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 ©

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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

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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”!

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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.

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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) ©

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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) ©

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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