Sailor’s Grave Centenary (1917-2017) – Angus Martin

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Inneans Bay, South West Kintyre, 2009. Photograph by Paul Barham ©

Exactly 20 persons, including myself and my wife Judy, were in the Inneans Bay on Saturday 6 May for a centenary memorial ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave. I had chosen that date mainly because it was a Saturday, and more people, especially those in work, would be able to come, but I later realised that it was the precise date of the body’s discovery: 6 May 1917, a Sunday.

The date on the succession of crosses erected in the bay has always been 16 May 1917, but a police report, which turned up in 1985, established that the skeletal torso was found on the shore on 6 May and buried on 12 May.

The finder was Duncan Sinclair, a young shepherd at Largiebaan and later head shepherd at Ballygroggan, and his witness statement was included with the report. This conclusively resolved the contentious issue of who had found the remains – see my Kintyre: The Hidden Past, pp. 144-45, published in 1984, the year before the police report emerged. According to Duncan, in a statement dictated to his daughter Mary, in September 1981, the burial party consisted of Machrihanish lobster-fisherman Robert Rae, whose boat took the party round to the Inneans Bay, his daughter Nelly Rae, Duncan’s sister Annie, and John MacDonald, the village police constable who had dealt with the report.

The various dates, however, are of little relevance, because the date of death, which is normally what appears on any grave memorial, will never be known. On to the previous cross, which by 2016 had fallen to bits, two small aluminium plates had been nailed, one with ‘God Knows’ engraved on it and the other with ‘16 May 1917’ on it, and these were salvaged and transferred to the new cross, thus preserving a degree of continuity.
Both that cross and its predecessor were made by Neil Brown, a Campbeltown joiner whose father, James, belonged to Drumlemble. Neil, for health reasons, was unable to attend the ceremony, but I telephoned him earlier that week to remind him of it. I asked him who had made the plates; he was unsure. After the ceremony, I was chatting to Angus Nimmo, who had come with his wife Valerie, who filmed the event, and he told me, when I described Neil, that he was actually his cousin – Angus’s mother, Bella, was a Drumlemble Brown.

The first cross Neil made was carried to the bay on 29 July 1981, by himself, son Stephen, brother-in-law George McKendrick and Teddy Lafferty (another who should have been at the event, but was unfit to go). Neil couldn’t remember when he replaced that one, but it would probably have been in the last years of the century. By my calculation, the present cross is the seventh, but there may be have another of which I am unaware. The evidence was laid out in Kintyre: The Hidden Past (pp. 145-46) and, again, in A Third Summer in Kintyre (pp. 168-74). Whatever the true number, it is clear that the average life-span of a wooden memorial on that exposed coast can’t be much more than 12 years.
The new cross is the biggest and heaviest ever erected there. It was made from durable pitch-pine salvaged from a renovation job in Campbeltown and donated by Mr Barry Colville of the local building firm, McKinven & Colville. The cross was crafted by Graham Sopp, a joiner with the firm and grandson of Mrs Elizabeth McTaggart, who took a keen interest in the memorial project from the outset and secured Graham’s involvement. Also crucially involved was Gary Anderson, a builder with McKinven & Colville and himself a keen hiker with an interest in local history. All previous crosses have been free-standing, but this one is lodged a metre into the ground and its base is protected by a bolted metal sheath and enclosed in a concrete basin. It has been further stabilised by a small cemented cairn. The cross has four coats of varnish on it, and Graham is confident of its potential for longevity.

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The maker of the new cross, Graham Sopp, attaching the plates from the previous cross prior to the ceremony on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis ©

The final work was done on 23 April, and it was work! Cement and sand, required for the first time in the history of the Sailor’s Grave, was carried out from Ballygroggan on a quad bike, by arrangement with Duncan McKinnon, head shepherd there, but the load could be taken only as far as the head of the Glen. From there, Graham, Gary, and Gary’s cousin, Steven Coffield, had to drag the bags into the bay – this after lugging the heavy cross and tools overland. When George McSporran and I arrived in the bay, early in the afternoon, the boys were almost exhausted before the work of erecting the cross had begun. Elizabeth McTaggart and her friend, Catherine Dobbie, had also gone out and were cooking over a fire on the beach in the sunshine.

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The work party at the Sailor’s Grave, before erection of new cross, 23 April 2017. L-R: Elizabeth McTaggart, Steven Coffield, Gary Anderson, Angus Martin, Graham Sopp, and George McSporran. Photograph by Cathy Dobbie ©

There was an additional monument, which I had carried out in my rucksack. This was a polished granite plaque in which Bill Armour, a monumental sculptor who lives in Campbeltown, had cut: ‘SAILOR’S GRAVE: 1917.’ The plaque was to have been incorporated in the cairn, but was too big for it. After discussion, George’s suggestion, that the plaque become a separate feature, was adopted, and Gary set it in a neat cement mount in front of the cross.

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The new cross on the Sailor’s Grave, propped in place to allow the cement to set, 23 April 2017. Photograph by George McSporran ©

The day of the ceremony was sunny and breezy, perfect for the walk out. The assembly point for most folk was the Kintyre Way car-park at Ballygroggan and we set out at 11 a.m. in a group which soon broke into smaller parties, proceeding at their own pace.
I gave the number at the ceremony as 20, but there should have been 22. Anne Leith was to have sung two songs at the graveside, her brother Alastair’s ‘The Inneans’ and Willie Mitchell’s ‘Road to Drumleman’, but near Innean Mòr sheep-fank she was so stricken with vertigo that she could go no further. She was willing to make her way back to Ballygroggan alone, but her friend, Iain McKerral, insisted on accompanying her, so, after a look at the new memorials, he left the bay before the ceremony began. Ann’s contribution would have enhanced the event and intensified its emotional impact, and she was missed.

First to arrive in the bay were Angus and Valerie Nimmo, who joined Will Slaven from Glasgow at his camp-site. Will had gone out with his tent and gear on Thursday afternoon and stayed until Sunday. He had guessed, from the date on the cross, that a memorial event might be pending, and had ’phoned and spoken to Judy, who provided the date and time. I had met Will and his brother Mick camping in the Inneans in 2006 and, camping again, with a son, almost ten years to the day of the event, on 7 May 2007. He is a devotee of the bay, its solitude and peacefulness, and recounted that, during his stay this year, as the sun sank away in the west the new cross assumed an eerie luminosity.

Last to arrive in the bay were Mike Peacock, Kenny Graham – who had already been to Largiebaan – and Alex Docherty, from Stewarton, who had left his car at Lochorodale and walked out via Killypole. I had hoped that Agnes Stewart might conduct the ceremony, but, at 80 years old, she understandably didn’t feel physically capable of getting there and back, so I did it myself.

After I had spoken on the history of the Sailor’s Grave and its past custodians, the cross was unveiled by Helen Bapty, a daughter of Stewart Hamilton, who, with his brother Malcolm, had been one of those custodians in the 1960s. Helen, who was accompanied by her husband Neil, sister Liz, and sister Margaret and her husband, Finlay Wylie, then delivered a brief personal statement, which was followed by a few impromptu words from Angus Nimmo, who had first heard of the Sailor’s Grave as a boy growing up in Drumlemble. I was grateful for the attendance of these members of mining families with a childhood connection to the place. There were three others present, Morag McLean, her brother Malcolm McMillan – their father was Kenny McMillan – and Malcolm’s son, also Malcolm.

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The ceremony at the Sailor’s Grave on 6 May 2017. Photograph by Anna Miccolis.

After the ceremony, I opened a bottle of Glen Scotia malt whisky, donated by Iain McAlister, distillery manager, for anyone who wished to have a celebratory nip. As it was cask-strength, some preferred a dash of water with it, and what better water than that from the spring at the foot of Cnoc Maighe, which Neil Brown piped many years ago?
So much money for the project came in that I didn’t have to fund-raise; and none of the creative participants wanted paid (but all were modestly rewarded with meal vouchers for the Ardshiel Hotel). The first, and main, donor was Alistair Thompson, who lives in Canada, but was back in Campbeltown for his mother’s 90th birthday party that night. He was one of the many who wanted to be at the ceremony, but couldn’t go. Happily, however, he was represented by his son Kenneth and partner, Anna Miccolis, two of whose photographs illustrate this article.

The other donors were: John MacDonald, Kenny Graham, Anonymous, George McSporran, John McSporran, Catherine Barbour, Jon Hooper, and Ann and Graham Baird. The total raised was £470, and, after expenses, £135 remains. I suggested at the gathering that this money could go towards a get-together later in the year in a local hotel, where an edited film of the ceremony and historic photographs could be projected in a continuous loop, both for those who were there and those who couldn’t be there.

An expanded version of this article will appear in the Kintyre Magazine No. 81 in Autumn, 2017.

Angus Martin

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That sinking feeling – the evacuation of the Drumlemble.

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Article in the Campbeltown Courier, 2nd April 1982. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

In April 1982, the newspaper headlines confirmed what Drumlemble residents had suspected for many years. The area was seriously undermined by coal workings which went back into history, for which no plans were extant, and whose existence threatened the survival of the village.

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Article in the Campbeltown Courier 1982. Courtesy of Campbeltown Library.

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Fears of no return: an article about Drumlemble’s problems with subsidence due to serious undermining by coal workings. Campbeltown Courier, 4th June 1982. Courtesy of Elizabeth McTaggart.

The building of the new school, which eventually opened in 1975, had been delayed by the discovery that the existing school, about to be replaced, sat on top of old mine workings which were so close to the surface, that building on the existing site was impossible. Meetings were held in the village hall between councillors, Argyll Council architects, and the population of Drumlemble, Machrihanish and surrounding area. One of the proposals at that stage was to close and flatten the school and move the children to schools in Campbeltown. After pretty heated exchanges, this idea was dropped. The Council negotiated a site east of Drumlemble village and work on construction of a new school began.

The question of whether the village was safe for its inhabitants still hung in the air. The houses in Rhudal Cottages had all been built since 1964 and were relatively modern. In the years immediately following the building of the new school, anxieties over possible subsidence diminished and it seemed that life would go on as normal.

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Rhudal Cottages, Drumlemble built in 1964. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

At the start of the 1980s, signs of subsidence in some of Rhudal Cottages dwellings became more acute. Eventually after a period of heavy rain, part of the play area became like a bouncy green trampoline. Those children who managed to sneak in to bounce on its surface were quite thrilled, but their parents were rightly alarmed. A site inspection was conducted and the Council declared the playpark a ‘no-go area’. Police notices and coloured tape were stretched across the entrances. Mining engineers were called in to the village to assess the extent of the damage and prepare reports and recommendations. For the village, these reports were doom laden.

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The play park at Rhudal Cottages, Drumlemble. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

From the Council’s point of view, action needed to be taken quickly, and various proposals were put to the residents in letters and public meetings.

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Local councillors meeting the residents of Drumlemble. Campbeltown Courier 1982. Courtesy of Elizabeth McTaggart.

The options eventually centred round:

  1. Clearing the site and building alternative accommodation elsewhere for 30 families
  2. Shoring up the area by piping thousands of litres of ‘grouting’. This latter option also meant temporary housing outside the village for those affected.

Seen as the lesser of two evils, the tenants acquiesced in the Council’s choice of the latter option.

What an upheaval! Over the summer of 1982, people left Rhudal Cottages. The scene was reminiscent of the departures of the homesteaders in The Grapes of Wrath, albeit with more good humour and an optimism that returning was on the cards.

In the event, not all the tenants returned. Some were given the option of staying in their new Campbeltown homes. They found they had enjoyed the proximity to shops and jobs. Older people welcomed their ability to get out and about without the anxiety of ‘missing the bus’ to get home.

Those of us who returned were all safely back by Christmas 1982, to cold houses and snow on the ground and neglected gardens.

                                                                                                     Elizabeth McTaggart

April 2017

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.