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

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Archie McGeachy, shot-firer at Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Betty McSporran ©

My Dad, Archie McGeachy, was born on 11th September 1924. As we grew up, Dad often spoke in detail about his times at the coal mine in Machrihanish and of the camaraderie between the men. He worked as a shot firer.

There were mine shafts which extended to the Aros Farm, north of Machrihanish, and out under the sea. I recall there was actually flooding in the mine before the fires [and total extraction] eventually closed it down.

One of the things I remember is my Mum and aunts talking about the time a Clydesdale horse was turned out into the field, above Coalhill, between there and Trochoillean Farm. In the morning it had fallen down a hole which appeared in the field. The horse was called Jacopa (I hope that is the correct spelling of its name). It was a sore loss to the farmer concerned.

In the heavy snowfall of February 1963 my Dad and I got stranded at Westport cottage and spent from the Tuesday till the Friday with a retired teacher, Miss McDougall, and her brother. There was quite a number of us including two policemen who divided all of us into two groups and the remainder went to Low Balevain Farm to enjoy the hospitality of the Binnie family. Drifts were above the Telegraph poles but Mr Binnie walked through the snow every day bringing baking, milk and potatoes to help feed us. We had the Jacobs Biscuits traveller with us too but his only samples were coconut mallows to help supplement our diet. I have never been able to eat one from that day till this! Hughie Anderson from Machrihanish was stranded as well. He drove the pit lorry and it was loaded with coal. Craig’s coal lorry was stranded likewise. Miss McDougall’s coal bunker was well filled .

Hughie, Dad and I set off on the Friday and walked the shore line to the Backs Water where we parted company. Dad and I stopped off at West Trodigal farm where Mrs Armour fed us with a bowl of homemade soup. We then stopped off at the miners’ canteen at Argyll Colliery where Dad bought some cigarettes – he hadn’t smoked for days. When we reached home we had to call the police station and let them know that we had made it! The  Campbeltown Courier reported the story. I was the only female stranded but they obviously thought I didn’t merit consideration as they made no mention of that fact. I may add that I was the only person who went back in person to thank Miss McDougall. Dad and I were so grateful and felt we were lucky to be alive as we wouldn’t have stood a chance against the snow.

I remember playing in the houses in Drumlemble that ran along from the hall to where the bus shelter now stands. The roofs were off the houses by then and the windows were covered by corrugated iron. The side row houses’ ruins were really only an outline of where the houses had been, as were the ruins next to Coalhill cottage. On the left hand side down the side row there were a few allotments and some had wee sheds standing on them.

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

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Drumlemble Mission Hall, now a private residence, and where a row of miners’ houses used to stand on the Campbeltown – Machrihanish road. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

There was a miners’ bus transporting the men from town out to the pit at Machrihanish to suit the shift times. We used to walk from Drumlemble to Campbeltown on a Sunday and catch a lift home with the miners’ bus.

Miners’ gala days and Christmas parties were always so exciting for us as we grew up. The Miners’ Welfare Hall in Bolgam Street in Campbeltown was where the parties were held. The picnics were huge family outings and are well remembered for such happy times.

My Dad developed a lung disorder due to the coal dust and spent a year in the sanatorium in Oban due to that. He was never able to do mine work after that and actually never able to do any manual work. He passed away as a young man aged 43 on 8th January 1968.

In 1982, when part of the playing field collapsed in Drumlemble, the whole of Rhudal cottages were decanted but the four houses in Burnbank were left. We were literally over the fence from this gaping hole. My brother, Leslie, worked with McFadyen Contractors then and he had a Coal Board official on the bucket of his JCB, with arm extended, in the shaft that ran between numbers 19 and 30 Rhudal cottages. I also recall where a mound appeared further along the playing field and the water spouted out of it like a fountain. Many years later the National Coal Board had to backfill underneath the self same Burnbank homes as one of the houses was sinking.

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Katrina, Cameron, Betty McSporran (née McGeachy), Betty’s sister, Margaret Blaylock and Alice McMurchy. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The bard of Kintyre is an ancestor of ours (James McMurchy). Interestingly enough his art has passed down through the generations. I myself have been published on six occasions and have written some lyrics for songs. At present I am working with Charlie McMillan who had written a pipe tune and I have added the words. We are at present in the process of trying to get it recorded to a CD. My brother, Leslie McGeachy, and my sister, Margaret Blaylock, are both prolific in the poetry genre as well.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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A history of coal mining in Kintyre

 

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Miners in South Kintyre (Drumlemble/Machrihanish). Photo courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre, Campbeltown.

When I was researching the film, The Road to Drumleman, about Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish, both George McMillan, Campbeltown, a former collier at Argyll Colliery and Donald Irwin, Drumlemble, the son of a collier, gave me copies of a document which traced the history of coal mining in South Kintyre. It was put together by former Argyll Colliery manager, David Seaman M.I.M.E. C.ENG. In his introduction, Seaman names the Rev. Father Webb, Campbeltown and Duncan Colville, Machrihanish, as important contributors to the this document.

The history begins in 1494 when King James IV visited his castles in Tarbert, Dunaverty and Kilkerran and ends with the closure of Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish in 1967. It contains often detailed information which helps bring alive Kintyre’s industrial past.

For instance instance in 1879…

“A cargo of Drumlemble coals was shipped this week by the schooner ‘Julie’ for Denmark; several cargoes have been shipped this season for Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Prussia”.

This document will be useful to anyone with an interest in coal mining in South Kintyre. It has been typed up from a poor quality, photocopied version and so we now have the electronic version online which can viewed publicly. Many thanks to Morag McMillan of SKDT and Elizabeth McTaggart for their time and effort in typing this up for the project. Thanks also to George and Donald for making this important historical record available to us all. To view the full document 

Jan Nimmo

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Coal miners at “Lone Creek” an illegal mine at Tirfergus Farm, near Drumlemble – 1920’s. Photo courtesy of Campbeltown Heritage Centre, Campbeltown.

Hugh Sinclair, Surface Foreman.

I received the following information, photo and painting from Hugh Sinclair, about his grandfather, whom Hugh is named after. It’s great to see the painting of Hugh’s grandfather by the well known landscape artist, Maude Parker and to know a bit about his connection with mining in Drumlemble and Machrihanish.

Jan Nimmo

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Painting of Hugh Sinclair, as a boy at Machrihanish. The painting is by landscape artist, Maude Parker. Courtesy of Hugh Sinclair ©

My grandfather, Hugh Sinclair, lived all his life in Drumlemble, a near neighbour of your great uncle Neily Brown and your grandmother Bella. When he left school in the early 1900’s I believe he worked at Coalhill mine above Drumlemble until he served in the Argyll’s during World War I and beyond. When he retired from the army he worked as golf professional and Greenkeeper at Machrihanish Ladies Golf Club. He and my grandmother, Elizabeth (nee Thomson) had five daughters: Margaret, Jean, Betty Maureen and Elsie (my mother).

When the Argyll Colliery opened in the late 40’s he worked there as Surface Foreman until he retired in 1963. Times must have been good working at Machrihanish Colliery as he was 69 years old when he retired. He died in 1971 aged 77 years and 7 months.

Hugh Sinclair

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Hugh Sinclair starting a golf competition at the Ladies’ Golf Club, Machrihanish, Kintyre. Photo courtesy of Machrihanish Golf Club ©

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Hugh Sinclair, centre, at Kilvivan. Photo courtesy of Helen Bapty, Hugh’s granddaughter ©

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Hugh Sinclair, standing, top left. This photo is was taken at “Lone Creek’ High Tirfergus Farm, Drumlemble. Photo courtesy of Helen Babty (neé Hamilton) ©

Lines on “An Accident at Coalhill” by James MacMurchy

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

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

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

Jan Nimmo

Lines on the “Accident at Coallhill”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Mac Murchy

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

Colliers at Drumlemble in the Old Parishioners Registers (1802 -1815)

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Colliers, South Kintyre. Photo courtesy of the late Willie McKinlay of Campbeltown ©

I am at present engaged in a project which involves going through the Old Parish Registers for Campbeltown entry by entry.  The specification of occupations began in these records in 1802, and it seems a worthwhile exercise to note all those births/baptisms which mention the colliery then at Drumlemble.  Not all mine-workers are identified as such, but most are, and from these records it will be possible to form an idea of the families at Drumlemble and nearby Coalhill which were involved in the industry.

Coalhill, which was a settlement up the brae from the present village of Drumlemble, at about NR 662 192, is hardly mentioned in these records, but I suspect that many, if not most, of the entries relate to Coalhill.  Certainly, in the ‘List of Inhabitants upon the Duke of Argyle’s Property in Kintyre’ of 1792, Coalhill is the larger community, with 144 occupants, against 86 in Drumlemble, with a number of these latter employed and living on the farm there.

The following list of the heads of households at Coalhill in 1792 will demonstrate that ‘Coalhill’ in the Old Parish Registers is lumped in with Drumlemble: John McDonald, Archibald Crawford, Samuel Biggam, John Omay, Duncan McPhaddan, Norman Currie, David Watson, Hugh McKenzie, Samuel McArthur, Ronald Johnston, Thomas McKendrick, William Campbell, Malcolm Kerr, Donald McCallum, Donald MacNeill, Lachlan Omay, Peter Smith, Alexander McPhaddan, Hugh Kelly, Donald McKenzie, Donald Sinclair, John McKillop, Malcolm McKillop, James McNeill, John Sinclair, Archibald McArthur, Alexander McKillop, John Leckie, Dugald Martine, and Torquill McNeill.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Drumlemble/Coalhill, with its coal mine, was the largest settlement in Campbeltown Parish outwith the town itself and its satellite villages, Dalintober, Lochend and Dalaruan.  The village now known as Machrihanish was, in the early 19th century, a small fishing community, variously known as ‘Mary Pans’, ‘Salt Pans’ or simply ‘Pans’, and Stewarton did not come into existence until about 1804 and did not expand significantly until the 20th century.

The project will end with the year 1854, after which the recording of births and marriages – and additionally deaths – was taken out of the hands of the churches and became the responsibility of parish registrars. This list will be supplemented periodically as I work my way through the registers.  Spellings are – or should be – as written in the records.

Angus Martin ©

1802

1802:  Malcolm Kerr, ‘coalier’, & Catharine Watson, ‘Drumlemble’, son John born 12/9.

1803

1803: Alexander McKillop, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Catharine MacPhail, daughter Effy born 23/3.

1803: John McKillop, ‘coalier at Drumlemble’, & Margaret Leckie, son Alexander born 4/6.

1803: Donald Sinclair, ‘Coalier at Coalhill’, & Anne Elder, son Donald born 12/8.

1803: Archibald MacGrigor, ‘Workman at Drumlemble Coal Works’, & Isobell Johnston, son Ronald born 18/8.

1803: Neill Thomson, ‘Workman Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Jean Armour, son Neill born 7/10.

1803: John MacCallum, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Curry, son Neil born 22/11.

1803: William Kerr, ‘overseer of Drumlemble Coalworks’, & Margaret MacNeill, son David born 10/12.

1804

1804: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Florence Leckie, daughter Isobell born 8/4.

1804: Archibald MacArthur, ‘coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, daughter Margaret born 8/4.

1804: Neill MacNeill, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Flory MacNeill, daughter Christian born 3/5.

1804: Hugh McEacharn, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Jane Armour, daughter Mary born 22/8.

1804: John Campbell, ‘collier Coalhill’, & Margaret MacGeachy, son William born 22/10.

1805

1805: John Gribbon, ‘coalier at Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Rose MacCall, daughter Janet born 11/1.

1805: James McPhadan, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble Coalworks’, & Catharine Campbell, son Michael born 1/2.

1805: Malcom Kerr, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Catharine Watson, daughter Janet born 6/3.

1805: David Watson, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble Coalworks’, & Janet Kerr, daughter Margaret born 2/4.

1805: John Omay, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Effy Henderson, twins More & Alexander born two days apart according to entry, More on 9/5 & Alexander on 11/5.

1805: Archibald MacGregor, ‘Collier at Drumlemble’, & Isobell Johnston, son Archibald born 18/5.

1805: Peter Hunter, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Jean Bruce, son Duncan born 18/5.

1805: Hugh MacPhail, ‘Weaver and Collier at Drumlemble’, & Mary McLean, son John born 23/5.

1805: Alexander MacKillop, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Catharine MacPhail, son Archibald born 27/8.

1805: John MacLauchlin, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Janet MacFie, son Angus born 10/9.

1805: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drimlemble’, & Margaret Leckie, daughter Florence born 27/11.

1806

1806: Samuel MacArthur, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Janet Watson, daughter Janet born 4/1.

1806: John MacCallum, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Catherine Currie, daughter Margaret born 22/1.

1806: Lauchlin MacNeill, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Isobell MacCallum, son James born 17/6.

1806: John Thomson, ‘Coalier at Drimlemble’, & Margaret MacNeill, son Neill born 3/7.

1806: John Campbell, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret MacGeachy, daughter Mary born 19/8.

1806: Donald Sinclair, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Anne Elder, son Duncan born 6/9.

1806: Archibald MacArthur, ‘Coalier in Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, son David born 7/9.

1806: Robert Summervile, ‘Grive [grieve or overseer] at Drumlemble’, & Agnes Craig, son Robert born 16/9

1806: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Florence Leaky, son John born 4/10.

1807

1807: James McPhadan, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Campbell, son William born 26/1.

1807: John MacKillop Junr., ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Margaret Kelly, daughter Margaret born 30/5.

1807: Robert Peden, ‘Coalier at Drumlemble’, & Mary MacGilvray, son James born 4/7.

1807: John MacCallum, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Curry, daughter Isobell born 14/7.

1807: Hugh MacDonald, ‘Engineer Drumlemble Coalwork’, & Mary MacMillan, son John born 18/7.

1807: Alexander MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine MacPhail, daughter Margaret born 31/12.

1808:

1808: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Lakie, son Andrew born 24/2.

1808: Hugh MacPhail, ‘Weaver & Collier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLean, son Hugh born 29/3.

1808: Hugh MacDonald, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Mary MacDonald [for MacCallum], daughter Janet born 2/7.

1808: Malcom Kerr, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Watson, daughter Florence born 13/7.

1808:  John Campbell, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret MacGeachy, daughter Janet born 20/7.

1808: John MacLachlin, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Janet MacFie, son Daniel born 29/8.

1809

1809: John Gribbon, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Rose MacCulloch, daughter Rose born 20/4.

1809: James MacPhaden, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Campbell, daughter Margaret born 17/5.

1809: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Kelly, daughter Mary born 19/5.

1809: Dugall MacTaggart, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & More MacAlester, son John born 27/6.

1809: Archibald MacArthur, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, daughter Mary born 29/6.

1809: John Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Smith, daughter Anne born 12/9.

1809: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Flory Lecky, daughter Mary born 13/9.

1810

1810: Robert Peden, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Bryan, daughter Minie born 17/1.

1810: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Leaky, daughter Margaret born 27/1.

1810/23/4: John McCallum, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Curry, son Donald.

1810/24/10: David Watson, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Janet Kerr, daughter Anne.

1811

1811/16/5: James Anderson, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLeonan, son William.

1811/15/8: John Gribbon, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Rose MacCullach, daughter Catharine.

1811/7/11: John Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Smith, son Donald.

1812

1812/29/1: John Miller, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Flora Lacky, daughter Flora.

1812/23/3: Robert Peden, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Bryan, son John.

1812/18/5: John MacKillop, ‘Coalier in Drumlemble’, & Margaret Leakey, daughter Mary.

1812/23/5: John MacLachlin, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Janet MacFie, son Archibald.

1813

1813/12/1: Hugh MacDonald, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Mary MacDonald, daughter Isobell.

1813/16/1: John MacCallum, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Catharine Currie, son John.

1813/5/2: Hugh MacPhail, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLean, daughter Mary.

1813/17/2: James Kerr, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Elizabeth OMay, son Malcom.

1813/28/3: Duncan Sinclair, ‘Coalier Newton Ayr’, & Margaret Sinclair, daughter Catharine.

1813/22/7: James Mains, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Wylee, son Robert.

1813/4/8: John Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Mary Smith, son Hugh.

1813/25/9: James Anderson, ‘Engineer Drumlemble’, & Mary MacLeonan, daughter Anne.

1813/9/12: Archd MacArthur, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Watson, daughter Flora.

1814

1814/9/4: John Campbell, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Margaret MacGeachy, daughter Catharine.

1814/20/9: James Kerr, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Elizabeth O’May, daughter Effy.

1814/20/9: Duncan Sinclair, ‘Coalier Drumlemble’, & Margaret Sinclair, son Neill.

1815

1815/20/1: Dugald Campbell, ‘Collier Drumlemble’, & Mary MacMath, daughter Mary.