The following images can be viewed at Campbeltown Heritage Centre – for full details visit their website here. Many thanks to C.H.C. for allowing us to publish these images on the TRTD blog.
Tag Archives: Donald Irwin
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 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.
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.
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.
A history of coal mining in Kintyre
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
Supper and dance at the White Hart Hotel
Thanks to curator at Campbeltown Museum, Elaine McChesney, for the photograph below. The ticket was given to the Museum by Donald Irwin of Drumlemble. This would have been one of many social events organised by the Miners’ Social Club in Campbeltown. The Club was situated in Bolgam Street, in what was originally the Court House, which is thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Campbeltown. The White Hart Hotel is situated on the corner of Main Street and Argyll Street. I’d be interested to hear more about these supper dances and am wondering what “Informal Dress” would have looked like in 1949! If you have any information please contact me here.