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


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.


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


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.


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.


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






Miners’ Welfare Junior League – Glenside Team, Campbeltown – 1959 Champions


Miners’ Welfare Junior League: Glenside team – 1959 Champion Team Back row: L-R Charlie Duffy (Manager) R. Lafferty, S. McPherson, W. McCormack, Unidentified. Second row: L-R H. Colville, W. Hume, J. Cochrane, L. Gilchrist, D. Thomson. Third row: L-R Lindsay Brown and Davy Graham. Front row: M. McGougan, R. Campbell, D. McMillan, A. McEachran, R. McLean, D. Mclean. Photo courtesy of Calum McLean, Campbeltown.

John McSporran Durnan – “Troy”

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John McSporran Durnan and his wife, Margaret. Photo courtesy of Johnny Durnan ©

My name is Johnny Durnan. I was born in Campbeltown but have lived in Carradale for the last 43 years.

My late father, John McSporran Durnan, whose nickname was “Troy”, was an on-cost worker at Argyll Colliery around the time I was born and this is noted on my birth certificate. He was married to Margaret McGougan Harvey, my mother. I have three brothers and one sister.

my birth certificate

Johnny Durnan’s birth certificate which shows his father, John McSporran Durnan as an on-cost worker at Argyll Colliery – 1956. Courtesy of Johnny Durnan ©

I never really got much info. regarding his job there as sadly he died in 1974 at the age of 45 years, when we were just young. It would have been nice to sit down and have a chat with him about that part of his life but that is not to be; but maybe some others have more info and maybe a photo of him at work as we do not have more information that could shed some light on my father’s working life.

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John McSporran Durnan at Peninver c. 1967. Photo courtesy of Johnny Durnan @

We lived at 7 Mill Street, were I was born, but shortly after, we moved to 55 Davaar Ave, then 10 years later we moved to 128 Davaar Ave, to a bigger house, which my brother owns to this day.

As a young boy I remember very well our jaunts down to the quay to watch the puffers coming in to get loaded at the coal chute, many times we would hide in there/play about – things you would not get away with nowadays!


Loading coal onto a boat at Campbeltown’s Old Quay. Still from Iain Donnachie’s 1955 film, Kintyre, courtesy of NLS/SCA

Johnny Durnan

Roselyn McLean tells a couple of stories about her dad, Charlie Farmer,”Feenie”

During one of our drop-in sessions at Campbeltown Library we had a visit from Roselyn McLean (neé Farmer). Roselyn is the daughter of  Charlie Farmer, who worked as a switchgear operator at Argyll Colliery and was better known by his nickname Feenie. He was a keen footballer and played for the colliery team. The family lived in the cul-de-sac on Davaar Avenue, Campbeltown, housing that was built for miners and their families in the 1950’s.


Argyll Colliery FC,  Bottom row, far right – Charlie Farmer. Photo courtesy of Maggie Allen ©


Roselyn McLean (neé Farmer), Campbeltown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Charlie had a great sense of humour – he’d say to Roselyn “Do you know who got married today?” She’s reply “No” and Charlie world say “A man and a woman!”.  Here are a couple of anecdotes from Roselyn about her dad that we have transcribed:

Going on the backshift….

Aye, what I can remember is that he’d been out to the darts, he went to the darts night or something, and he had one too many and of course he came in and had his tea and he fell asleep and mum couldn’t get him up and the van was coming to pick him up, so mum ran up to the van and says “Look, I’m sorry I canna get him wakened”, and the man says, “We’ll sort him out” In these days money was short and to lose a day’s wages was horrendous – however the men came in, picked him up, took him out in the lorry, and when they got to the pit they put him under a cold shower and left him there and they says “Every time you do that, that’s where you’re going! (Laughs) – I don’t think he ever did it again! (Laughs again).

A heavy snowfall…

One day my dad was out there on one of his shifts and they were finishing and it started  to snow – heavy, heavy snow. Well, there was nothing out there for them, no luxuries, no beds or anything, so they thought, “Well we’ll just walk into the town”. So I can always mind that it took him hours and hours to walk in and he came in the door and his face was still black because he hadn’t been for a shower and my young sister, Fiona, she was terrified, you know, – the coalman used to come in with the coal bags and she used to go into hysterics when they would come with the coal, Of course Dad came in and he was black in the face and it took her a wee while to calm down and saying, “That’s your dad”!

Roselyn McLean

Stewart Hamilton, miner, remembered by his daughter, Helen

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Stewart Hamilton, who, after the war, worked at Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©

Charles Stewart Hamilton (Stewart) was born in High Kilkivan in 1924 and brought up in Trodigal cottage. On leaving school he became an apprentice cabinet maker with Mathews in Mafekin Place, Campbeltown. He then served in the navy in the Second World War as a radio operator on board destroyers in the Atlantic conveys.

After the war he began working as a miner at Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish from 1949 until approximately 1959.

A clear memory I have of that time is that he had to sleep with a board under his mattress as his back was so painful (Occupational Hazard)! Another lasting memory is of the annual Gala and Christmas party which we as children looked forward to every year. During this time, he played football for the miner’s team.


Stewart Hamilton in the Argyll Colliery FC team – Bottom row 4th from the left. Photo courtesy of Maggie Allen ©

When he left the pit, he like many others moved to Corby to work in the steel industry but he could not persuade my mother, Betty Sinclair to join him there so returned to Campbeltown. He then became a heavy plant operator working with various large and small contractors.

Sadly he passed away on New Years Day 2001.

Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©


Helen’s maternal grandfather, Hugh Sinclair, centre, was also a miner. He became surface manager at Argyll Colliery. This photo was taken at Kilkivan, Drumlemble. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©


Helen’s maternal grandfather, Hugh Sinclair, standing, top left, was also a miner. He became surface manager at Argyll Colliery. This photo is was taken at “Lone Creek’, High Tirfergus Farm, Drumlemble. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©

Donald Mustarde – Apprentice Electrician, Argyll Colliery.


Donald Mustarde at his home in Haddington. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

In July 2015 I had the pleasure of meeting Donald Mustarde at his home in Haddington. Donald worked his 5 year apprenticeship as an electrician at Argyll Colliery between 1948 – 1953 before heading to work at the Williamson diamond mine in Tanzania (also known as the Mwadu mine). A Campbeltown man, Donald was brought up on Shore Street and spent his childhood playing around the pier, fishing for crabs. He was 15 when he started at the colliery which he remembers as fully mechanised and very modern for its time. He carried out some of his training at the Middleton Camp in 1955. He was trained as a first aider with the rescue team and also played for the Argyll Colliery football team. Some of the team mates he remembers are: Jim Martin “Chocolates”, Ewan McPherson, Charlie Martin, Joe Duncan, John Anderson, Donald Kelly  -“Purba” and Charlie McFadyen – “Twinkle Toes”. At that time the family lived in one of the miners houses, 167 Ralston Road, Campbeltown.

Donald died in 2016.

Thanks to Donald’s daughter-in-law, Arlene and Donald’s son, Donald Mustarde Jr. for arranging our visit to Donald and his wife, Anne.

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They’re on Holiday – But these Argyll players keep their eyes on the Ball. A newspaper cutting from Donald Mustarde which we assume is from an Ayrshire newspaper.


Photo of Donald Mustarde at Butlins with other miners – tbc. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©


Donald Mustarde with a cutting from the Campbeltown Courier. This is in fact a photo of the Kintyre Amatuer Football League selected annually and who played against Queens Park in Glasgow. Top row: L-R Archie Mustarde (Purba), Donnie Kelly, Hugie Newlands, Neil Watson, Archie Simpson, Sandy McGeachy, Neil Martin? Baldy McCallum (Manager). Front row: L-R Tommy McGeachy, Charlie McFadyen,Jim Martin, Malcolm McPhee and Donald Mustarde. (Thanks to Tommy Newlands for the names!) Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

COAL magazine – an extract from a feature about Argyll Colliery and Campbeltown

Another interesting extract from COAL magazine which relates to Campbeltown and to Argyll Colliery. It was published August 1950. We are grateful to George McMillan, Campbeltown for letting us scan and publish these cuttings. You can read the PDF version here.


COAL magazine, August 1955. Courtesy of George McMillan, Campbeltown.


COAL magazine, August 1955. Courtesy of George McMillan, Campbeltown.

Ramsay Nimmo – underground electrician, Argyll Colliery.


Twins, Ramsay and Neil Nimmo. Photo courtesy of Jan Nimmo ©

Ramsay Brown Nimmo was the son of Robert Nimmo and Isabella “Bella” (nee Brown). He and his twin brother, Neil, were born in 1929, in Drumlemble, a mining village between Campbeltown and Machrihanish. The were the oldest sons of the family of nine.

Ramsay left school at the age of 12 to work on a local farm, West Drumlemble, and when he was old enough, he got a job at Argyll Colliery, Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. In 1950 was sent to do a course at NCB Mechanisation Training Centre in Sheffield were he was trained as a mine electrician. He lodged with Mr & Mrs Salt in the Greystone area Sheffield and they treated him like a son. He kept in touch with them until they passed away.


Ramsay Nimmo, far right, during his training at the NCB Mechanisation Training Centre in Sheffield. Photo courtesy of the Nimmo Family ©


Ramsay Nimmo, front row, kneeling, far right, during his training at the NCB Mechanisation Training Centre in Sheffield. Photo courtesy of the Nimmo Family ©

Ramsay met his future wife, Kathleen, on a tram in Sheffield, while Kathleen was on her way to work in the wholesale section of W H Smiths. When Ramsay returned to Scotland to his work at Argyll Colliery, their romance continued and they corresponded – in those days people wrote letters rather than Skyping or emailing and Kathleen kept these letters till her dying day.


Ramsey Nimmo in Sheffield. Photo courtesy of the Nimmo Family ©

Before their marriage Ramsay moved to Chesterfield and started work at Markham Colliery, Duckmanton. He lived with Jim & Lil McPhail. Jim was a cousin of Ramsay’s mother who had met a local Derbyshire girl and settled there.


Bob Nimmo, Bella Nimmo, Ramsay Nimmo, Kathleen Nimmo, and Kathleen’s parents, Ivy and Charlie George. Photo courtesy of the Nimmo Family ©

Robert Ramsey and Kathleen Nimmo were married on April the 4th 1954. After their marriage Ramsay continued to work as an electrician at Markham Colliery in Derbyshire until his retirement. He died in 2006 and Kathleen followed him in 2014. They are survived by their three sons, Robert, Andrew and Malcolm.


L-R, Mrs E. Batty, a neighbour, Kathleen Nimmo, Ramsay Nimmo, Malcolm Nimmo (baby), and in the foreground, L-R Robert Nimmo and Andrew Nimmo. Photo courtesy of the Nimmo Family ©

Robert Nimmo ©

Memories of life in a mining family in Drumlemble – Angus Nimmo

My father, Robert Nimmo, came to Campbeltown in 1926 from Harthill in North Lanarkshire to work in the Machrihanish coalfield. He worked underground as a shot firer alongside my three uncles on my maternal side, Angus, John and Robert Brown, until the closure of the mine in 1929. He met and married my mother, Isabella “Bella” Brown, a Drumlemble woman.


Isabella “Bella” (nee Brown) and Bob Nimmo at the Pre-fabs in Drumlemble, Kintyre. Photo courtesy of the Nimmo Family ©

After that, times were hard and my father did a number of different jobs, from working as a security officer at the ‘Drome during the war years, to having a small shop; a general store that sold groceries and sweeties. After the war he worked together with my Uncle Angus and others to construct the prefabs at Drumlemble.

Subsequently he worked at the quarry as a shotfirer, then building the tunnel at the Lussa Loch. My brothers, Neil and John, also worked with him at Lussa and it was here that Neil developed his expertise as a shotfirer. When the mine reopened all three went to work there along with Neil’s twin Ramsay. Ramsay was sent to Sheffield for six months where he trained to be a mine electrician. Returning to Machrihanish he worked with his twin brother and father underground for a number of years. John worked for two years on the surface at Argyll Colliery, sorting coal and loading lorries. My father started work at 7.00am and worked below ground, often up to his waist in water. My mother’s brother, Uncle Neil, another mine worker had bronchitis and worked on surface, picking stones out of the coal. Although, it was often said that it was easier to pick the coal out of the stones!


Ramsay Nimmo, far right, at the NCB Mechanisation Training Centre in Sheffield. Photo Courtesy of Ramsay Nimmo’s family ©


Neil Nimmo, and his wife Jean  (nee McCulloch). Photo courtesy of Jan Nimmo ©

 I was born in the front row of Drumlemble. There were eleven in the family. At that time, in the 1940s, all the families were large. Life would have been hard for my mother and father looking after and feeding seven boys and two girls. However, my Granny, Catherine Brown (nee Taylor), lived across the main road in the row of houses long since demolished. She would help look after us and also help with the washing, which was carried out in a corrugated lean-to at the back of the house. Inside there was a large cast iron bowl below which a fire could be lit to heat the water to wash the clothes.


Drumlemble Main Street or “Front Row”. The houses on the right hand side were demolished, and just beyond you can see the Mission Hall. The photo looks west and the road leads to Kilkivan and Machrihanish. Postcard courtesy of Willie McMillan

Behind the house there was the outside toilet and further back a number of sheds where the men would keep various tools and anything else that they were hoarding. Beyond these there was the “midden”, where all the rubbish, food waste and toilet waste was dumped. This was removed at fairly regular intervals but nevertheless there were lots of rats and quite a number of health problems like scarlet fever, TB, whooping cough, ringworm, and impetigo. It was fairly common to see boys and girls going around with purple coloured spots on their face, arms and legs where Gentian violet was used to cure the ringworm or impetigo.

I can remember twelve plain loaves being bought on Saturday and then a further 9 loaves on Wednesday. These had to be sliced before my mother would make up “pieces” for my father and three brothers who were working in the mine. No cold meat for the sandwiches, it was cheese or jam, six slices of bread each, giving six sandwiches, which they carried to work in a tin box. There was little need to visit Campbeltown for shopping as lots of vans brought food and groceries to the village. The Co-op van came on a Monday, while McArthur, the baker’s van, came on Saturday, then there were vans from Liptons, Rentons, the butchers, and Colin Campbell, the grocer. These weren’t the only mobile salespeople. Travellers or tinkers as they were known then, frequently camped in tents at Ballygreggan or at the Lint Mill, east of Drumlemble. They would go around the houses selling clothes pegs and other household utensils, sometimes in exchange for tea and food. The ragman was also a regular caller, collecting old clothes.

Drumlemble School provided a good education. Although we didn’t travel, we learned lots about the world in geography and nature studies, names of countries, rivers, birds and flowers. Each summer there was a prize for the pupil who brought in and could name the largest number of different wild flowers. By this time we had moved into the prefabs just across from the school. Some days I would leave the school at 3.30pm, look across at the house and my heart would sink when I would see one ton of coal deposited at the gate. As soon as I arrived home my mother would say, “Get changed and get that coal barrowed in”. That would keep my two older brothers and I busy for the rest of the night. There were no street lamps at that time so winter nights could be very dark.


Drumlemble Primary School in the 1930’s There are three Nimmo children here: Top – third left Ramsay Nimmo and two along from him, his twin brother, Neil. Second row, first left, their sister, Renee Nimmo.


Postcard of Drumlemble and Coalhill. The photo shows the three schools which once existed in the village; on the left, the State School, just behind the two storey building, and up on the hill, just left of centre we can see the Free Church School which was attended by the sons of tenant farmers. The third school, the Colliers’ School also known as “Slate School” is the building with the pointed gable amongst the miners’ houses on the right hand side.

There were always lots of children about to play cowboys and Indians with in the Sanny Hole (an area east of Drumlemble where gravel had been extracted leaving a deep hole in the green field) or play football in the field. Miners had their carbide lamps. Water dripping on carbide produces acetylene gas, which burns and produces light. One of the games we played was to place some carbide on the palms of our hands, then spit on it. The winner was the boy who could endure the heat of the burning carbide the longest.


Carbide lamp from the collection at Campbeltown Heritage Centre. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The mining community were very close and organized gala days at various venues -sometimes Machrihanish, sometimes Drumlemble, Southend or Kilberry. Special buses took us there and back. I recall winning the Miners’ Cup for the 100-yard sprint at Southend, while my brother Alister won a competition in Kilberry where he knocked all his opponents off the log.


Angus Nimmo outside the family home, one of the prefabs, in Drumlemble c. Photo courtesy of Angus Nimmo ©

There were two halls in Drumlemble. The Mission Hall, where the missionary Mr John McKendry conducted Sunday services and Sunday School. My father played the organ there. Midweek, when Mr McKendry came out with his list of hymns, my sister would have to hum the tune to remind my father of the melody. The other hall was the Drill Hall where dances, whist drives, cinema shows and other community events took place.


New Testament to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953. Courtesy of Angus Nimmo


New Testament to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953. This was presented to Angus Nimmo by John McKendry. Courtesy of Angus Nimmo ©


The Rex Cinema, Campbeltown, before it was demolished. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kelly ©

During the war both halls were commandeered by the military. Soldiers were stationed at Drumlemble while there were sailors at the Ugadale. My sister recalls that, at that time, there used to be three full buses leave Drumlemble on a Saturday night taking young folk into Campbeltown, where the bright lights of the Rex Cinema or the Picture House would tempt them. Alternatively there was dancing in the Victoria Hall, Town Hall or Templars Hall (The Bowrie) or they could enjoy an ice cream in one of the three Italian cafés; The Locarno, The Mayfair and The Royal. The night’s revelries would always end with the long walk home to Drumlemble. By the 1950’s the soldiers had moved to Dalivaddy, east of Drumlemble, and football matches between the soldiers and a selection from Stewarton, Drumlemble and Machrihanish would take place regularly. One of the biggest celebrations took place on the night of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 when my father, Bob, lit a huge bonfire up at Rhudal and this was followed by a dance in the Drill Hall.


The prefab in Drumlemble: Archie, Angus and Alister Nimmo with their nephew, Robert and niece, Elizabeth McCallum. Photo courtesy of the Nimmo family.

As already stated, life for a coal miner and his family wasn’t the easiest, but the difficult conditions bred a strong sense of self-reliance, whilst shared experience built a strong community in Drumlemble.


Looking south to Drumlemble – 2007 Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Angus Nimmo ©