear
When we miners set out on our way to the pit
With light hearts and full of good cheer

We laughed and we joked, as we strode on our way
Not a thought of the mine and it’s dangers
For sport was the topic, as usually the case
On the merits of Celtic and Rangers.

When we reached the pit head in the corner we saw
“auld Jamies” swing his lamp to and fro
He was melting his wax, and preparing his light
Ere he’s start on his labours below.

The signal bell rang, and the cage lowered away
Sinking silently out of the light
But little we thought as we watched him go down
Of what was to happen ere night.

Our work down below but two hours begun
When news came in whispering breath
That a fall had occurred at Jamie’s coal face
And we feared he had met with his death.

The doctor was ‘phoned for, and soon he appeared
Anxious to do his best
But alas! our poor comrade had passed away
And lay in Eternal Rest.

We laid our tools and hurried away
Our work for that day at an end
By custom thus showing the respect that we held
For our poor, unfortunate friend.

Our thought flew to his aged mother
Of ten and four -score years
When we thought of her feeble old frame
Our eyes dimmed with tears

He was called away while at his post
No warning was given
But we hope to meet some other time
At the Golden Gates of Heaven.

James MacArthur was crushed under a coal fall in April 1914, whilst working for the Campbeltown Coal Company. The poem was composed by John Lambie who died in an accident, in 1926, at the Wimbledon Pit.