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.

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Kenny McMillan

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Argyll Colliery F.C. card which belonged to the late Kenny McMillan. Courtesy of Morag McMillan

J.K.B. McMillan, known as Kenny, was born in 1926 in Campbeltown and as a young man was called up for the the army and served with the Royal Engineers. His first job after serving in the army was at the Argyll Colliery. In 1948 he went to be trained in Doncaster and returned to work at Argyll Colliery for the next 20 years, until the pit closure in 1967. In 1950 he married Agnes Girvan, whose father was one of the hall-keepers of the Miners’ Welfare in Bolgam Street, Campbeltown. They had five children and their lives were consumed by the various activities organised by the wider mining community.

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Kenny McMillan. Photo courtesy of Morag McLean (nee McMillan)

Mum, Agnes, was the prompter for the successful miners’ drama group and Dad, Kenny, played and later managed the football teams. The miners’ football team was formed in July 1951 and according to records kept by my father, they were a fairly successful team playing in the Scottish Junior Cup. Dad was a Motherwill supporter which is why the Argyll Colliery Team played in “Amber and Claret”.

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Argyll Colliery F.C. This photo was first published in Coal Magazine and was taken at the back of the Miners’ Welfare Hall in Campbeltown. This is where the team held their tactical meetings. Kenny is pictured here at the far right. Photo Courtesy of  Morag McLean (Nee McMillan).

Kenny became the union steward for the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) and was very involved in settling disputes and ensuring his colleagues were treated fairly. He eventually went on to serve as a local Labour councillor in South Kintyre.

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Photos of a group of Argyll Colliery workers which was taken in 1965.  Top row L-R: Unidentified, Archie McKerral, Robert Brown, Neil Munro, Angus McKinlay, Sandy Smith, Unidentified, David Mitchell, Robert Martin, ? Livingston, Tommy Woodford. Bottom row: L-R: Hamish McNeil, John Kerr, Jackie Galbraith, Malcolm Milloy, Kenny McMillan, Jock McGeachy. Photo: Courtesy of Morag McLean (nee McMillan).

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Labour Party Councillors, Campbeltown. Top L-R: Duncan McMillan, Alistair McKinlay, Kenny McMillan. Bottom L-R: Neil McCallum, unidentified,  John B. Anderson. Photo courtesy of Morag Mclean (nee McMillan) and thanks to Hamish McMillan for providing the other names.

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Leaver’s certificate from 1966, which belonged to the late Kenny McMillan. Courtesy of Morag McLean (nee McMillan).

Unfortunately in the latter stages of the pit before its closure  he was unwell and died in 1970 of kidney disease. He left behind a number of diaries which sometimes detailed the dangers the miners encountered in their daily lives. That said, Kenny enjoyed the camaraderie of his colleagues and the everyday challenges.

Here are some excerpts  from Kenny’s diary which relate to the time running up to the closure of Argyll Colliery:

15/2/1967

Pit flooded. Manager, Mr Welsh, arrives to discuss closure.

3/3/67

Given one month’s notice 

8/3/67

Discussed cases with manager and arranged the withdrawal of welfare fund

24/3/67

Majority of  miners left the pit today

25/3/67

Divided benevolent and welfare fund to contributors

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Drawing girders in the mine.

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Last day of work at Argyll Colliery. 

and going back to the fire of at Argyll Colliery 1958:

Production was halted because of the fire for nine weeks and T McFarlane was gassed.

Morag McLean (nee McMillan) ©

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We are currently trying to identify the men in this photo so will update this caption when we have some verification… Photo courtesy of Morag McLean (Nee McMillan).

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Morag McLean (nee McMillan) and her granddaughter, Hollie and Kenny McMillan’s Argyll Colliery diaries. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©