Trodigal Cottage: A song by Willie Mitchell


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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

Calum McLean – a schoolboy visit to Argyll Colliery that went off with a bang!

In 1961, Calum McLean from Campbeltown, went on an underground visit to Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish, which was organised by Campbeltown Grammar School, where he was a pupil. Calum was one of a group of about 6 fourteen year olds. He recalls that two of the other boys that were with him were Davey Livingstone and Alistair McLaughlin. While they were underground, Dan Stalker, let Calum set off a blast and Calum says it gave him “Quite a fright!”.

Calum didn’t like the “no windows” aspect of the mine and decided that a job down there wasn’t for him so when he left school he went to work at the Jaeger factory, known locally in Campbeltown as “The Clothing Factory”.

Calum married Roselyn Farmer whose father, Charlie Farmer or Feeny,  worked at Argyll Colliery.

Calum, who wasn’t from a mining family, was still able to go on Miners’ Gala Days as these were open to all children and recalls going up to a Gala Day at Ronachan beach, on the north west coast of Kintyre. He remembers that there were four buses full of children and that he won half a crown for winning a race. Later that day Calum and his pals climbed up a steep hill and ran all the way back down. As he ran down the hill the half crown fell out of his pocket and was lost forever!

Calum McLean.jpg

Calum McLean, Campbeltown. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Dr. Wallace recalls an underground incident at Argyll Colliery


Dr. Archie Wallace at his home in Campbeltown in December 2016. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

In November 2016, I paid a visit to Dr. Wallace who practised as a family doctor in Campbeltown from 1949, alongside Dr. McPhail. The consulting rooms at that time were in the stone snecked building on the north side of Burnside Square (now the Argyll and Bute CARS/Townscape Heritage Initiative Office). During my visit to Dr Wallace, now in his nineties, he talked about a particular incident where he was called to treat some men who had gotten into trouble in one of the underground roads at Argyll Colliery.

Here is transcript of the interview:

Yes, well I’m Archie Wallace, my age is in the 90s now and my memory is quite good but it’s maybe not just 100% and I certainly don’t want to over-dramatise what went on…. I’ve really got very little idea of when this actually happened or the names of the people that were involved, and, as I say, I don’t want to over-dramatise it….

It was either a Saturday or a local holiday, because the mine wasn’t functioning, but people called deputies had to carry out an examination of the mine every day, including holidays, and a couple of men would to do their usual walk down the roads – they called them roads, which are channels, and these had to be examined. Now I don’t know what raised the alarm – whether the man in the office was expecting them back and they didn’t arrive or whether there was some communication to say that they were in trouble somewhere, maybe a telephone line of some sort, that they had down there or some communication – I’ve no idea. I went to the Cottage Hospital on my way out to Machrihanish to collect an oxygen cylinder in case it should have been needed.

So, anyway, the story I got, I just happened to be on call that day, was that people were in trouble and they might require medical assistance so out I went and I remember that there were four guys or maybe five. I don’t remember who they were except for one man called James Fowler, he stays in Ralston Road, I remember him quite clearly because he’s quite a tall fellow.

Well, we went down one of the roads, and we were going to a part of the mine which hadn’t been worked for a while but it still had to be inspected. We made our way along this road, as they called it, and that was quite scary for me because I’d never been down before and parts of that channel were quite narrow and you had to bend down to get through. As we got further away I did notice that the quality of the air was not very good and not being used to these conditions I was absolutely sweating, profusely, so much so, that it was running into my eyes, and above, there were these awful creaking noises which sounded like the whole thing was going to collapse. These were the conditions that these guys had to work in. 

Well, we got to where they were and they were semi-conscious but they looked quite healthy. The reason they looked quite healthy was because it was carbon monoxide (poisoning) – which when it combines with the blood it turns a pinkish colour – the capillaries of the face turn pink and they don’t actually look all that ill but the quality of the air was terrible. I think what helped was that they were on the ground and the carbon monoxide had risen to the top of the vault. So I was able to give them some oxygen and they recovered a bit but I was anxious to get them up but because I didn’t want to finish up with two of them and five of us and not being able to move them, though we had some oxygen. 


The entrance to Argyll Colliery. A.C. was a drift mine so the miners were transported underground by rail. Photo courtesy of the Scottish National Mining Museum.

What happened was the main had been on fire, one of the spontaneous fires that mines get, and we used to see smoke coming up from the neighbouring farm, right from out of the ground. Eventually they closed it and sealed it off to see if the lack of oxygen would sort this out and it seemed to do the trick. But it was after that, that this happened. And what had happened was that the carbon monoxide was building somewhere in that area and I don’t know what would suddenly make it much worse and the quality of the air that we were breathing was just not sustainable. If they were to make their way back, that’s what they thought so that’s maybe why they asked for help.

Anyway, the way back was a bit of a nightmare because there were two extra people who had to be assisted and we had to stop every now and again to get our breath back and to get a few puffs of oxygen. About 10 minutes into it I noticed that the dial on the oxygen cylinder was at zero, so I was just praying that we would be alright. A lot of this was just a bit of phobia on my part and maybe I was panicking a bit, but we were struggling; we were breathing heavily, we weren’t getting enough oxygen. That, as I say, went on for about 10 minutes and eventually, I think I was at the front, I turned a corner, and you’ve heard the phrase, “a breath of fresh air”…  And we got a breath of fresh air, and by God, I can tell you it was welcome. And we were home and dry… So it wasn’t all that fantastic…. but nobody seemed to know anything about this. The manager at that time was Mr Seaman, I think that was his name, as I can’t remember the guys’ names and it didn’t even get into the Courier and my feeling was that the Coal Board just didn’t want any publicity about it and maybe they told the mining guys, you know, “just to hush this up”…. And of course I wasn’t prepared to say anything either, except over the years, I gave a talk to the Rotary about it because I thought they would be interested and they really were interested, but that was about all…

And another thing, not that I was looking for anything in any way at all, but you think there would have been a note or something to say thank you for your help, but there was nothing! Not a thing! Extraordinary really! It was almost as though they had decided that – I think that they were afraid that there would be repercussions and that maybe they had re-opened the mine too soon.

 I knew a lot of the miners, they were patients of mine and were golfing friends, like Dan Stalker, and all that crowd, so l knew them quite well but I can’t remember recognising the fellows that were with me.


Argyll Colliery Rescue Team – Jim Fowler, second from the left. Photo courtesy of the late Jim Fowler ©

When Morag McLean (nee McMillan), Campbeltown, put a piece together for this blog about her father, Kenny McMillan, in an extract from one of his diaries he mentions that “T. McFarlane was Gassed” in 1958. I have asked Dr. Wallace if he may have been one of the men involved in this incident but the name didn’t ring a bell… Dr. Wallace doesn’t remember the date of this incident but it is most likely to have occurred after the big fire of 1958.

If anyone has any other information about this incident please contact me.

Jan Nimmo

Miss Agnes Rennie

I was put in touch with Miss Agnes Rennie by her niece, Anne Stewart, who lives in Machrihanish, by Campbeltown. Agnes, who was 94 years old when I visited her in 2014, was born in Helensburgh in 1920. Her grandfather, whom she never met, was a miner, as were some of her maternal uncles. As I understand it, her grandfather Shearer was from the Dennyloanhead/Longcroft area in Falkirk.

As a young woman Agnes studied Institutional Management at Glasgow College of Domestic Science, popularly known as “The Dough School” which was situated just next to Kelvingrove Park. Her first jobs were in hospitals, including Gartnavel Hospital, in the west of Glasgow. She then spent approximately 30 years with the NCB (National Coal Board). Agnes was based in Alloa and was in charge of supervising the catering/canteens in collieries all across Scotland. The area manager at the time was a Mr Lang, who had worked his way up from being a miner and, according to Agnes, was a very considerate person to work for. This work involved Agnes and her assistant, Pat Angus, visiting Argyll Colliery roughly every 6 weeks. She made the journey by plane and remembered that she stayed at the Argyll Hotel in Campbeltown.


Miss Agnes Rennie, who worked for the NCB, visited Argyll Colliery regularly, including during the fire of 1958. Pencil drawing by Jan Nimmo ©

When, in 1958 spontaneous combustion caused a fire to break out at the Machrihanish mine, a dedicated rescue team was brought from Coatbridge by the NCB to assist the Argyll Colliery workforce. This operation meant keeping the canteen open 24 hours a day, so Agnes and her assistant were told to pack their bags for the long drive to Kintyre to organise the opening of the canteen. Here she worked alongside the local women who ran the canteen on a day-to-day basis and served the men who were fighting the fire. Agnes describes how the team who were brought in were catered for at the expense of the NCB. Agnes, off her own bat, also supplied the men from Coatbridge with writing paper, envelopes and stamps so that they could write home to their families.


The Fire Rescue Team Coatbridge/Argyll Colliery underground at Argyll Colliery in 1958. Photo courtesy of the late Jim Fowler ©

Typical meals provided were soup, mince and potatoes, stew, followed by  apple tart and custard. “Pieces” were made up for the men to take underground. There was home baking in the canteens too; scones, pancakes etc. Agnes thought that on this occasion she was there for three days and that she stayed at the Ugadale Hotel in Machrihanish. She also remembered that she visited the Argyll Colliery when it was in the process of being closed (1967).

Agnes said that, as a young woman, she never imagined that she would end up working with miners but went on to say that she loved her job, and that, although many people looked down on colliery workers, she thought that they were “the salt of the earth”. She remembered the men as always being very pleasant and that she enjoyed her visits to Campbeltown and was at pains to say that the women who ran the canteen at Argyll Colliery did a very good job.


Miss Agnes Rennie, aged 94, (2014) worked with the NCB for 30 years and was a regular visitor to Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, Kintyre. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

First shipment of Coal from Argyll Colliery


“First shipment of coal from Argyll Colliery”, Campbeltown Courier, 16th February, 1950. From the Campbeltown Library Collection.

Letter to Argyll Colliery from Prime Minister, Clement Attlee.


Kenny  McMillan. Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Morag McLean (nee McMillan) ©

The following letter was shared by Morag McLean (nee McMillan) whose father, Kenny McMillan, received it in 1951 from the then Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee.

Attlee’s government was responsible for the nationalisation of the coal industry in Britain in 1947The newly established body for the nationalised industry, the National Coal Board, offered sick pay and holiday pay to miners and there were health and safety improvements as well as a better working relationship with the unions. Hours were reduced, wages rose and pithead baths became standard at collieries around Britain.


The Sailor’s Grave at the Inneans


Looking south across  the Inneans Bay to the slopes of Cnoc Moy, with Largiebaan out of sight around the corner, 9th October 2016. Photograph: George McSporran ©

Next year (2017) is not only the 50th anniversary of the closure of Argyll Colliery, but the 100th anniversary of the Sailor’s Grave in the Inneans Bay.

There follows an extract on the interment from my latest book, A Third Summer in Kintyre, but a little more background is required, particularly on the involvement of miners in the care of the grave.

Few who are familiar with the terrain between Machrihanish and the Mull of Kintyre would dispute the claim that the Inneans Bay is the loveliest spot on that entire rugged Atlantic coastline.  For the grandeur of its cliffs, Largiebaan surpasses the Inneans as a scenic wonder, but the Inneans has qualities which Largiebaan lacks: easier accessibility and an extensive level grassy foreshore which lends itself to picnicking and camping.

The Inneans remains a popular destination for local hikers and campers, and the creation of the Kintyre Way in 2006 has made the bay a familiar sight to thousands of visitors who walk that trail.

It is impossible to reckon for how long the Inneans has attracted local walkers, but it has been a destination for ramblers from Machrihanish and Drumlemble, in the main, for more than a century, and has been a camping spot for almost as long.

The peak of the camping phase came just after the Second World War, and the miners were prominent in that.  This was, of course, before cheap air travel encouraged foreign holidays.

A small tent, now within the means of everyone, was for these poorly paid miners a financial impossibility, and various improvised shelters were used, and sometimes none: they would lie in the open around a fire which was kept going all night.  But in the mid-1960s, the Hamilton brothers, Stewart and Malcolm, acquired a large tent which was lugged, in stages, over the moors from Ballygroggan to the Inneans and pitched permanently in the bay.  When it eventually collapsed and rotted, it was replaced in the early 1970s by a little hut built with sloping walls of overlapped planking, which someone later burnt down.


The Hamilton family tent in the Inneans Bay, looking  north on a drizzly day. The photo was taken by Angus Martin on 24th september 1967, on his first camping trip to the Inneans, with Iain Campbell, his friend and neighbour in Crosshill Avenue. Being nervous about using the big tent – which, it transpired, was unoccupied – they spent  a miserable night in their own small tent with no groundsheet. They discovered later that the Hamiltons were easy about visitors using their tent as long as they behaved themselves and replaced any provisions they used. Photograph by Angus Martin ©

Large groups of miners and friends would spend a week or two camping in the Inneans in the summer.  They passed the time by fishing for saithe and pollack from the rocks, snaring rabbits (now apparently extinct in the bay), and, round the camp-fire at night, by story-telling and singing. There was even, in the 1960s, a three-hole golf course in the bay, laid out by the Hamilton brothers and their friend Willie McArthur.


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

And all the time the Sailor’s Grave was tended; but the traditional custodians of the site are now either dead or unfit to reach the bay, and the present cross is now broken and rotting.  It needs urgent attention and the centenary next year may provide an opportunity to organise a more permanent memorial.  It is not my place, however, to implement any plan without public approval, and in particular the approval of those families which have been most closely associated with the care of the grave, so a fund-raising event will be organised in Campbeltown later this year and a solution discussed.


At the Sailor’s Grave, 9th October 2016. The dilapidated state of the cross is plain to see. L-R Alastair Thompson, his wife Liz, George McSporran and Angus Martin. Alastair, who has contributed a substantial donation to the Sailor’s Grave fund, was previously at the Inneans with Angus Martin on 27th August 1967, approaching 50 years ago. He has lived in Canada for most of his life. Photograph by Sandy McSporran ©

My suggestion, for what it is worth, will be to mount a new cross on top of a small cairn and on to the cairn fix a plaque with the following inscription, or similar: ‘Erected by public subscription in May 2017 to mark the human remains found in this bay by Duncan Sinclair, shepherd, Largiebaan, and ceremonially interred in this spot on 11 May.  This centenary memorial also recognises the dedicated service of generations of local families who voluntarily tended the grave.  6 May 2017.’  Thus, even should the cross never be replaced, the grave will still be marked.  A fuller account of this proposal will be found in the latest issue of the Kintyre Magazine (No 80, Autumn 2016, p 26).

I hope that others, who have spent convivial days and nights at the Inneans, will add their memories to this blog. These contributions need not be great literature.  Ultimately, it’s the stories that count, and the photographs too.

Angus Martin

An extract from A Third Summer in Kintyre by Angus Martin

The Sailor’s Grave


The wheel-headed cross which stood at the Sailor’s Grave for many years until it was replaced in 1981. It was acquired second-hand from Kilkerran Cemetery by the late Duncan McLachlan, Campbeltown, a painter and signwriter , who added new lettering. The cross was carried to the bay by the late John Kelly, Machrihanish, in his small motor-boat and set up on the grave by the Hamilton brothers, Malcolm and Stewart. Photograph: Agnes Stewart 1977 ©

The cross on the grave, as reported in Another Summer in Kintyre (p 176), is in poor shape: the top had broken off and been tied on with twine. My suggestion, in that book, that a more durable memorial should be erected for the centenary of the interment, May 2017, had already elicited responses. An old school friend in Canada, Alastair Thompson, sent me £200, suggesting I buy myself a bottle of ten-year old ‘Ardbeg’ malt whisky and put the balance towards the memorial, a generous and inspiring gesture, and John  MacDonald later donated £100.

At least six of them have succumbed to natural decay, weathering and the rubbing of animals; in other words, a wooden structure in that exposed spot can’t be expected to last longer than about fifteen years on average. As the last of the grave’s caretakers die out, has the time come to erect a lasting monument there? Since I have no authority to end the tradition of wood, as the centenary of the burial approaches I’ll arrange a public discussion on the question of a replacement memorial. I hope, however,  that considerations of longevity will prevail over those of custom.

I referred to ‘caretakers’, and I’ll introduce some of them now. They were assembled, as it were, in an article in the Campbeltown Courier in 1964. I didn’t know the article existed until I found it in 2014 while checking the newspaper files for something else. I was 12 when it was published and don’t remember seeing it; even if I had seen it, it wouldn’t have meant much to me because I’d probably never heard of the Inneans, let alone the Sailor’s Grave. But when I read ‘For 50 Years They Have Tended Unknown Sailor’s Grave’, its poignancy hit me. Fifty years further on, I was familiar with the story and with the men and boys mentioned in it, but, of course, most of them are now dead.

The article contains a few errors, and I’ll offer corrections, but in a spirit of humility, since my later researches enabled me to pick away the embroidered edges of a story which had been preserved in oral tradition alone. The burial was not reported in either of the local newspapers at the time; in 1917, the pages of the Argyllshire Herald and the Campbeltown Courier were packed with news of the war and with obituaries and photographs of the Kintyre soldiers and sailors who had been killed, wounded or captured on the battlefields of Europe. Information on skeletal remains washed ashore on a remote beach either didn’t reach the newspaper offices or was disregarded.

The Courier article opens with the statement that ‘For almost 50 years a few Kintyre men have tended the grave of an unknown sailor whose body was washed ashore near Machrihanish during the First World War’. There was no evidence on the corpse to suggest that the man – if a man and not a woman – had been a sailor. When a police report turned up in the Argyll and Bute Archive in Lochgilphead in 1985, the remains were described as skeletal and unidentifiable. However, the assumption that the remains belonged to a sailor was entirely reasonable, and that the grave became known as ‘The Sailor’s Grave’ was almost inevitable. On other coasts, bodies washed ashore were generally assumed to be sailors, and the graves named accordingly.

The article continues

The story began on one sunny morning in May 1917, when three young men from Drumlemble Village, out amping, came across the sailor’s body on the shore south of Machrihanish. They were Donald Munro, John Lambie and Duncan McPhail. After reporting their find to the Receiver of Wreck, a coffin was obtained and the body was buried in a field overlooking the sea. There was no fuss and no funeral service. Since the body was partly decomposed and there was no means of identifying it, the civil and military authorities did not come into the picture. 

Of the three men named as the finders, in 1964 only Donald Munro, aged 66 and living at 14 Rhudal Cottages, Drumlemble, was ‘still alive and resident in the district’. While researching the Sailor’s Grave for Kintyre: The Hidden Past (1984), I encountered two conflicting stories about the finding of the corpse: the one above and one which credited Duncan Sinclair as the finder. Donald Munro was by then dead, but Duncan Sinclair, who had been head shepherd at Ballygroggan, was still alive, living in retirement in Machrihanish. He supplied me with a written account of his role in the corpse’s discovery and I judged that to be the ‘strongest evidence’. As I remarked in the book: ‘It is quite possible, of course, that the body could have been  “discovered” several times over, but it certainly could not have been buried several times over.’ The counter-claim therefore remains a puzzle. The police report, by P.C. John MacDonald in Machrihanish, is dated 12 May 1917 and records that the body was found by Duncan Sinclair, shepherd at Largiebaan, on Sunday 6 May, and that the ‘bones’ were buried on 11 May ‘above high water mark at the place where they were found’. Duncan Sinclair gave the following statement:

On Sunday 6th May 1917 I was going through the hill attending to my Sheep Stock, and when about two miles from Largiebaan nearer Machrihanish I went along the shore noticed that my dogs observed something on the shore amongst the rocks on the shore. I went to the place where I found a Skeleton lying below a rock, the skull & feet was amissing. And as I was sure it was a Skeleton of a human being I went to Machrihanish and reported the matter to the Constable.

In the account Duncan later gave me, he identified the burial party on 11 May as Machrihanish lobster fisherman Robert Rae, in whose boat the party sailed to the bay, Robert’s daughter Nellie, Duncan’s sister Annie, and P.C. MacDonald. Duncan was preoccupied with lambing that day and missed the burial.

The ‘sailor’ wasn’t forgotten, though, and the tending of is grave was the focus of the 1964 Courier article. As the anonymous writer observed: ‘There is no special organisation, no committee behind this remarkable example of parochial humanity. It has been done so quietly and spontaneously that only a handful of people in Kintyre know where the grave is.’ The outline of the grave was described as being ‘covered with pebbles, sea shells and glass bottles’. (The latter were doubtless glass flotation-balls which were lost from fishing gear and drifted ashore. These were collectable, until replaced by plastic floats, and could be seen as decorative features on pathways and in gardens.) The cross bore the ‘roughly cut out’ date 16 May 1917 and the words ‘God Knows’. The specificity of the date is misleading, and ‘May 1917’, which would cover both the date of the body’s discovery and of its burial, might now be preferred.

Angus MartinSailorsgrave_1.jpg

The subsequent cross was made by Neil Brown, a joiner, Campbeltown, and carried to the Inneans Bay on 29th July 1981 by Neil, his son Stephen, his brother-in-law George MacKendrick and Teddy Lafferty who took this photograph. Photograph: Teddy Lafferty ©

Malcolm Hamilton  was interviewed for the article. His father, Robert, had tended the grave before him, and Malcolm occasionally took his sons Robert (13) and Leslie (7) with him to the Inneans. In the following week’s issue of the Courier, a photograph of the grave was published with two young boys – Robert and Leslie, presumably – flanking the cross. ‘As long as I am here,’ Malcolm is quoted as saying, ‘I will continue to go round. My two boys are very keen on those trips to Eanon and I am trying to encourage them.’

Willie McArthur was also interviewed. When asked why he and the other ‘volunteers’ gave ‘their time and effort to caring for the grave of a man they did not know’, Willie replied: ‘One or two of us are old soldiers and I suppose it is a feeling of comradeship. Willie McArthur was the only one of all the adults mentioned in the article – the others were Willie Colville, Willie Brown, and Duncan McLachlan – I ever met in the Inneans, and that was in 1980, as recalled in A Summer in Kintyre (pp. 22-25).

A Mystery Verse

Several days after my walk to the Inneans with Don O’Driscoll, Agnes Stewart mentioned to me that Robert Brown had asked her about a ‘poem’ he’d seen, as a young boy, on the Inneans cross. He recited a couple of lines of it, but she didn’t recognise them and didn’t remember seeing them there. I did remember lines connected with the Sailor’s Grave, but they were out of reach in memory and I abandoned the struggle and fetched my file of Inneans material. I wasn’t optimistic of success there either, but the information was in that file and I’d forgotten I had it.


Looking south from Inneans Bay to the north coast of Antrim, 9th October 2016. Photograph: George McSporran ©

When I tape-recorded Duncan McLachlan in February 1981, he had plenty to say about the Sailor’s Grave. He had acquired, from Kilkerran Cemetery, a wheel-headed teak cross, of ‘Celtic’ design, which had marked the grave of an English sailor who drowned during the Second World War and was buried in Kilkerran. The sailor’s family had erected a new memorial and the cross was redundant. Duncan, a skilled sign-writer, added the customary lettering to the cross, John Kelly took it to the Inneans in his motor-boat, and it was set up on the grave by the Hamilton brothers and stood there until replaced in 1981.

But Duncan told me he had added something extra to the cross, a verse from a poem. He quoted the couplet, ‘Borne ashore by tidal hearse/ created a mystery time cannot pierce’, adding: ‘Well, it’s taken from the Ancient Mariner, isn’t it?’ These were indeed the lines I had struggled to recall, but I didn’t remember them from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous ballad, and they didn’t, to my ear, sound as though they could belong there, even had Duncan misquoted them slightly. His own uncertainty about the source of the quotation is obvious from his quizzical remark. The question was easily solved, of course. I read the entire Coleridge poem and failed to find the lines, but a further question took its place: what was the source of the couplet?

When I contacted Robert Brown to hear the lines he had recited to Agnes Stewart, they transpired to be substantially the same as those I had heard from Duncan. As Judy and I had done, Robert and his wife Margaret tried internet searches to establish a literary source, likewise without success. I asked him when he had seen the lines on the cross, and he reckoned his first time at the Inneans was with his father, John, around 1955, when he would have been about eight years old.

Angus Martin ©