Taken from
Issue Number 51 Spring 2002


Agnes Stewart

Early life

William Sinclair Mitchell was born on 21 November 1904, at 5 North Shore Street, Campbeltown. He was the third child, and the third son, of William Sinclair Mitchell and Mary Keith, who were married in Back Street, Campbeltown, on 28 December 1900.

William Sr, born in 1874, was a shipyard worker and was for a time secretary to the Boilermakers' Society at the local shipyard. He and Mary went on to have nine children in all - five sons and four daughters. Money was always tight, and the younger William - Willie, as he was known all his life - started work at the age of seven. His first job was delivering milk for a local dairy, doing two barefoot runs a day, seven days a week. The wage for all that was the princely sum of 1/3d, that is about six and a half pence in today's money, and even that seemingly paltry amount was a serious contribution to the family budget.

Young Willie showed promise at school, and he quickly mastered the 'three Rs'. Of the three, it could be said that reading played the greatest part in his life, for he had a voracious appetite for the printed word. Because, like many people at that time, he had to leave school at the first opportunity, he was largely self-taught. His reading led him on to writing, which he did fluently and well, in both verse and prose, and his letters and verses have been treasured by people in many walks of life from the famous to the relatively unknown.

Early in his school days, he discovered the delights of the poetry lesson on Friday afternoon. These early lessons were the beginning of a life-long love affair with poetry, and through his reading he gained an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of classical poetry. More will be said about this later, but these poetry lessons were a welcome relief from the hardships of life early in the twentieth century, in a family where money was scarce.

*The title of this article comes from Burns's poem 'To the Guidwife of Wauchope House'. Willie often quoted the lines:

'Even then a wish, (I mind its power)
A wish that tae my latest hour
Shall strongly heave my breast.
That I for poor old Scotland's sake
Some usefu plan or book could make,
Or sing a sang at least. '


Willie spoke of one occasion in school, when an order was issued that shoes should be worn at all times. He had no shoes, for there was no money with which to buy shoes, and he went in fear to school. But an understanding headmaster made light of the lack of footwear, and Willie and others continued to go to school unshod.

William Sr, as has been said, worked at the local shipyard, and during the lunch break from school, it was young Willie's job to run to the shipyard with his father's 'piece'. His contemporaries often called him 'Filly' in these days, for he was a good runner and skipped along like a young horse.

More by accident than design, Willie became a butcher. When he left school, aged 14, he got a job as apprentice with Dugald Smith, butcher in Saddell Street, and butchering became his life's work. But although he worked hard at his trade all his days, butchering was somehow less important in the end than music and poetry, walking and cycling.


Carradale Connections


I'm not quite sure when Willie made the first contact with his relatives in Carradale, but I think that it would be when he was in his teens. He would, of course, have been told of these relatives. An elder brother of William Sr, John, born in 1865, married Catherine Cook, born at Auchnasavil, Carradale, in 1867, and that couple lived and had their large family in Carradale.

It seems that the Mitchell family belonged to the Carradale area. The earliest Mitchell that I have traced, so far, is one Archibald, Willie's great-great grandfather, who was born in Torrisdale Glen - date unknown. Willie knew nothing of old Archibald of Torrisdale Glen, but from an early age he was aware of his Carradale cousins and at the first opportunity he made contact with them.

Early forays to Carradale were made on foot or by steamer. If Willie went to Carradale by steamer, usually on a local holiday, he would visit some of the relatives there and then walk the 16 miles home. Later on, when Willie took to the bicycle, journeys to Carradale were made by bike, and I remember several trips when I was young, cycling to Carradale with my father and visiting Auntie Katie, as we all called her. Willie's Uncle John died in 1935, so that my memories are only of Auntie Katie.

Auntie Katie moved away to Glasgow with her daughter Isa, Mrs. Shaw, and she died there, aged 93, in 1961. Contact was maintained, however, with various cousins, especially with Mary - Mrs. Ritchie - who lived for a long time in Grogport, with Angus, who lived in Carradale, and with Duncan, who was a minister in the United Free Church of Scotland. In the course of visits to Auntie Katie, I also met my father's cousins Donald - always called 'Die' - and on one occasion Katie, Mrs. Crichton, who had settled in Florida.

For a time in the early 1930s, Willie lived at Auchnabreck Farm in Carradale Glen. At that time, he was employed as a butcher with Keith Campbell, who owned the farm and ran a butcher's van from there. That van called at houses and farms from Saddell to Skipness. The work was hard and the hours were long, for in these days a butcher not only sold meat but also killed and prepared his own.

Willie's youngest brother, Duncan, sometimes stayed up the glen with him, and, despite the long working hours, there were many happy days at Auchnabreck and many ceilidhs with the Blue family who lived up the hill at Deucheran - a farm now ruined and covered by forest.

When Keith Campbell sold Auchnabreck, about 1933, Willie moved to Tarbert, where he got employment, as a butcher, with a man named McNair. There is a poem in Willie's handwriting entitled 'McNair's Shop Tarbert', dated 1934. 'Old Mac himsel is no sae bad - better than many a boss I've had.'

Walking exploits

Mention has already been made of the fact that Willie often walked to or from Carradale - sometimes both! There were, of course, very few cars or buses in Kintyre at that time, and even if cars had been available, the wherewithal to buy one certainly was not.

The first trip that Willie made outside Kintyre was also on foot. That particular holiday took him to Islay, after going north as far as Inverneil, near Ardrishaig. It was then that he first met Mrs. Macintyre, who lived at Inverneil, and who gave him a bed for the night. That special friendship lasted till the end of her life, and extended to her children and grandchildren. The great walk of Willie's life was, however, an epic journey made in Kintyre, in 1929, when he was in his mid-twenties. On a Sunday morning in late May, he set off from his home in North Shore Street at 6 0' clock and walked to Machrihanish. When he reached the end of the road, at Ballygroggan Farm, he took to the hills, walking south along that beautiful but rugged coast towards the Mull of Kintyre. Because he was unfamiliar with much of the terrain, he kept too near sea level where the going is even rougher than it is on the hill. As a result, he had to do rather more climbing, and make more detours than would have been necessary if he had kept to higher ground.

Despite that, it seems that he reached the lighthouse at the Mull of Kintyre sometime in the early afternoon - no mean feat, as anyone will admit who has ever walked over that bit of country. At Balnamoil, the shepherd's cottage above the lighthouse, Miss Todd, the sole occupant of the cottage that day, gave him scones and a drink of milk. Miss Todd's brother, who usually lived with her, was over the hill at Strone because of a family bereavement.

From Balnamoil, Willie walked up the long steep twisting road to The Gap, and thence on to Southend. At Southend, he chose the Learside Road, and walked its hilly length back to Campbeltown. As he passed the Rocky Burn, the old Victoria Hall clock chimed midnight. He had been walking for 18 hours and covered nearly 40 miles. To the end of his days, Willie was proud of that walk. In 1981, he wrote a rhyming description of it, and he often talked about the pleasure of being young and fit and able to do a walk, which probably no one else has ever completed in one day.

Cycling exploits and cycling friends

From about the late 1920s, Willie's preferred mode of transport was the bicycle. It's not that he stopped walking, for even in his later years he liked a walk; but rather he discovered that he could explore more of Scotland on two wheels. And explore Scotland he did, and not only Scotland, for on one memorable holiday, about 1937, he cycled to London, where he watched one of his favourite football teams, Tottenham Hotspur, play at White Hart Lane.

He became a member of the Cyclists' Touring Club, and, in fact, for many years was that club's chief consul for Argyll, advising other club members about suitable accommodation in the county. Before very long, Willie and his bike were a familiar sight on the roads of Argyll and beyond.

Cycling helped him to keep contact with his friend Mrs. Macintyre and her family, and he often stayed with the Macintyres, first at Inverneil and then in Ardrishaig, after the Inverneil cottage was demolished to make way for a new bridge. His hobby also enabled him to make many more friendships as he sought bed and breakfast accommodation throughout Argyll.

About 1930 he met the Campbell family and their nieces and nephews, the Nicholsons, who lived at Keil Farm, Duror, and that visit started another friendship that was to be life-long. In 1933, the family, Campbells and Nicholsons, moved to Rhonadale near Carradale. Peter Campbell ('PI' as he was known) became factor to Austin MacKenzie, who owned Carradale Estate. When Mr MacKenzie died in 1938, the family moved on to Knockhanty Farm at Machrihanish, and Peter Campbell became factor to the Duke of Argyll.

Many were the ceilidhs held in all these homes, for the Campbells and Nicholsons shared Willie's interest in music and song, and these ceilidhs continued when, after the death of Peter Campbell in 1952, the family moved into Creagdhu Mansions in Campbeltown.

In the early years of World War II, Willie read in the magazine, Cycling, of the exploits of a Glasgow cyclist, Tommy Chambers. He wrote in verse to Tommy, and so began another lasting friendship. Before long, Tommy made a week-end trip to Campbeltown, arriving at the Mitchell home in Smith Drive on a Saturday evening. The two men cycled round Kintyre on the Sunday, and, on Monday, Tommy cycled home again to Glasgow - something like 350 miles in the three days. That was the first of many visits, and after the War Willie made several trips to Glasgow, to take part in time trials with Tommy's Glasgow cycling club.

In 1947, Willie had his first cycling holiday in Ireland, touring widely in that country. During that holiday, he cycled down the east side of the country, visiting Dublin, along the south, visiting Cork, and up much of the west coast.

In these post-War years, Willie liked to have his bicycles built in Glasgow, and he ordered his last bike from his favourite firm when he was aged over 70. A wee accident and a cracked pelvis ended his cycling days, but as long as he was able, he kept walking.

Drumlemble Days

It was at a Fair Day concert, about 1930, that Willie first met Malcolm 'Maxie' Thomson, who was singing at the concert. That meeting was the beginning of another life-long friendship, and the beginning of a life-long close relationship with the village of Drumlemble - a relationship that resulted in Willie's most famous song, 'Road to Drumlemman.' This song, incidentally, has been recorded by the groups Ossian and New Moon Ensemble and by the world-renowned former Mod gold-medallist, Anne Lorne Gillies.

Drumlemble was a depressed place in 1930, for the pit had closed in 1926 and there was very little work apart from seasonal work on the farms, or an occasional job repairing roads. The houses were poor, and, by today's standards, overcrowded. There was no gas or electricity and the water supply was the village pump. But there was music and song. There were summer days at Cragaig and The Inneans. And each New Year was greeted gleefully, with great conviviality, and with the full confidence that this year, things would surely change.

From about the mid-1930s, Drumlemble SWRI, which met regularly in the Mission Hall, benefited from Willie's entertaining skills. He was a regular at the annual SWRI Burns Supper, making speeches, reciting poetry and singing. He wrote a song about 'The Rural' - a song with a lovely line about the ladies who would 'swing by their knees on the flying trapeze at the Rural keep fit classes'.

Some time in the early years of World War II, James Thomson, Maxie's son, started a youth club in the village. Willie was a keen helper there, getting involved with the football team, with the choir, and with a play about Robert Burns which was staged by the club. When an adult choir was formed in the village, Willie helped there, singing enthusiastically in the tenor line, while his wife, Agnes, sang alto whenever family commitments allowed.

Soon after the end of the War, Willie, along with James Thomson, started a cycling club - the Kintyre Wheelers Cc. This flourished for a year or two, and outings included trips round Kintyre, and to Gigha, not to mention the odd week-end touring further north in Argyll. Finances were always a problem, despite fund-raising events like a concert in Machrihanish Village Hall, for which Willie wrote a song to be sung by his three daughters, and the club only survived for a few years.

Through many years, Willie kept up the custom of going to Drumlemble - to Maxie's house - soon after the New Year came in, and many were the New Year ceilidhs held in that house. At New Year 1951, Willie toasted his friend in a song, the chorus of which says: '

Here's a health tae ye, Maxie, my freen,
Your family, your hame, an' your wife, Bonnie Jean.
Lang may they sing tae ye, comfort ye, cling tae ye,
Joy may they bring tae ye many a year.'


Of course, there were many more 'Drumlemble I friends, like the MacShannons and the Hamiltons; and although space does not permit me to say more about them here, that does not mean that these friendships were unimportant.

Marriage and Family

While Willie was working with the Co-op butchers in Longrow, in 1927, he met Agnes Morrison, who was then working next door with her brother Willie, a chemist. Before long, the two were courting seriously, although they did not marry till March 1934. When asked about the delay in the wedding, Willie replied that they could not afford to get married before they did, for each was contributing to family finances at home, so that it took a long time to save up enough to set up house together. No thought of hire-purchase then! When they married, Agnes was 34 years old and Willie in his 30th year.

In 1936 their first daughter, Agnes, was born, followed in 1938 by a second daughter, Mary. Then in 1940, tragedy struck. In November of that year, Agnes Snr gave birth to a son, William, who sadly only survived for a few days. Two years later, in 1942, their fourth child, another daughter, Catherine, was born.

The loss of their only son must have been a severe blow, for of the five Mitchell brothers, only Willie married, and only that lost son could have carried on the family name. But these sensible parents never let that loss affect the secure childhood of their daughters, and these daughters were never made to feel that they were in any way inferior being daughters and not sons. In fact, these daughters were given every encouragement to develop any talents they had without ever being told, 'Girls don't usually do that'.

Maybe because of his lost son, Willie formed a close relationship with his sister's only son, Billy McMillan. That sister was the only one of his siblings to marry, so that nephew was special anyway. Willie and his nephew continued their high mutual regard till the end of Willie's life, and the family were delighted that Billy, now a Church of Scotland minister, was able to take part in the funeral service in 1986.

Willie and his family cycled regularly together and Billy often came along. On one occasion, Willie took Agnes, Mary and Billy off on a holiday, when they visited several youth hostels in south-west Scotland. The family had several cycling holidays, including one never-to-be-forgotten trip to Ireland. They also sang regularly together. All three girls were given piano lessons, and, from early days, all three were encouraged to lift a mandolin and pick out a tune.

From the mid-1960s, the family performed frequently at local musical events, and this family group continued till about the mid-70s, with the final line-up being Willie's three daughters, together with Mary's second husband, Frank McNaughton, and Catherine's husband, John Kerr. Agnes's husband, Allister Stewart, was the family baby-sitter!

Willie and Agnes lived to celebrate their Golden Wedding, surrounded by family and friends. They also lived to see and enjoy their seven grandchildren, and five of their great-grandchildren. They got a lot of pleasure from all the children, and enjoyed hearing stories of their school work and play.

Poetry and song

As has been said, Willie had a life-long love affair with poetry. He read widely in the classics, favouring Byron, Tennyson and Shelley. He wasn't so keen on Keats, and, strangely, he had little time for Shakespeare; but he had a special love and admiration for the melancholy Alfred Edward Housman.

He moved on from the classics to the Scottish poets, to William Dunbar and Robert Fergusson and to the greatest of them all - Robert Burns. He had a tremendous knowledge of the life and works of Burns, who, of all the poets, was surely his favourite. His memory for rhyme and his performing skills meant that he became an acknowledged expert at 'Tam 0' Shanter', 'Holy Willie's Prayer' and 'To a Haggis', among many others.

On one occasion, Willie was invited by an American teacher in Campbeltown Grammar School to come to the school, speak about Burns and recite some poetry. The teacher, Harold Goss, had heard of Willie's reputation as a Burns enthusiast. Despite some scepticism from the Class 4 pupils, the visit was a great success and the rendering of 'Tam 0' Shanter' held the company spellbound.

Nor was his knowledge of Scottish poetry confined to Burns, for Violet Jacob's 'Songs of Angus' were a source of pleasure, and he had a tremendous respect for Tarbert poet, George Campbell Hay, and a great love for his works. He delighted in memorising and reciting poems from the latter's book Wind on Loch Fyne, though these were usually recited in private, for in public he preferred to stick to a more comic vein.

In his later years, he took an interest in the Irish poets, beginning with Thomas Moore and WB Yeats, then moving to the McDonaghs, Donagh, Thomas and Patrick. Moira O'Neill was a favourite, as were Patrick McGill and Eva Gore-Booth, and towards the end of his life, he grew to appreciate the blank verse of John Hewitt, and the more traditional-sounding verse of Siobhan ni Luain, both of whom wrote movingly of the Glens of Antrim.

I find it strange that someone who could recite with such feeling and understanding Thomas McDonagh's 'The Yellow Bittern' or Violet Jacob's 'The Howe 0' the Mearns' or George Campbell Hay's 'Kintyre', should shrink from doing so in public. It certainly wasn't that he was incapable of reciting serious poetry. He seemed to prefer the public to see him as comic figure and not as one easily moved by the sheer beauty and emotion of straight poetry.

While Willie was still a young man, he learned to play the mandolin, and his mandolin afforded him great pleasure right to the end of his life. He learned the mandolin from a man named Jamie Watters, who lived in Dalintober, and who encouraged young folk to come to his house and make music.

There is a lovely family story about Willie having been arrested once for playing the mandolin in the old shelter at the head of Dalintober Quay. When his father went to the Police Station to get him, there was Willie playing the mandolin while all the police present sang along with the music.

Scottish song featured in his life from his earliest days. He had a mother who sang as she went about her work. Later, he married a sweetheart who had a particularly fine contralto voice, and who also sang as she went about her work.

The Fair Day concerts, which used to be regular events in Campbeltown life, introduced him to some of the better-known local songs, and about 1940 he started to write the words of these local songs in a book. Before long, he set out to find songs that had never been written down, and by the time of the so-called 'Folk song revival' of the 1950s, he had a comprehensive collection of the traditional material available in the oral tradition of Kintyre.

In 1956, the late Dr Hamish Henderson visited Kintyre, and there was a famous ceilidh in the Mitchell house at Smith Drive, when Hamish recorded the singing of Willie himself and of the McShannon brothers, James, John and Alex. These recordings were made for the archives of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, and are stored there.

In 1979, Hamish wrote an article for Tocher, the magazine of the School of Scottish Studies, about Willie and his collection of songs. Some of the songs from his collection, including 'Road to Drumlemman', are printed in that same issue of Tocher.

Willie very soon discovered that many of the Kintyre songs had their origins in Ireland, and this encouraged his study of Irish traditional music. He felt a great affinity with Ireland, and it's a pity that it was not until after his death that I discovered that his great-grandparents, William Sinclair and Mary Welsh, were born in Ireland.

When he was still a young man, Willie started to write his own poems and songs. These were usually comments - often humorous comments on the people and events around him.

'Noo a horse is a guid freen, nae better I'll seek,
It aye does your biddin whenever ye speak;
But a tractor just chokes ye wi' dirty black reek
Says Big Johnny Reid 0' Knockrioch.'

Many of the early poems were written for the sweetheart who later became his wife. His interest in football meant that he was able to make rhyming epistles to some of the local football teams. Although many of these poems are of interest only to those who know Kintyre, there are some that have a wider appeal, an appeal that surely is shown at its best in 'Road to Drumlemman' .

A number of the poems were published in the Courier or Argyllshire Advertiser. Many of the songs were sung by Willie himself, by the family group, or by individual members of the family. I hope that some of them survive, for they show a skill in the use of vocabulary, rhyme and wit unusual in the casual country poet or songwriter.

Although he was such a prolific poet, he rarely advertised the fact that he had written a particular poem or song, and this was noticeable especially with 'Road to Drumlemman'. Often, while he was still in his butcher's shop, someone would come in and ask if he knew the song, and if he could supply the words. I never heard him say, 'Of course I know the song. I wrote it.' But he always supplied the words!

He preferred that his songs take their place in the oral tradition of Kintyre, for he knew as well as any that, in oral tradition, only the best songs survive.

The man

These, then, are some of the facts of the quite remarkable life of Willie Mitchell. He was extremely well-read, and was better educated than most working men of his time. That was all through his own effort, for, as was said earlier, he had to leave school at 14.

His great love of poetry meant that he read poetry to his children, and not just children's poetry, though AA Milne's 'When We Were Very Young' was always popular - as it still is with the young people in the family. He introduced his daughters to Burns by way of 'The Death and Dying Words of Poor Mailie', to Patrick McGill by way of 'Changelings', and to many other serious poems. Of course, we could not understand these poems when we were very young; but they had a lovely sound, for they were well read, and, later, we found our own understanding of them.

Willie was a fairly regular churchgoer for most of his life, though he rarely spoke about his religious belief. He did say once, 'It's difficult to believe in a God of love when you're actually hungry'. But he liked the music of the Presbyterian Church, and many happy hours were spent, in the family home in Smith Drive, singing psalms and hymns round the piano on a Sunday evening.

Perhaps because he was self-taught, he encouraged his children to find things out for themselves. Asked for the spelling of a word, he would point to the dictionary, but would help the enquirer to find the word there and encourage her to learn the spelling. Asked about a quotation - the exact wording, or the author - he would point to the book, and to the poem where the quotation could be found, and encourage the enquirer to read it for herself.

He walked and cycled in all weathers. He had a great affinity with nature, especially with nature in springtime. To be out of doors - in any weather - was a pleasure. In fact, he took a particular delight in conquering adverse weather conditions. The elements, however fierce, were there to be enjoyed.

Although he loved company, and enjoyed being the life and soul of any party, he also enjoyed being alone - on his bike, or walking, or sitting reading or writing in his room. Despite his love of company and his prowess as an entertainer, he suffered recurring bouts of depression maybe a price he paid for an artistic temperament.

In different circumstances, he could have gone into one of the professions. If he had, I believe that the essential man would have been different, and then, it could be, that Kintyre would have lost someone who contributed much to the general good, someone who surely sang his song and told his story to the best of his considerable ability. At his Golden Wedding party in 1984, Willie quoted words from Adam Lindsay Gordon's poem 'The Dying Stockman': 'I would live the same life over if I had to live again.' These words were sincerely meant, for despite its many hardships, he enjoyed the life that he lived to the full.

The writer is grateful to the following, who helped jog her memory: Angus Martin, Editor of this magazine; James Thomson, Lochgilphead; Jean Nicholson, Creagdhu, Campbeltown; Duncan Ritchie, Carradale; Joyce Borthwick, Machrihanish; William McMillan, Shetland and Cathy Kerr, Campbeltown. .

Enid Gauldie

My father ran away to sea when he was 15 and travelled most of the world, but when in his 80s he remembered very clearly his boyhood in Campbeltown and was able to tell me about it. Like everyone else, I wish I had asked more questions while he was alive. Because our family stretches back a very long way in only two generations, the Campbeltown he remembered was the Campbeltown of the 1880s.

William Macneilage, my father, was born in 1878. My grandfather, David Macneilage, was born in 1840. David's parents were Archibald Macneilage and Catherine McIntosh, both born in Campbeltown. I have found it very difficult to take the family tree back with any certainty, not because I couldn't trace any earlier Macneilages in Campbeltown, but because there were far too many. So it was quite a disappointment for me to find that there was no one of that name left in the town.

Archibald was a tailor. The average wage of a tailor in Campbeltown in the 1840s was nine shillings a week. Of the offspring, I know about one - Malcolm became a coppersmith, a trade for which the 20 or so distilleries then operating in the town presumably provided plenty of work. The other - my grandfather, David - became a doctor. It is not difficult to understand why he should have chosen medicine. Because it was a busy seaport, with visiting sailors carrying infection from other parts of the world, and perhaps because it was overcrowded, the population having doubled between 1775 and 1841, Campbeltown suffered from waves of epidemic fevers. There were many families in need of medical help. What is harder to explain is how a poor tailor could afford to educate a son for the length of time needed to qualify as a doctor.

David attended the Andersonian College of Medicine in Glasgow and from there went as clinical assistant to the Glasgow Lock Hospital. From Glasgow he went first to Newcastle to work in the Eye Hospital there and then to County Durham, where he bought a small. practice in Bishop Aukland. He had married, before leaving Glasgow, a girl of Highland origin called Agnes Maria McAdam.

My father, William, was born in County Durham. He told me that he was one of 13 children. He had two older brothers that I know of, Archibald and David, and two older sisters, Helen and Queenie, who was christened Mary Stuart. Their mother Agnes died when my father was a very small child, so I think the other eight must have been step-siblings.

After his first wife's death, Dr David married again and moved to a more prosperous practice in Manchester. I do not yet know whether the marriage preceded or followed that move. Nor do I know what prompted him to leave Manchester and move his family to his home town of Campbeltown in 1886.

My father's boyhood, then, was spent in the home of his ancestors. He and his brothers and sisters had to accustom themselves, after the laxer air of the north of England, to the then extreme, restrictive, religious beliefs of Kintyre: church three times on Sundays and no running or whistling on that day. His stories of Campbeltown are a mixture of misery softened by delight in his natural surroundings. The beach, the harbour, the surrounding moorland made wonderful playgrounds for young boys. But the family were very much restricted to their own company because many of the local children - even their own cousins were Gaelic-speaking and their father had not passed on to them his own native tongue.

They were very unhappy at home too. The second marriage was not a happy one. Their stepmother was quick-tempered and cruel and knew no kind of discipline except blows. Now, of course, I can see that she must have been tried beyond her strength, perpetually pregnant and with a first wife's children to look after as well as her own. But she leaves behind only a memory of cruelty.

Archie, William and David often ran away after she had hit them, and spent whole hungry days away from school and home. On at least one occasion they made a serious attempt to get away, but, after walking for hours across the heather, they were recognised as 'the doctor's laddies' by a farmer passing with cart and pony and were bundled home for another thrashing.

They became clever at finding free food to eat: nuts and berries, young hawthorn leaves, seaweed, sorrel and a kind of root, called 'earth-nuts', which they dug out of the ground.

To add to their troubles, their father's attempt to set up practice in his home town was not financially successful. There were plenty of patients, plenty of poor people needing a doctor's help, but not many of them who could afford to pay a doctor's fees. My father remembered seeing his father standing in the kitchen tearing up old unpaid bills and feeding them into the kitchen range and consoling himself from the greybeard of whisky kept under the kitchen table. He knew there was no way of wringing money out of people whose pride would certainly have driven them to pay if they had the means. All the diseases of poverty were common. David Macneilage attended Agnes Galbraith, the wife of his own younger brother, Malcolm, when she lay dying of tuberculosis at the age of 24.

Eventually he had to admit the impossibility of maintaining his own large family off what he could earn in Scotland. He returned to Manchester, where he seems to have prospered, earning some distinction in his own profession and sending his boys to Manchester Grammar School. He died in Manchester in 1907. As far as I know, none of his children ever returned to Campbeltown. I would be very happy to be proved wrong.


During the recent gales the beacon on the Isle of Hattan (p 24), a projection of rocks rising out of the sea nearly opposite Treasurer Dunlop's house, was blown down. Arrangements are being made for its re-erection at the ensuing spring tides, when the water will recede far enough to allow of a strong pole being sunk into the rock, on the top of which is fastened the metal plate, taken off the old beacon, which bears the inscription - 'G.B.M. Beatson, Esq., 1847', by whom it was erected. The Campbeltown Courier, 11 February 1882.

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

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