NATURAL HISTORY SOCIETY
There was never a time when South Kintyre seemed strange to me, although it was in Renfrew that I was born and grew up, and on the Lanark and Kyle farms of my Lowland father's people that I spent much of the school holidays. Our holidays in South Kintyre were rare enough and short enough. But it seems to me that I have always had before my inward eye that astonishing sweep of land and sea from the mist-crowned bulk of the Mull round by the undulating line of Islay and the majestic Paps of Jura, with gentle Gigha and Cara lying low and closer at hand - and away to the south the hazy blue backcloth of Ireland, from Antrim to the shadowy hills dwindling westward beyond Lochs Foyle and Swilly. It must have been during a charabanc trip up the Largieside, I suppose, that this scene was indelibly imprinted on my mind.
I am looking at the photograph of a family group taken in Campbeltown in 1879. Seated in front are Margaret Laird Mac Eachran, her broad-shouldered, full-bearded husband, Archibald, and between them are their three sons, Martin and Duncan, and between them, taller than either and mustachioed like Vercingetorix, Archibald, my maternal grandfather. The three young men have sprigs of common heath in their buttonholes - the badge of Clan lain Mhor Mhic Dhomnuill nan Eilean - the MacConnells or Mac Donnells or Mac Donalds of the South Isles, Kintyre, and Antrim whom the Mac Eachrans had followed since the time of Regulus Somerled's grandchildren ....... A long time ago!
When that photograph was taken, my Great-Grandfather, Archibald, had the smithy at Stewarton in the Laggan between Campbeltown and Machrihanish. It was a big smithy and he had wrought there for at least twenty years, after leaving Campbeltown. (In 1860 he was paying £9 a year in rent. A little later it went up to £20, but by 1879 it had come down to £15.) Did he and his family know as they froze for that photograph that their days a t Stewarton were nearly done - no more work for the farmers, the carters of peat from the Aros Moss to the distilleries, the chamberlain of Mac Chailein Mhor? Perhaps, for in 1880 the smithy was registered as vacant and the family scattered. Duncan went west to Canada and across it to Vancouver (where his offspring prospered). Isabel, Martin, and Archibald took ship (the Kintyre or the Kinloch it would be) for Glasgow. The first became a nurse and the favourite theatre sister of a famous surgeon. Martin prospered as a business man. And my Grandfather, Archibald - a smith like his father and grandfather before him - became the foreman in charge of the blacksmith's shop in the great works of Babcock and Wilcox in Renfrew, along the banks of the White Cart. In February 1920 at his house in Moorpark, I was born, the son of his daughter, Margaret Laird Hamilton. My father, John, after whom I was named in the Gaelic version, had been an officer in the Canadian army. Demobilized, he failed to find a job, and before my first birthday he departed from us, returning to the farm in Manitoba to which he had emigrated as a child with his parents when life had become too hard on the poor ground they tilled on the ducal Hamilton estate. So Archibald Mac Eachran (who never forgot South Kintyre, and was proud of the long line of the small clan, stretching back to the days before the Norsemen came, before the Gaels came) stood in loco paternis.
On a holiday about 1927, I stood outside the smithy at Stewarton, afraid of the flying sparks and the acrid smoke sizzling in clouds from the hoof of a horse that was being shod, while my Grandfather talked to a man in a leather apron, the boss, who said (I think) that he had come from Islay. Anyhow he knew nothing of my Greet-Grandfather. They could have talked for hours, if at length I had not (bored by the words buzzing over my head and sickened by the stink of burning hoof) made a great nuisance of myself. So we went to Greenlees' shop not far from the smithy. I had a glass of fizzy lemonade. So had my Grandfather, but he had something else poured into his glass first from a brown bottle.
During a summer spent on a paternal great-aunt's farm near Dungavel, I learned that I was descended from one John Hamilton, a fanatical Covenanter who had been killed or wounded at Drumclog in the skirmish with Bloody Clavers' dragoons. At the end of the holiday, my Grandfather came to take me home to Renfrew. As we walked down the farm road, I told him of my discovery. Had he heard of my Covenanting forebear. He had. He frowned. He then told me (or more likely, reminded me) that many years before Crumclog, another of my ancestors had been out with the Marquess of Montrose in the Highland and Irish contingent led by Montrose's chief lieutenant, Alasdair Mac Cholla Chictach, fighting the forces of the Covenant. After the rout at Rhunahoarine, Alasdair departed for Islay and Ireland, to be killed at Cnoc an Dos in Munster in a battle against Lord Inchiquin. His remaining force in Kintyre retreated south to Dunaverty, which was besieged by General David Leslie and the Mac Chailein Mhor. Eventually they surrendered under quarter, but the fanaticaI chaplains (or reverend commissars) accompanying the Parliamentary army ranted in God's name to such an effect that all but a few of the surrendered Highlanders were slaughtered on the spot. The remainder, the daoine usislean ('nobles' or 'leading men') were then done to death more formally after a drumhead trial, being hanged or shot. Among them was a Mac Eachran from whom I am descended. "You must remember," said my grandfather, "that these Lowland people do not see things as we Highlanders do. You may be only half a Highlander, but your Highland half is the better half, and don't you forget it." ........ Which is as it may be.
In 1880 I joined the newly formed section of the 5th Argylls at Southend, Kintyre. We had no rifles and no uniform, but expected to have them in time for the Royal Review by Queen Victoria arranged to be held at Edinburgh on 25th August, 1881, so our hopes were high. We got Snider (?Schneider) rifles and new uniforms in the spring of that year.
The day before the review on a lovely morning with the mist lying low on the hills we started off on the first stage, a ten mile drive to Campbeltown. Along with the Campbeltown companies we joined the steamer for Greenock, then the train to Edinburgh. This took us a whole day. We were housed in the bare flat of a large brewery in Edinburgh and next morning we marched to the Queen's Park where the review was to be held. We were there two hours before the time set for the march past and after a lot of marching and counter marching took up our allotted space on the parade ground. Then the rain started and from forenoon till night fell steadily in a drenching downpour and what otherwise could have been a brilliant spectacle was shorn of most of the glory by the ravages of the weather.
The rain kept steadily and constant so that in a short time we were wet to the skin. Clad only in red tunic, tartan kilt and glengarry headpieces we had but little to protect us, and there we stood for hours in the pelting rain. Had we been on the move, it would not have been so bad, but standing still and letting the rain soak through was torture.
At last the order came to march off and led by the pipers playing "The Campbells are Coming" we went by the saluting point in good order. So many horse, artillery and infantry taking the same road soon made it into a soft bog. The march past lasted two hours and the last regiments had the worst of it - over the boots in mud, water oozing from every stitch of their clothing. They looked a bit bedraggled but their discipline and carriage were excellent. The military authorities said they were agreeably surprised at the discipline and bearing of the troops under such conditions.
This was the largest gathering of armed men in Scotland since the Battle of Bannock burn in 1314. About 40,000 were represented, drawn from every part of Scotland. This gathering did much to call public attention to the deficiencies of the Volunteer equipment and improvement dates from that day. Catering and housing arrangements were not so well understood then as they are now. It is also true, however, that many lives were sacrificed on the parade ground under Arthur's Seat. The drenching and the long journey home in wet clothing led many men to their deathbeds. When, we, the Argylls, got back home to our quarters the first thing we did was to get off our wet clothing, wring it as dry as possible, and then put it on again. There was nothing else for it. In the morning we started off on the long journey to lone Kintyre; got there in the evening and found the whole country bathed in glorious sunshine. It made us partly forget the miserable time we had had in the Scottish capital.
The foregoing account of the Wet Review was written by Armourer-Sergeant John MacCallum, when he was in his 83rd year, for the National Rifle Association Journal, which has graciously allowed us to reprint the article. John McCallum (1863-1946), was a blacksmith, and the eldest son of Duncan McCallum, Blacksmith, Machrimore Smithy, Southend. John and his brother, Edward, also a blacksmith, who succeeded his father in Machrimore Smithy, were well known international shots. John competed at Bisley every year until he was 83 years of age, and reached the King's Hundred on fourteen occasions. Edward was twice Scottish Champion, and competed yearly at Bisley, also, in pre-First War Years.
About 120 years ago uneasiness about the ability of Britain, with its army's imperial commitments to defend itself against a continental army resulted in a new volunteer force being formed, and the first 'Rifle Volunteer' force came into being. The men of the Argyll Force appeared at a Royal Review in Edinburgh in 1860 in uniform, a somewhat misleading term and here we find the first evidence of the strong individuality which has been such a characteristic of the Argyllshire Battalion throughout its history. Shortly before the Wet Review previous uniforms of grey tunics and trousers, and later of dark green doublets, kilts and plaids, were replaced by the scarlet doublets in which it is recorded the Argyllshire Volunteers made such a picturesque effect of bright uniforms against the grey walls of the Castle on a visit of H.M. Queen Victoria to Inveraray in 1875. In 1908 the Volunteers were displaced by the Territorials, end the place of the 5th Argyll Volunteers was taken by the 8th Argylls, which are an integral part of the history of Argyll, and indeed of our own Kintyre.
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ISSN 0140 0762