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 ©






Roberta Lafferty remembers her father, Willie Mitchell.

My father, Willie Mitchell, who was a painter, decorator and sign writer was employed by the N.C.B. as a painter and sign writer at Argyll Colliery. I believe it would be in the 1950s and 60s. The family joke, when he would tell us he was going down the pit, was that he was painting the coal black. My father left the pit when it closed in 1967 and went to work for the M.O.D. at RAF Machrihanish until he retired in 1972.

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Willie Mitchell, left, worked as a painter at Argyll Collier, Machrihanish. Photo courtesy of Roberta Lafferty (née Mitchell) ©

When the coal was being delivered to my mother, Agnes, she always had the delivery men in for a cup of tea; Alex Mason, Neil McIvor – the other person’s name escapes me.

At one point my father was asked to go to the Sailors Grave at Inneans Bay, to paint the cross and I remember him saying it had been a great day out and that he had been privileged.


L-R: Douglas McMillan, Malcolm McMillan, Kenny McMillan, Charlie Morrison, Donald McPhee and John McPhee, Inneans Bay (South West coast of Kintyre), at the Sailor’s Grave. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family. ©

My brother, who was also called William Mitchell, was employed by the N.C.B. at Argyll Colliery from 1953 to 1956, when he left to join the RAF. While with the N.C.B. he attended various classes at Dungavel, in South Lanarkshire, gaining qualifications which were to his advantage.

I attended picnics and parties, all courtesy of the miners, and I was allowed to bring a friend along. It seems tame in comparison to things they do today but they were really wonderful days out for all who were involved.

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Roberta Lafferty, Pat McIntyre, Jeanette ?, Alison Kelly, Janet McShannon. c.1955. Photo courtesy of Roberta Lafferty (née Michell) ©

Roberta Lafferty, April 2017


Nannette Campbell (née Martin) remembers her father, Robert Bell Martin


Robert Martin. Cross stitch embroidery by Karen Forbes (née Hunter). Courtesy of Nanette Campbell.

I remember Dad going away early in the morning to his work at the mine.  He seemed to enjoy his work and got on well with the men he worked with. He was a coalface worker at Argyll Colliery and worked there until it closed. His employee number was 65.

I remember that in the winter of 1963 he had to walk in from the pit with lots of other miners, because the Machrihanish road was blocked after a heavy snowfall. When he came home he was was still black as he hadn’t had a shower and there were icicles in his hair.

My Dad met my Mum, Mary Scott, at Crossiebeg Farm, near Campbeltown, on the east coast of Kintyre. Dad was a farm labourer at that time and Mum was a dairy maid.

They married and had six of a family: Margaret, Charles, Katrina, Nanette, Douglas and Patricia. My Mum and Dad also had a wee baby girl who was still born after Charles, but she was a big part of our family and Mum and Dad often talked about her. We just knew her as Baby Martin.

We lived in Davaar Avenue, Campbeltown, in one of the miners’ houses, and had lots of neighbours who were also miners; George McMillan, Neil Nimmo, Kynamp – John Anderson, Gus McDonald, Mucca’phee – Donald McPhee.

We had good times at Miners’ Gala Days… good times – I went to two or three.  We went on the bus to Southend – there were races, and rounders and we played games on the beach and had a picnic.

Nannette Campbell


Nannette with Robert’s great grandsons, Alexander, Robert, Kelvin and Riley with a portrait of Robert Martin. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

John Irwin – shotfirer at Argyll Colliery

William John Irwin, known as John, was born in 1905 in County Tyrone, Ireland. His mother died when John was just a young boy. His father was a seagoing man so John was brought up by uncles and aunts and was “farmed out” (a form of bonded labour) when he left school at the age of 10.

John did a tour of India with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He came to Campbeltown in the 1930’s on one of the “Kelly” boats that shipped coal from Kintyre to Belfast and carried soil from Northern Ireland, as ballast, to Kintyre. According to Donald, John’s son, many of the parks around Campbeltown, such as Quarry Green, Kilkerran Road, were made with Irish soil.


John Irwin did an army tour of India with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Photo courtesy of Donald Irwin, Drumlelmble ©

John worked at the Drum farm, Kilkenzie, near Campbeltown. He a married local woman, Marie Docherty and they had 9 children. The family lived in Drumlemble. Three of his children, Donald, Jimmy and Margaret, still live in South Kintyre. In 1941 John joined the war effort and went to sea, serving with the Royal Artillery Maritime Branch.


John Irwin, shot-firer, Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. Photo courtesy of Donald Irwin, Drumlemble ©

It was on his return to Kintyre that he started to work at Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. The colliery, which was was driven in 1946, was originally called the Lady Lithgow mine, after the wife of the owner, Lord Lithgow. The mine was nationalised in 1947. John did his underground training in Fife and worked as a shotfirer. In 1948 the family moved from 16 Front Row, Drumlemble to a Pre-Fab house in Rhudal, also in Drumlemble.

Donald, John’s son, remembers visiting the colliery on pay days, where his dad treated him to a roll in the canteen – he recalls both Flo Docherty and Cathy Greenlees, the women who worked there. In 1963, just after he left school, Donald had to go to collect his Christmas present at the canteen, an Airfix model of a B52 plane. Miners’ children all received good Christmas presents back in those days.



A page of notes from John Irwin’s shot firing training notebook. Courtesy of Donald Irwin ©

Donald also remembers miners’ gala days at Macharioch, Southend and at Clachan, and says the bus journeys were highly entertaining thanks to sing-songs led by Hamish McNeil, who worked at the mine.

John Irwin suffered from work related health problems so stopped working as a shot-firer and got a job working at the switches in the mine. He finally left Argyll Colliery in 1963.

We have John’s son, Donald, to thank for providing the project with Coal Mining in Kintyre – a history of coal mining in Kintyre compiled by former mine manager David Seaman and the late Father Webb.

Bobby McNaughton – Apprentice Electrician


Robert “Bobby” McNaughton c. 1962, Kilkerran Road, Campbeltown, with Davaar Island in the background. Photo courtesy of Bobby McNaughton.

Robert “Bobby” McNaughton was born at Craigard, Campbeltown on 28/10/45. Bobby served as an apprentice electrician at the Argyll Colliery from 1961- 1964 until he was sent to Glasgow for further education. He worked alongside the colleagues who appear on the employee list here

There was another apprentice electrician working there too, who was senior to Bobby and whose name was Andrew Hall. Andrew was the son of the senior electrician. Bobby also worked alongside apprentice engineers, David Livingstone (whom Bobby thinks moved to Livingston) and Alastair McLaughlan. The three young men did their training together in Dunfermline. Bobby was then 16/17 years old.

The NCB sent Bobby to Glasgow to complete his education whilst finishing his apprenticeship at Cardowan Colliery. When he qualified and completed his apprenticeship he left the industry and never practiced his trade. He then went on to work for Phillips Electrical as a Lighting Engineer but realised that this was not for him either. He joined Lewis’s in Argyle Street (now Debenhams), in Glasgow, as a temp. but ended up staying there. Lewis’s sent Bobby to Keble College, Oxford and he became Personnel Manager in the store, a job he thoroughly enjoyed.

Bobby’s Uncle David appears on the Argyll Colliery employee list (no. 8). He was a fireman. He passed away 31 years ago on New Years Day. He lost a leg in an accident in the mine, from which he never recovered.

Bobby, now retired in Blackpool, still recalls Miners’ Gala Days, “All the kids loaded into buses and taken up the west road to a field where fun, games, competitions and eating was the order of the day”.


Bobby McNaughton. Photo courtesy of Bobby McNaughton ©

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 ©

More photos from Kenny McMillan’s family.

Here are some more photos Kenny McMillan’s photographic collection. Kenny worked at Argyll Colliery from 1947 until the mine closed in 1967. There are a couple that need some names putting to faces so we’d really appreciate you help. Following on from Angus Martin’s article about Inneans Bay it’s especially nice to see the photo below of a visit to the Sailor’s Grave. It’s also good to see some images from the gala days beginning to surface at last.


Miners’ Gala Day 1965. Kenny McMillan and Peter McCallum and on the bus, at the front Kenny’s sons Malcolm and Kenneth. The photograph was taken at the Esplanade, Campbeltown. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family.


Miners’ Gala Day, Clachan, Kintyre. Top row, ? , ? , ? , ? , Jim Fowler (?) , Kenny McMillan, Bobby Hamilton. Bottom row: Sandy Smith, George McMillan, Angus “Ibrox” McKinlay, ? , ?, ? . If you can identify any ot the men here, please contact us. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family.


Kenny McMillan and two other colleagues underground at Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. If you can identify the other two men, please get in touch. Here we can see the height of the roads at the mine – the seams of coal were 8-10 feet deep in places. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family.


We think that this photo is from a miner’s’ Gala Day. Top, L-R – Harry McGuire, ?, ?, ?, Jimmy McEwan, Archie Millar, Robert Livingstone, Jackie Galbraith, , ? , ? , ? , ? , ? , ?. Bottom, L-R Maurice McShannon, Kenny McMillan, ? , ? , ? .. Can you identify and name the other men and also the location? Contact us if you can help. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family.


L-R: Douglas McMillan, Malcolm McMillan, Kenny McMillan, Charlie Morrison, Donald McPhee and John McPhee,  Inneans Bay (South West coast of Kintyre), at the Sailor’s Grave.


Left to Right: Morag McMillan, Helen Babty (nee Hamilton), Saunders (the Mcmillans’ cousin), Katrina McMillan and Elizabeth Hamilton. Photo courtesy of the McMillan family.