SKDT’s The Road to Drumleman Community Exhibition at Glen Scotia Distillery


Alex McKinven, former Argyll Colliery worker. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The Road to Drumleman, an exhibition celebrating Kintyre’s coal Mining Heritage  was held at Glen Scotia Distillery in April 2017. This year is the 50th anniversary of Argyll Colliery, Kintyre’s last coal mine.

The exhibition was the gathering together of information and images, which started in October 2016 with drop-in sessions at Campbeltown Library. The information here on the archive/blog was digested into a slideshow of almost 400 slides which can be seen here as a PDF – it may take a wee while to load so please be patient.


Robert Martin. Cross stitch embroidery portrait by Karen Forbes (née Hunter). Courtesy of Nanette Campbell ©

The project took former miners and coal mining into locals schools and the result of these creative workshops with artist, Jan Nimmo, at Dalintober and Drumlemble primary schools was shown at the exhibition in the form of colourful mining-themed bunting which was reminiscent of Miners’ Gala Days in Kintyre. Campbeltown Grammar School also worked with Jan to recreate a trade union banner for Argyll Colliery which was also prominently displayed at the exhibition.


Argyll Colliery Trade Union banner recreated by 3rd year art pupils at Campbeltown Grammar School, with artist, Jan Nimmo. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The final component to the exhibition was a series of large framed pencil drawings made by Jan Nimmo. Jan’s father, Neil, was a shot-firer at Argyll Colliery and it was he that inspired her to make the documentary The Road to Drumleman and to continue to explore Kintyre’s coal mining past through this current project with SKDT.


Portrait of Neil Nimmo, shot-firer at Argyll Colliery. Drawing by Jan Nimmo ©

Part of the project was to give a framed print of the drawings to either the subjects or their families. You can view photos of the exhibition and some of those who attended here.


Willie McMillan, former Argyll Colliery worker with artist, Jan Nimmo. Photo: Paul Barham ©

We would like to thank everyone who has supported to the project to date and to all of you who came along. A special thanks also to our hosts at Glen Scotia Distillery who worked hard to make the Kiln Room an excellent venue.

Here is an article published about the exhibition and project in the Sunday Herald

There is a forthcoming opportunity to view the trade union banner and the slideshow presentation, including the drawings, at Campbeltown Museum, who will set this up alongside a related display of their own artefacts. This will run from mid-May till the end of August.

The project will end with a community celebration/screening at the beginning of September at Machrihanish so look out for further information here on the blog or the Facebook page for details of that.

In the meantime we are still looking for any information, photos or stories you may have for the archive/blog so please feel free to contact us.


Jim Kelly, and Margaret Kelly (née Morans) – both their fathers, Jim Kelly and Cawford Morans, worked at Argyll Colliery. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©


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 Irwin did an army tour of India with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Photo courtesy of Donald Irwin, Drumlelmble ©

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.


John Irwin, shot-firer, Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. Photo courtesy of Donald Irwin, Drumlemble ©

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.



A page of notes from John Irwin’s shot firing training notebook. Courtesy of Donald Irwin ©

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.

Archibald McLean, Shotfirer.

At our second drop-in session at Campbeltown Library we had a visit from Catherine Harvey (nee McLean). Cath very kindly brought in some things that belonged to her father, Archibald McLean, who worked as a shotfirer at Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. Archie was married to Christina McLean (nee McLean). The family lived at Drumlemble but moved from there to the “miners” houses, to 45 Meadows Avenue in Campbeltown. Cath remembers other miners’ families living nearby – the Duffy family, (Charlie Duffy), the Barrs (Joe Barr) and the Steele family. The Duffys and the Barrs moved to England when the mine closed and the Steeles moved to Canada.

Catherine brought this wonderful photo of a group of Argyll Colliery workers to share with the project.


A group of Argyll Colliery miners. Top Row: Alan Jones, Eddy Same, Joe Barr, D. McArthur, J. McPhail, T. Ritchie, B. Smith, J. McGeachy, M. Brodie, A. Gilchrist, K. McKenzie, A. McPhee, A. Brodie, J. McTaggart. Bottom Row: A. McDonald, Jock Kerr, Archie McLean, Charlie Duffy, Coventry Paton. Photo: Courtesy of Catherine Harvey ©

Catherine also brought in her father’s shotfirer’s certificate and some paperwork from his pension.


Shotfirer’s certificate from the Ministry of Fuel and Power belonging to the late Archibald McLean. Courtesy of Catherine Harvey ©


Mineworkers Pension Scheme Notification belonging to the late Archibald McLean. Courtesy of Catherine Harvey ©

Catherine recalls Miners’ Gala Day, and was photographed by the Courier with her sister: The photograph was captioned, “Two little girls eating their buns”. Miners at Argyll Colliery all donated money from their weekly wages towards Christmas parties at the Miners’ Welfare Hall in Bolgam Street, Campbeltown. Initially these events were set up for miners’ children but then they soon became community-wide events where all the local children were welcome.

Catherine remembers that when she was very young, pre-school, that her father was once brought home in an ambulance after having had an accident at the colliery.


Employees at Argyll Colliery, Machrihanish. Left to Right – John Downie(?), Dougie Girvan, Hugh Sinclair (Surface Foreman), Willie McKinlay and Catherine’s uncle, Tommy Mitchell, who worked maintaining the belts underground. Photo Courtesy of Catherine Harvey ©

The photo above is of the coal lorry drivers from Argyll Colliery. The coal was taken to Campbeltown in lorries; Albions, such as the one pictured here, and Leyland Hippos, to the Old Quay where coal was transported by boat to Ballylumford power station in Northern Ireland. Coal was also distributed around the area to homes and businesses. On the far right of the photograph we can see Catherine’s uncle, Tommy Mitchell, who emigrated, along with this family, to New Zealand. Tommy died a couple of years ago but he is survived by family who still live there. Catherine is currently asking around for the names of the other men so if you can help, please contact me. We’ll update the caption for the photograph as soon as we have verified the other names.

Jan Nimmo