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2024.9.9

1885

THE LOSS OF THE ‘NANCY OF DUBLIN’

‘The brigantine Nancy of Dublin, 232 tons, went ashore on a rock in the island of Tiree on Sunday morning the 8th [February], and out of a crew of seven men only one was saved. The following is a statement of the survivor, the captain of the vessel: The brigantine left Liverpool with a crew of seven men, on Friday the 6th, for Newcastle with a cargo of salt. She rounded Skerryvore Light on the following Sunday morning, and struck at 2am on the [Dubh Sgeir] Rock [three miles] off Craignish Point. The vessel immediately split in two, and went down. Three of the seamen were in their berths when the ship struck, and had no time to get on deck before the vessel sank. The other three were on deck along with the captain, but as he was washed away off the poop, he neither saw the men nor heard any cries for assistance. Supported on a piece of the wreck, he drifted three miles landward, and eventually was washed ashore on a small island off Craignish Point after having been about thirteen hours in the water. He remained on the island the rest of the Sunday, though his position was observed from the shore of Tiree, and he could see men trying to launch a boat, but the sea was so high that no relief was possible until the following morning, when he was taken ashore. The captain has returned to Ireland. The crew was composed as follows: Richard [Kearon], captain, Ferrybank, Arklow; [Matthew Byrne, 27], mate, married; [Robert Mackey, 27], A.B. [Able seaman], single; [Thomas Wedick, aged 21], A.B.; [James Donnelly, 24], A.B.; [James Kehoe, 21], A.B., single; Herman Hallander, cook, single. With the exception of the last named, a native of Sweden, the others belonged to Arklow [a busy port 60 km south of Dublin]. None of the bodies have yet come shore. Portions of the wreck in small pieces have been found strewn along the beach. The vessel, it stated, was not insured.’ (Aberdeen Evening Express, 16 February 1885, 2)

The local policeman Murdoch MacLeod prepared a report for William Sproat, the Procurator Fiscal in Tobermory. (This is available on An Iodhlann’s website, the fruits of our collaboration with Inveraray Archives.) At the time of the shipwreck, the captain had been standing on the poop, a raised section of the deck at the stern of the vessel. Given that this was at 5am on a stormy February morning, this suggests that he knew this was a tricky part of the voyage. After the vessel had broken up, he was able to cling to part of the wreckage for ten hours until he was washed ashore on a rock at the tip of Craignish known as Urra Chràignis.

 Miraculously, he had made dry land, but he was still tantalisingly out of reach. Constable MacLeod took up the story: ‘In the afternoon of Sunday, he was seen by some men from the shore of Tiree, and they tried to launch a boat to go to his assistance, but the surf on the beach was so great and the wind so strong on the lee shore that they were unable to do so. The island on which the man was standing was within 100 yards of the shore, and when the men found themselves unable to reach him, they tried to pass a rope to him but failed in this also, and darkness coming on they had to leave. They returned the next morning about six o’clock, and the weather then having somewhat moderated and the tide being low, they waded into the sea and got within forty yards of the rock, and by attaching a stone to the end of a rope they succeeded in throwing it to him, and after attaching it round his waist, they pulled him through the surf to the shore and so rescued him.’ MacLeod gave the rescuers’ names as Alexander Cameron from Moss, along with the Balevullin fishermen William McNeil and Niel McMillan.

This is an extraordinary story of endurance. The sea off Tiree in February is 7–9 °C, a temperature at which your survival is reckoned to be less than two hours. This suggests that Captain Kearon was out of the water, floating on a substantial part of the wreck. The fact that the Nancy had a wooden hull is likely to have saved his life.

A brigantine is a two-masted sailing ship with a fully square-rigged foremast. The Nancy had been built in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, just twelve years earlier. Diarmaid from the Arklow Maritime Museum told me that she ‘was regarded as one of the finest vessels in the Arklow fleet and had cost £2,000 [the equivalent of £320,000 today] when bought a few years previously. She was principally engaged in the Baltic trade [presumably where the Swedish cook joined the crew], and also made “several smart voyages across the Atlantic”.’ She was owned by the captain’s relation, another Richard Kearon, and Frank Tyrrell.

The bodies came ashore over the next few weeks. On the coast between Craignish and Balevullin, there is a small rectangular enclosure known as An Tunga ‘the small graveyard’. It was there that the old folks told me, more than a century later, that local people buried the crew of the ‘Nancy of Dublin’. It was said that three were buried inside the enclosure with another three, presumably washed up later, outside. It was said that one body was identified by the initials on his stockings.

Professor Donald Meek tells me that ‘the traditional understanding was that, if unidentified bodies which had been washed ashore were buried in a normal graveyard, the sea would come to fetch them.’ They were therefore usually buried at the shore, as the three Tiree place-names Port an Duine ‘the inlet of the man’ in Caolas, West Hynish and Greenhill attest. This custom was outlawed by the Burial of Drowned Persons Act of 1808, amended in 1886, which specified that bodies found at the shore should be interred in a proper graveyard.

Sailing the high seas was a tough way to make a living. When Captain Kearon was sent papers about the accident, just six weeks after his feat of survival, he was back in command of another brigantine, the Belle Star, in port in Newry. And it was a brutal industry. Twenty years after the loss of the Nancy, her owner Richard Kearon was reported to have lost seven vessels worth £20,000 [around £3 million today] over two years (Bray and South Dublin Herald, 17 September 1904, 8). This was from a town whose population was just 4,700, around half the size of Oban today.

2024.9.8

TIREE AND THE NEW NEW YEAR

As we approach the summer equinox, this might seem a bit premature. Or a bit late. But this series of cuttings caught my eye this week.

There are few, if any, people on Tiree that still celebrate New Year, Oidhche Challainn, ‘Old Style’ on the night of January 13/14th.

The Julian Calendar, adopted by Julius Caesar in 45 BC, sets out 365 days in a year with an additional leap day every fourth year without exception. The more accurate Gregorian calendar was adopted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Very occasionally, this sometimes misses out a leap year (to make allowance for the fact that a solar year is 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds). The Gregorian Calendar was quickly adopted by Spain and France, but the British did not come to the party until 1752, suspicious it was all a Catholic plot.

Long after 1752, the people of Tiree remained very reluctant to change from the ‘Old Style’ Julian Calendar to the ‘New Style’ Gregorian one. Partly this was because many people believed (and still believe) that the traditions you followed at New Year were important to your fortune the following year. But it was also because it was such a social occasion, everybody had to agree on the date. Most families didn’t have the money or the time to celebrate it twice.

This is how the debate played out on Tiree, 150 years after the calendar was officially changed in London.

1901. ‘Lady Victoria Campbell, who at present resides at her Lodge in Tiree, has, with her usual generosity, remembered the poor in this island by distributing parcels of tea and other luxuries among them. The New Year was observed on the island on the 14th (Old Style). Some of the people are now beginning to observe the 1st of January. A few of the young men indulged in first-footing on New Year’s day, but this custom is losing hold in the island. No one was seen the worse of drink [Tiree was a dry island at this point, but you could send for jars of whisky quite legally from Tobermory or Glasgow]. A children’s tea in connection with the Sabbath School was given recently in the Scarinish Hall [probably the Reading Room, today’s An Iodhlann], which the children enjoyed very much. Addresses of encouragement to the children were given by Messrs Munn, D. T. Mac Kay [the Free Church minister], and Anchus, teacher. Several hymns were sung by the children during the evening.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 26 January 1901, 6)

‘Tuesday [the] 13th, New Year’s Day,was observed as a holiday. Shops wereshut, and there was little movement over the island. Services were held in some of the churches. There was a children’s meeting at Scarinish. Some of our sailors who came home had some first-footing with the old folks of the place, but this custom is dying out. It would be more satisfactory if all kept the same day, so that we should not be burdened with two days of this kind.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 17 January 1903, 6)

1906. ‘NEW YEAR IN TIREE. Sir, Kindly allow me to second, through your most valuable paper, the change advocated in a recent issue in reference to the above subject by your Edinburgh correspondent, “A Native.” The observance of the 1st of January as New Year’s Day in the island was expected to take place long before now. But, like all things, until someone takes the lead, time passes, and no alteration takes place. It is hoped “A Native” will keep the matter going, as there are no obstacles in the way to hinder the change, for each and all of the islanders are unanimously in favour of the 1st of January. Although it is drawing right to the end of the year, if all the natives will put their shoulders to the wheel in time, we will have the pleasure of observing New Year’s Day on the 1st of January, 1907. If the change contemplated were advertised in the leading newspapers, say by the request of the Parish Council, a good many natives would avail themselves of spending the first day of the year along with their parents and friends. Indeed, it would be a “great day” in the island, and praise is due to “A Native” for taking the lead. Guidhidh sinn uile bliadhna mhath ur dha agus cuid mhor dhin. I am, etc, AN ISLANDER. (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 17 November 1906, 3)

1907. ‘LATHA NOLLAIG AN TIRIODH. Sir, I have read with much interest thevarious letters which appeared in your paper recently on the above subject, and am astonished to learn that at this date, there are to be found among my fellow islanders those who prefer the old style of the New Year to the new style … The Julian or old style is held only in the parts of Europe where the Greek church prevails. ‘Eileannach’ seems to be mixing matters in assuming that by keeping the old style New Year’s day, we perpetuate a custom of our forefathers. Our forefathers discarded the Julian calendar 245 years ago. The Parish Council of Tiree have acted judiciously in recommending a general observance of the New Year’s Day on the 1st of January. I am persuaded that those who favour the old calendar are in the minority in Tiree, and hope that in future, all will observe the 1st with one accord. TIR BHARR-FO-THUINN’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 19 January 1907, 3)

1910. ‘TIREE AND NEW YEAR. Sir, Efforts are being made to obtain auniform observance of the 1st of January as New Year’s Day. The older generation are reluctant to abandon the 13th of January, but the old style is dying out all over the Highlands, and where it remains it is a cause of misunderstanding and inconvenience. The various townships in Tiree have been formally consulted, and the great majority of the people are in favour of the 1st of January. It is hoped the few who still cling to the old style will fall in with the others on this occasion, and so avoid division on the  This New Year falls on a Sunday, and, of course, Monday will be the holiday observed. A NATIVE.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser,  17 December 1910, 3)

‘Efforts are again being made to establishthe observance of the 1st January asNew Year’s Day in place of the Old Style. While many naturally cling to the Old Style, it is felt by others that as the 1st of January is now almost universally followed, it would be well to adopt that date in Tiree, so as to be in line with other districts.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 14 December 1912, 6)

The Times reported in 1930 that, ‘January 12, New Year’s Day old style, is still recognised in a few isolated districts in the West Highlands and the Hebrides. In some places both days are held as a holiday, but the tendency is to fall in line with the calendar and recognise only the first of the month. In the island of Tiree, owned by the Duke of Argyll, the old style prevailed until a very few years ago, when the majority of the inhabitants reluctantly decided to follow the neighbouring islands of Great Britain and Ireland.’

Margaret MacKinnon, Braeside, told me that her family changed from the Old New Year on 13 January in 1924; Donald MacNeill, Crossapol, told me that they changed in The Land in 1925; and Iain Chaluim MacKinnon said that they changed in Kilmoluaig in 1927. And Jessie MacKinnnon, Battlefield said that her family changed over in Mannal in 1935. Colin MacKechnie from Hynish came home from sea on January 6th that year expecting celebrations, and they were all over!

2024.9.7

As now, there was a feeling that other islands got a better deal: ‘It is somewhat puzzling to understand how it is that so many roads are made in Mull with the Congested District Board’s money why Tiree is left out in the cold’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 20 December 1902, 6).

‘Mr MacBain, road surveyor, was here last week in connection with the construction of new roads and the repair of old ones. The Ruaig Road is being improved, and another new road is being made at Kennovay, which will be a great boon’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 12 December 1903).

‘Mr MacQuarrie, interim road surveyor, was here lately looking after the construction of the new road between the Post Office and the main road to Cornaig and Balephetrish districts. All the people are glad to know that Mr MacBain, the genial road surveyor, is now able to be about his usual work’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 23 June 1906, 6).

The Council employed a roadman: ‘Under Mr Cattanach’s surveyorship,the roads are kept in a condition that satisfies pedestrian and equestrian alike, great credit also being due to Mr MacKinnon the roadman, Heanish, who is most faithful in the discharge of his duties’  (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 23 September 1911, 6). The house beside the Baugh phone box is still known as ’Roadman’s Cottage’.

In 1901, Edgar Hooley, a surveyor in Nottinghamshire was out walking when he noticed a particularly smooth section of road beside an ironworks. He was told that a barrel of tar had spilled on the road and waste slag from the furnace had been used to cover up the sticky mess. Within a year, Hooley had patented the mixture of hot tar, slag and gravel, and a five-mile stretch of road in Nottingham became the first ‘tar macadamed’ road in the world

In 1913 this report appeared: ‘Tiree Roads: During the week Mr Cattanach, road surveyor, Tobormory, paid a visit to the island to make a tour of inspection of the public roads. Mr Cattanach expressed himself as satisfied with the good state of repair in which he found the roads following the wet and stormy nature of the past winter. The policy of the Mull District Committee in expending money on metal, thereby dispensing with the customary free use of shingle, is one that needs no justification. The initial cost of a free supply of metal is undoubtedly greater, but in the long run there will be a considerable saving of money. Under Mr Cattanach’’s surveyorship, the roads are becoming more and more perfect, and if he continues to receive from his committee the financial assistance for the end in view, the Tiree roads will compare favourably with those of more highly favoured places (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 15 February 1913, 6).

This satisfaction was not to last. With the intention of making roads self-financing, vehicle excise duties went to the Road Boards. ‘Sir,—ln the opinion of most of the visitors who spent this summer in Tiree, the roads in the island, with the exception of the stretch from Scarinish to Island House, are about the worst they have ever experienced. It is strange that two systems of road contract should exist on one small island ; the one system [adopted roads] provides for a roadman in constant employment and results in a fairly good bit of road; the other system [unadopted, mainly croft access tracks] seems to provide for occasional patching by means of turf at some bits and very rough road material at others. Perhaps the present Parish Councillors will meet the electors before the November election. I do not recollect ever having read a public report of a Tiree Parish Council meeting. l am, etc., Road Taxpayer’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 22 September 1928, 3).

2024.9.6

The Duke wrote to the Tiree chamberlain in 1802 complaining that: ‘I gave you a copy of the Act of Parliament [the 1800 Act for repairing the Highways and Bridges in the Shire of Argyll] … from which you will see what the tenants and cottars are bound to do. I doubt if any man in Tyree has been called upon to do that important work. At any rate, you must in future call all of them out regularly.’ These were the so-called Statute Labour Roads, where islanders could work instead of pay.

The 1878 Roads and Bridges (Scotland Act) made things more formal, appointing a Road Board to manage road building and maintenance in their county, paid for from the rates. In 1882, islanders were not happy with their new Board: ‘Tiree: Mr McBain, the inspector, arrived here last week, and the present state of some  of our roads, especially the pond on the main road at Heanish [a low-lying area to the west of the Home known as Mòinteach Thomaidh or Àit’ a’ Chullaich], must have been an edifying sight to him’  (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 18 November 1882, 4).

Three years later, things had got worse—or at least more militant: ‘At the meeting held in Baugh Church of [the Land League, an association fighting for better rights for crofters and cottars] on the 24th December, it was resolved not to pay road-money until the roads were better repaired. The roads here are in a bad state, and require immediate attention. The present state of things would never do’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 7 February 1885, 6).

Argyll County Council was established in 1890. The following year, it was reported:

‘THE PUBLIC ROADS

At last, the County Council are allowing that they exist, by getting the roads at Ballyphetrish and Ballyphuil put in good order. Those parts of the roads were all along until now repudiated as public roads under the jurisdiction and management of the Road Trust and the County Council, but through the energy and determination of our representatives, the Council are spending a considerable amount of money upon them, and for the future they will no doubt be maintained in good repair’ (Oban Telegraph and West Highland Chronicle, 2 October 1891, 3).

The Tiree road network was developed in bits and pieces: ‘The new road along Reef Farm is now open for traffic. It is a very substantial piece of workmanship, and renders vehicular traffic easy. We hope to see this road extended to meet the Balemartine Road, as between the two an almost impassable  piece of rough ground intervenes’ (Highland News, 2 March 1901, 12).

In 1816 the Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam had published a road design that rapidly became the gold standard. A base of large rocks was covered with gravel and then bound together with fine slag. The whole was raised above ground level to help it drain. This was the famous ‘macadam road’.

‘Mr MacBain, road surveyor of the Mull district, has paid a visit to the Island, in company with Mr Burns, who superintends the works done by the Congested Districts Board in the Highlands [the main funder of roads in country areas]. The inspector, it appears. is much pleased with the excellent roads Mr MacBain has constructed on the Island. The Reef road will be of much benefit to the people of the west end of the Island, and it will be a good road when the gravel hardens. A large roller has been at work on it for some days past’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 16 March 1901).

2024.9.5

Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914. At first, recruitment was voluntary. Within three weeks, almost 300,000 British men had signed up.

It soon became apparent, however, that this war was not going to be over quickly. The ‘Derby Scheme’—named after Lord Derby, the Director-General of Recruiting—was introduced. All eligible men—those aged 18 to 41 and not in a ‘reserved’ occupation like farming, teaching or the clergy—were asked to make a public declaration as to when they were going to enlist. Canvassers, often retired soldiers, went round the country putting pressure on eligible men to sign up. In November, the ‘Derby Scheme’ came to Tiree:

RECRUITING MEETINGS AT TIREE

‘Captain H. Malcolm of Poltalloch, [from the] Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, held a series of meetings last week on Tiree to explain the present need of men both for home defence and for foreign service. He very specially emphasised the call to young men to offer themselves for military service at home, and pointed out that this would set free other experienced and trained men for service at the front, and that the greater the number of men to join the Army at once, the sooner the War would be brought to a close. He gave a very clear explanation of the conditions of service, the rate of pay, etc. The meetings were held at Cornaig, Scarinish and Balemartine [schools], and were all well attended, Captain Malcolm’s calm, well-reasoned and impressive statement of the present situation making a deep impression. Captain Ross, VD Cornaig. was present at the Cornaig and Balemartine meetings and in both places gave eloquent and stirring recruiting addresses.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 21 November 1914, 3)

John Ross, from Bressay, Shetland, was a teacher at Cornaig School. The ‘VD’ was the Volunteer Officers’ Decoration for twenty years’ service in the Volunteers Force, the precursor of the Territorial Army.

Many Tiree crofters were ineligible because of their reserved occupation. The following month, Lady Frances Balfour, the aunt of the Duke of Argyll wrote to the paper: ‘Better far the untilled croft, the unused boat, the vacant place at the fireside, more endurable the suspense and the fear than the memory that those of our own name and flesh have failed in courage, in a sense of duty that they have done nothing to save the ruined and desolate homes of Belgium. Better far to know our brethren have died “With their backs to the field and their face to the foe/And, leaving on earth no blot on their name/ Look proudly to heaven for their death-bed of fame.” If their hearts are at the Front, let it not be the women who hold them back’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 5 December 1914, 8).

She was supported by an anonymous correspondent going under the name ‘Patriotism’ (social media handles are nothing new):

ISLAND OF TIREE AND THE WAR

‘In your issue of 21st November, a report is given of the visit to Tiree of Capt. H. Malcolm of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, with the object of getting recruits. It would be interesting to know how many men, if any, responded to Capt. Malcolm’s appeal. From all accounts, there are scores of young men in Tiree who would make very good recruits. Why do they not come forward to defend their country in the darkest hour in its history like the thousands of young men who have done so from the other Islands in the Hebrides?—I am etc. PATRIOTISM (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 26 December 1914)

This was vigorously rebutted: ‘My attention has been drawn to Lady Frances Balfour’s and the Duke of Argyll’s criticism on the young men of Tiree, my native island, which appeared in the columns of The Oban Timeslately, and in Justice to my fellow-islanders, I crave space for a few remarks. Lady Frances reminds us that the island sent about 400 men to the field of Waterloo. At that time the population of Tiree was over 5000, whereas today it numbers about 1800. I have it from good authority that today about 200 sons of Tiree are serving their King and Country, including those serving in the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Forces, and I think accordingly that this is quite in proportion with the number who served at Waterloo. I am in the proud position to state that I have six nephews serving their King and Country since the commencement of the War; but I regret that one of them has fallen a victim of the enemy, in the person of the late Sergeant Neil MacLean, 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who was killed at Lille on 22 October last. I am, etc., CEANNAVAUGH’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 26 December 1914)

‘I know of no less than thirty sons of Tiree who have nobly rallied to the colours, and these born and bred in Tiree, not to speak of the scores of those sons of Tiree parents who, through necessity and ambition, have settled in our large cities. Moreover, at present we have serving in our Mercantile Marine dozens of Tiree men, holding responsible positions on board our hospital and transport ships, fighting for King and Country quite as much as those in the firing line. Next week, I may add, will appear a list of names of Tiree men who are with the colours. I am, etc., TIRISTEACH (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 9 January 1915, 3)

Local committees were set up to encourage recruitment:

ARGYLL RECRUITING APPEAL COMMITTEE: THE LOCAL TRIBUNALS

‘The local Tribunals for the County of Argyll under Lord Derby’s Recruiting Scheme are as follows: 

Tiree

H[ugh] MacDiarmid, Island House [the factor]; Thomas Barr, [farmer] Balephetrish; Colin Brown, Scarinish [who tenanted the Temperance Hotel]; Kenneth Mackenzie, Scarinish Villa [the piermaster];  Lt.-Commander Walter H. Sugden, Oban. Convener H. MacDiarmid; Clerk M. MacLean, Kirkapol. Tiree [the Registrar].’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 4 December 1915)

Hector MacPhail told this story about this unpopular committee. Hector Grahame, a 26-year-old man from Balephuil, picked up the Kenneth MacKenzie, who was disabled. He carried him to the end of the pier, saying ‘You’re not going to send any more young men to their deaths in Flanders.’ However, bystanders intervened.

As more men were needed at the front, conscription came into effect on 27 January 1916. In all, 208 men and women are listed in Tiree Roll of Honour for the First World War, including forty men who died, three who became prisoners of war, and four who won medals for gallantry. In particular, many Tiree men served in the Merchant Navy.

2024.9.4

1914

Within weeks of the German invasion of Belgium, a group had been formed on Tiree to support those serving in uniform, particularly those with a Highland connection:

‘COMFORTS FOR OUR SOLDIERS

A public meeting was held in Hylipol Parish Church to consider what steps should be taken in Tiree to assist in the present national crisis. The Rev. Alex. MacBean M.A. presided, and the meeting was addressed by Lady Frances Balfour and Mr Guinnis, Scarinish Hotel. Mr H. MacDiarmid, Island House, moved that the School Board, Parish Council, and Nursing Association [which raised money to pay for the island nurse] form themselves into a central Committee. Mr MacLean, teacher, Balemartin, seconded, and the resolution was unanimously adopted. A similar meeting was held at Kirkapol, at which the Rev. D. Mclnnes B.D. presided. The Central Committee met at Scarinish Hotel, when the Rev. D. Mclnnes was elected secretary for the east end of the island, and the Rev. Alex. MacBean for the west, with Mr MacDiarmid, Island House, treasurer. Local committees, including collectors, were appointed for each township, and it is gratifying to report that the Island of Tiree is responding heartily to the call.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 5 September 1914, 6)

Lady Frances Balfour, the aunt of the tenth Duke and younger sister of Lady Victoria, was a frequent visitor to The Lodge on Gott Bay. As we shall see, her son was in uniform. Forty-nine-year-old Francis Gunnis from Chiddingstone in Kent held the shooting rights on Tiree, and was a regular guest with his wife Ivy at the Temperance Hotel. For many years, a sundial presented by the family stood outside the bank. The ministers of both Kirkapol and Heylipol parish churches were to the fore, as was the island’s factor. Roderick MacLean from North Uist was the head teacher at Balemartine School.

Lady Balfour’s son was in the army. Within weeks, she had received bad news:

‘LADY FRANCES BALFOUR’S SON WOUNDED

Second Lieutenant Oswald H. C. Balfour, of the 60th Rifles, was wounded in the Battle of the Aisne on September 14th. He is the younger son of the late Colonel Eustace Balfour, ADC, and of Lady Frances Balfour, and is a nephew of the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour [Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905]. He was born in 1894, and received his military training at Sandhurst. His wound, fortunately, is not serious, the bullet having struck him on the lower jaw below the mouth. The bone was broken, but has now been set. Lieutenant Balfour is at present in a hospital near Paris. He is expected to return shortly to Scotland’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 3 October 1914, 5).

The First Battle of the Aisne took place  between 12 and 15 September 1914. The Germans had occupied high ground behind the Aisne River in France. The British Expeditionary Force suffered huge losses on what became the Western Front. Oswald Balfour survived the war, dying in 1953.

Soldiers of the 1st  Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) around 1915.

‘COMFORTS FOR THE SOLDIERS

A general meeting of the Association formed for the purpose of providing comforts for the soldiers was held in the Scarinish Public Hall on Tuesday, 17th inst. [probably the Church of Scotland Hall at the pier]. Lady Frances Balfour, who travelled specially from London for the purpose, presided. The treasurer, Mr MacDiarmid, Island House, reported that the total sum collected in the island amounted to £101 10s 6d [the equivalent today of £14,000]. The sum spent on material for shirts and socks was £48 2s, leaving a balance of £53 8s 6d. The joint secretaries for the east and west ends of the island respectively, the Rev. D. Mclnnes, B.D. and the Rev. A. MacBean, M.A., reported that the total work done was 472 pairs of socks and 83 shirts. Of that total, 264 pairs of socks and 65 shirts had been sent to Lady Elspeth Campbell, Inveraray Castle [a daughter of the ninth Duke], and forwarded from thence to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders stationed at Bedford. Of the goods still on hand, the meeting unanimously resolved to send 50 pairs of socks to the 60th Royal Rifles, to which regiment Lieut. Balfour, a son of Lady Frances Balfour, is attached, he being at present at home recovering from wounds received at the Battle of the Aisne, having been mentioned in despatches by Field Marshal Sir John French. It was resolved to send the remainder of the finished work to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at the Front. The money on hand was disposed of as follows: £5 for more shirting material; £15 for wool for body belts and scarfs; and £6 for tobacco for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at the Front: £15 to the Belgian Repatriation Fund; leaving a balance on hand of £12. At the close of the meeting Lady Frances Balfour gave a brief account of the history of the London Scottish, from the raising of the 1st Battalion up to the other day when the regiment withstood the fierce attacks of the Germans in overwhelming numbers under the personal supervision of the German Emperor.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 28 November 1914, 6)

Rather than just buying goods for the soldiers, islanders had sewed shirts and knitted socks.

While the First World War and the Covid pandemic were quite different, it is interesting to compare the ways the island responded to these international crises. In both cases, the island quickly rallied to form a new committee. But in 1914, leadership came from an aunt of the Duke of Argyll living in London, the factor and two Church of Scotland ministers. It was a world of powerful institutions and respect for authority.

2024.9.3

1910

THE EGG INDUSTRY IN TIREE

THE SCOTTISH AGRICULTURAL ORGANISATION SOCIETY

‘At the urgent request of parties interested in the welfare of the smallholders in the island of Tiree, Mr Drysdale, secretary of the Agricultural Organisation Society [founded in 1901 to encourage agricultural cooperatives], visited the island last week, and addressed a series of meetings in the five principal townships. The meetings were well attended, both men and women being present, and a very lively interest was evinced in the scheme which was submitted for their consideration. Mr Drysdale, in the course of his address, dealt with various aspects of the agricultural co-operative movement, but more especially with the aspect of it which seemed peculiarly appropriate to a district situated as Tiree is, viz., the co-operative collection and marketing of poultry produce, and the purchase in bulk of the requirements of the farms and crofts. The output of from Tiree may be put at from 50,000 to 60,000 dozens per annum.’ (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 19 March 1910, p. 5)

‘The Agricultural Co-operation Society are erecting new premises in Balemartine for storing the goods that they put on sale to the people. The structure is of wood and is large and commodious.’ (The Oban Times, 2 April 1911)

Duncan MacKinnon, Donnchadh Iain Mhòir, was appointed manager, selling meal (chicken food) and dry goods. Other agricultural cooperatives were set up in Sandaig, Kenovay and Ruaig.

1911

POULTRY IN TIREE

‘The fine co-operative poultry societies in the island of Tiree are being this year entrusted with the distribution of a large number of settings of eggs from approved pure breeds of utility fowls. These eggs are being supplied partly by the Congested Districts Board and partly out of the grant which the Highland and Agricultural Society entrusts to the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, to be disbursed with a view to improve the breeds of poultry owned by small holders in the Highland counties. During the past year, since the formation of the co-operative societies, the poultry industry has been greatly developed throughout the island. Improved prices have tended to improved management, which in turn stimulates increased production.’ (Orkney Herald, and Weekly Advertiser and Gazette for the Orkney & Zetland Islands, 19 April 1911, p. 7)

1924

‘Co-operation in egg production in the Orkney Islands had been remarkable success. So much was that the case, that the value of the eggs exported was greater than the annual valuation of the islands. In the Island of Tiree, it was reported that the production of eggs was equal to the rent of the holdings on that island.’ (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 4 July 1924, p. 8)

The Soroby hut closed in 1928, undercut by mainland dealers such as MacFarlan, Shearer and Co. of Greenock, who could ship from the Clyde in the weekly cargo boat. But the crossroads at the bottom of the Balephuil road were called Turn a’ Cho-operative by the older generation.

1918

AEROPLANES WITH SCOTTISH NAMES

‘During the War Weapons Week held in Scotland at the beginning of April, a number of areas invested so generously in War Bonds and Certificates as to entitle them to the privilege of naming aeroplanes. The Air Ministry has intimated to the Scottish War Savings Committee, Princes Street, Edinburgh, that the building of a number of these aeroplanes has been completed , and photographs of the aeroplanes, showing their names, have been sent to the districts interested. Among the areas included are … the Island of Tiree: Name of aeroplane “Tirisdeach”’ (Scotsman, 14 August 1918, p. 6).

2024.9.2

CORNAIGMORE CHURCH

It seems extraordinary today, as Tiree clings on—and no more—to its status as a two-church island. But in the 1890s, six wasn’t enough. The session of the Kirkapol Church of Scotland agreed to build a seventh, a 200-seat-church in Cornaigmore. They set up a Building Committee consisting of Rev T S MacPherson with elders Thomas Barr; Hugh MacLean, Caolas; John MacPhail; Alexander MacLean; Donald MacKinnon, teacher at Cornaig School; and Hugh MacPhail, merchant at Cornaigmore. The Duke of Argyll donated an eighth of an acre from Cornaigmore Farm.

The church was opened in July 1899. Tom Barr, who farmed Balephetrish, parts of Kenovay and Crossapol, loaned £500 towards the cost of £530 (the equivalent of £80,000 today). Fundraising to pay back this loan continued:

TIREE CHURCH BAZAAR IN GLASGOW.

Highland News 13 October 1900

‘In the absence of Mr D N Nicol of Ardmarnock [the Unionist MP for Argyllshire at the time], Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, [Conservative MP for the Glasgow constituency of College], last Friday performed the opening ceremony in connection with a bazaar at the Sauciehall Rooms [at 234 Sauciehall Street] in aid of the funds for the erection of the new church at Cornaig, parish of Tiree. Rev John Maclean, St Columba’s, Glasgow, occupied the chair, and briefly introduced Sir John, who expressed the pleasure it gave him to present, especially that he should have the honour of filling the place of his ‘friend, Mr Nicol, whom he knew so well in the House of Commons. and for whom he always felt so much respect. He knew no man engaged in political life who had so little of the humbug of politics about him, and who always seemed to do his very best for the interests of the county. The county which we live in—that small group of islands—would be a very dull place in which to live were it not for the amazing variety and differences which separated one part from another. Among those, nothing could be more remarkable than the difference there existed between such a place as Tiree and such a place as Glasgow. He did not suppose they could find wider differences within so small an area all over the globe as those marking the situation, lives, hopes, aspirations, and means of the inhabitants of these two places. Were there a debating society, he thought they might do worse than consider the question of whether it was better to live in Glasgow than in Tyree—(laughter). At that moment, at the end of an election campaign, he would certainly vote for Tiree—(laughter). There could be no doubt that Glasgow could do good work for Tiree, just as the West Highlands of Scotland did good work for the people of Glasgow by giving them a resort for rest and health in the intervals of business. With respect to the bazaar which he had been asked to open, he hoped it would be very successful. The object was not only a good one, but the church which they were asked to assist towards construction was free from all those suspicions of undue competition that was sometimes shown even in the building of churches–(applause). A vote of thanks to Sir John was given on the motion of the Rev. D C MacMichael, Greenock, and a similar compliment proposed by the Rev T S Macpherson, pastor of the Cornaig congregation [Thomas Smith MacPherson was the Church of Scotland minister at Kirkapol from 1895 to 1906] was accorded to the chairman. The business of the day was then proceeded with. On Saturday the bazaar was opened by Sir John N Cuthbertson [from the Glasgow Highland Society], who was introduced by the chairman, Dr Robert Blair, Edinburgh. Despite the inclemency of the weather a good quantity of goods were sold, and in all a sum of over £300 has been raised by the bazaar. On Friday 12th inst. the St Columba Choir and other friends will give a concert in the Sauciehall Rooms in aid of the Tiree Church funds.’

The Tiree Association, which would have usually organised an event such as this, was not set up until the following year.

It seems amazing that one ‘bazaar’ could raise more than half the money to build a church.

Dr John Holliday

2024.9.1

A MYSTERIOUS CRUISE

CURIOUS TOUR OF FIVE FOREIGNERS

Dublin Daily Express 9 August 1910

A Glasgow correspondent sends a queer story of a cruise made by five foreigners in a mysterious motor-boat in the treacherous waters of the Island of Tiree (Western Highlands), where only few weeks ago a number of English tourists had an alarming experience through their vessel striking a submerged rock. The Daily Chronicle prints the narrative as received :-

‘About three weeks ago the strange craft with the foreigners on board arrived late one evening in Scarinish Harbour, Tiree. The boat had neither name nor number, and only one member of the crew could make himselfknown in English. He informed the islanders that he and his companions wanted to inspect the scene of all the shipwrecks around the coast, and were in search of a pilot. In response to this request, one of the mostt experienced seamen on the island volunteered take the visitors on a tour of inspection, in consideration for which services he was offered substantial remuneration.

At the local grocery store the foreigners purchased a supply of provisions, and the pilot and his companions went on the boat and slept overnight. Of the subsequent movement of the foreigners, the pilot islander has given the following interesting account:

“I accepted the offer to guide them round the coast without hesitation, because it did not occur to me that the men might be spies. It was on the third and last day I piloted that the real mission of the men began to dawn upon me. There were the facts that the boat had no name nor number, and that the only person board who could speak English was a foreigner. I took four of them to be Germans, and the fifth Norwegian. On the morning after the arrival the strange boat, we went to the Sound of Coll, the channel which separates Coll from Tiree. Here a number of years ago [in 1895] the SS Nessmore, a cattle boat from the States, went down, and the foreigners made a close examination of the rock upon which the struck. I discovered here for the first time that one of the men was a professional diver, but he made no descent at Coll. We could see from the motor-boat the boilers and engines and other portions of the Nessmore piled up in confusion at the bottom. A thorough examination of the wreck was made, and its position noted on the chart.

We then returned to Scarinish for the night, the foreigners, as on the previous evening, sleeping on board. I went ashore and passed the night at the house of my sister. The boat was anchored in a creek known as Ghracemuil [possibly Greasamul, Caolas]. On following morning, we set out for Cornaig, on the northern side the island, and examined the spot where the Rhidda with a cargo of pulp was wrecked [in 1902], and afterwards proceeded along the coast where the Caimmuir with a general cargo foundered [in 1886]. The diver made a descent at the former spot, and reported that he had seen portions of the wreck.

We next proceeded direct to Skerryvore Lighthouse, twelve miles to the south-west of Tiree. We landed safely at the rock, went ashore, and inspected the lighthouse from base to summit. The keepers were both courteous and hospitable to the foreigners. From the Skerryvore we were directed by the keepers to the point at the Mackenzie rocks, where the Labrador was wrecked [in 1899]. We anchored some distance from the rock until it came above water, and then went quite close to it. The diver went down, remaining underneath for long time. He reported that had seen huge masses of wreckage, pile above pile, on a sharp point of the rock. We then got back to Scarinish. l got some letters from the lighthouse keepers to post at Scarinish, but I was too late to catch the Tiree mail. The foreigners said as they were going direct to Tobermory they would post them there, and I gave them the letters. Whoever they were, the men kept to their bargain, and paid me handsomely. It is quite possible that there may be an inquiry as to the movements of these men, and I am quite ready to furnish all the information that I possess concerning them.”

The correspondent adds that the news of the incident in Glasgow has given rise to much curious speculation, particularly as many alarming stories have reached Glasgow from time to time of the number of Germans who are now found “on holiday” since the operations on the new torpedo range on Loch Long were entered upon. These stories tell of the foreigners’ fondness for climbing “The Cobbler” hill from which a splendid view of the torpedo centre is obtained. Another craze is for photographing “the scenery of the loch.” It is also urged that these visitors find the dead of winter quite suitable for their holidays, and Arrochar is about the least inviting resort in all Scotland at that season of the year.

Yesterday’s News

A series of articles based on newspaper cuttings about Tiree.

1910: The egg industry on Tiree

https://www.aniodhlann.org.uk/object/2024-9-3/ ‎

1914: Help for soldiers on the Front

https://www.aniodhlann.org.uk/object/2024-9-4/ ‎

1914: Recruitment on Tiree

https://www.aniodhlann.org.uk/object/2024-9-5/ ‎

Early roads on Tiree

1906–28: More on early roads

https://www.aniodhlann.org.uk/object/2024-9-7/ ‎

1910–30: The date of New Year

1885: The loss of the ‘Nancy’ of Dublin

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