Taken from
Issue Number 93 Spring 2023


Editorial Miscellany

COST OF MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS TO INCREASE. At a council meeting of the Society on 2 September last year, it was agreed that the price of the Kintyre Magazine should be increased from £1.50 to £2 and that postal charges for subscriptions should also be increased, both to meet and anticipate rising costs. The new subscription rates will be found on page 1. There has been no increase in cither the cost of the magazine or postal charges since 2012.

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KANHS COUNCIL. Mr Harry Mclver, a member of the Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History council since 1994, resigned last year, and we thank him for his faithful and congenial presence at our meetings. Mrs Lily Cregeen (née Gemmill), Honorary Vice-President of the Society, died in Duns on 3 February at the age of 93. Until she moved away from Kintyre in December 2016, she was an active and valued member of both this Society and the Friends of Campbeltown Museum. An appreciation of Lily by Mrs Frances Hood will appear in the next issue. The council has lost three members in the past five years. without having attracted anyone new, and, while the position is not yet critical, there will come a time when the Society faces what several other local organisations in recent years have succumbed to: the threat of dissolution. Office-bearers now comprise:

The annual general meeting will take place on 29 March at 7.30 p.m. in the Ardshiel Hotel.

MR NEIL KERMACK, retired Scottish veterinary surgeon, who was an occasional contributor to this Magazine - see 'Interlude at Ronachan' in No. 66, pp. 9-12, and 'Ronachan Revisited', No. 67, p 34 ~ died peacefully at his home in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, in February of this year, at the age of 96. As his youngest daughter, Gill, who informed me of his passing, remarked: 'His was a long life well lived.' He was a loyal subscriber to the Magazine, and I shall miss handwritten letters, which were engaging and lucid to the end.

GENEALOGICAL ENQUIRY. A reader, Mr lain Stewart, is interested in one Archibald Stewart McMillan, master mariner, and his wife, Muriel Worthington Scott, who were probably born between 1830 and 1860 and may have had a connection with Kintyre; however, no authentic record of their existence seems to exist anywhere, and their names appear only in the marriage and the death certificate of a supposed daughter. Mr Stewart can be contacted at

DR MOIRA BURGESS, a valued contributor to this Magazine over many years, had a collection of short stories, Midnight, published last September by Kennedy & Boyd, Edinburgh (196 pp., £12 95). She has had three novels published - all available from Kennedy & Boyd - but Midnight is her first collection of short stories, and it contains an early work which delivered a vigorous boost to her embryonic literary career. On 3 September 1964, 'Argyllman's diary', in the Campbeltown Courier, reported that 'First Night' had won Argosy magazine's Shakespeare Award for best original short story. Described as 'a poignant and gripping little tale written round the imaginary events of a day in Shakespeare's life, the day on which his play Hamlet was first performed', her 'First Night' gained the £250 prize in competition with several 'established professional authors'. The panel of judges included Royal Shakespeare Theatre Governor, Ivor Brown, who commented: 'This tale seemed to me well developed and told with a narrative swing which carries one along: it is well written, with vivid description of time, people, place, and of Shakespeare's feelings about Hamlet as a play. It is more workmanlike than the others, a complete thing and not a sketch.' At that time, Moira, who was born in Campbeltown and brought up at West Cliff, Machrihanish, was depute librarian at Airdrie Public Library. She hoped to 'visit Africa' with her award: £250 wouldn't get one far in 2023, but in 1964 that sum was the equivalent of almost £5,000 in present-day values.

THE FIRST FISHERMEN'S ASSOCIATION IN SCOTLAND (1885). 'The following letter by a Tarbert fisherman to the editor of The Fisherman may be of some interest to our readers. "SIR, - In your issue of the 18th, I find an article headed "The Caithness Fishermen's Association", in which you refer to its being the first of the kind in Scotland. While wishing the association every success, it may not be generally known on the East Coast that we have had a Fishermen's Association in Tarbert since October last consequently two or three months previous to the formation of the Caithness Association. The name given to it is "The Tarbert Fishermen's Association", and it claims to rank as the first of its kind in Scotland, if not in Great Britain. Its motto is Dileas air Muir's air Tir - True by Land and Sea. Mr John McGugan, fisherman, well known on the West Coast, from Cape Wrath to Mull of Galloway, is chairman. The association numbers upwards of 80 members, and the funds are in a flourishing condition ... '" Argyllshire Herald, 9 May 1885

Reminiscences of Ploughing Matches (1941)
Peter McSporran

The following account - part reportage and part direct quotation - was delivered at the annual meeting of Largieside Agricultural Society in the Macdonald Arms Hotel, Tayinloan, on 18 February 1941, and published in the Campbeltown Courier four days later. The speaker was Peter McSporran, the Society's president, who presided over the suspension of the Society's activities for the duration of the war: office-bearers and committee members resigned en-bloc.

Earlier in the meeting, Robert Currie, Balure, had suggested that the president should remain in office until the war was over, but McSporran was adamant: 'There is no point in carrying on, if conditions in the country become normal again, I might reconsider my decision. You know where to find me: I have no intention of leaving the country, and I am as fit now as I was twenty years ago. I think, however, we should all resign now, and, when more peaceful times come again, the Society can be re-formed.'

In 1943, two years later, the Society presented him with a solid silver salver and a cheque in appreciation of his services as president for 17 years. As it transpired, he would return to the post after the war and remain in it until his death, aged 86, on 20 May 1952.

He was a son of a shepherd, Donald McSporran, and Catherine Downie, and the youngest of a family of twelve brought up at Craigs. His first experience of work was the marking of lambs at the age of eleven, yet he didn't go straight into agriculture. He was first a watchmaker and described himself as such when he and his wife, Maggie McArthur, erected a gravestone in Kilkerran for daughter Mary, who died, aged three, in 1888. As well as his business as a livestock dealer, he was an agent for the Prudential Insurance Company for 46 years until 1934. He lived at Little Dalrioch, Stewarton, from 1905 until his death, and leased Corputechanfarm until 1934. His wife died on 24 September 1928, aged 68, and he was survived by four sons and three daughters. Editor

He said that when the Society was disbanded 61 years ago, their last match was held at Culfuar, and when they resumed again seven years later, the same field at Culfuar was chosen for the match. From that date until the present time, with the exception of the break during the last war, ploughing matches had been held continuously, and he knew of no district in the country where the rules had been more strictly enforced than in the Largieside.

He attended the first match, which marked the revival of the Society, 54 years ago, and one of the rules he marvelled at then was that the ploughman dared not let go his lines. He had to hold on to his lines from start to finish, with the result that some of the men had lines stretching from Balure to Muasdale!

Mr McSporran went on to refer to the success of almost every match promoted by the Largieside Agricultural Society. He could only remember one match which had turned out a failure, but he had run a dance that night and the proceeds from the dance balanced the budget. The last ploughing match they had organised had been perhaps the most successful in the history of the Society, and the rules on that occasion were more strictly adhered to than usual.

The success of the match had been due in no small measure to the excellent support and assistance he had received from his directors and members of the committee. Two directors in particular, Mr Neil McKinven and Mr Malcolm MacDonald, had been specially helpful, and to them, and to all others who had gone to his aid during his term of office, he returned sincere thanks.

Referring to matches which had to be postponed, Mr McSporran stated that snow had caused them trouble one year. But, strangely enough, they could have ploughed on fields a mile on either side of the field chosen for the match. Another year, the match had to be postponed on account of frost, and on one occasion had almost to be given up because of fog - a very unusual happening for a ploughing match.

'Many people in some parts of Kintyre do not consider it worthwhile to have a Largieside ploughing match. They do not know the Largieside, or the people in it. I have never yet heard of a man regretting that he came to plough in the Largieside.

'I can assure you that at one of our matches, one ploughman took home with him £8 in money and many prizes in kind. Few districts can boast of having been so liberal with their prizes.'

Turning to ploughing matches in other parts of Kintyre, Mr McSporran stated that there was far more enthusiasm among ploughmen many years ago than there was at the present time.

Seventy-two years ago, a challenge match between Laggan and Southend took place at the Moy, six men from each district having to plough. The match resulted in a clear victory for Laggan, whose men occupied the first four places in the prize-list.

In those days, too, much controversy arose from the placings of the judges, and one year the judges were placed in a locked room and were not liberated until every man had left the field. The ploughmen, however, devised ingenious means of defeating the ends of the committee.

One ploughman carried a bag of pebbles with him. Every few minutes he stopped and threw the pebbles on his ploughed lot so that the judges would know his ploughing. Another man left his ploughing lines on the lot to help the judges.

But locking up the judges did not please some of the competitors and the committee subsequently decided to take in a stranger to judge. The first strange judge was a man named Ferguson, popularly known as the 'Packman'. His awards could not have given general satisfaction, for he was later challenged by some of the older ploughmen who had previously won first or second prizes at Kintyre matches.

The 'Packman' accepted the challenge on condition that an incomer and two local men be appointed judges. This was agreed to, the judges being Mr Howie from Greenock, Mr John Gemmell and Mr Robert Smith. The 'Packman' was placed first. He used a high-cutting plough - the first such plough to be introduced to Kintyre. Since then, high-cutters have become the order of the day.1

Proceeding, Mr McSporran spoke of the difficulties confronting the farmer on whose lands the match was being held. The farmer, he said, had to cater not only for the competing ploughmen, but he was also expected to dispense hospitality to the 200 or 300 spectators. If the same was expected of a farmer today, they would never be granted a field for their ploughing matches.

'I happened to be Junior Vice President of Kintyre Agricultural Society after the last war, and, along with Mr Hendry Barbour, was given the job of selecting a suitable field. I was successful in being granted the use of a field at Christlach by the late Mr Taylor. I told Mr Taylor that he was not expected to cater for the ploughman or the spectators. I had made arrangements with the late Mr McMillan 2 for the ploughmen to be served with dinner, and any of the spectators who were prepared to pay for the meal. That was a complete change from the old days, and I think I can take the credit for having effected the change.

'I remember when Mr John McMillan had to cater for ploughmen and spectators when the match was held in one of his fields at Glenecardoch. He killed a bullock and bought a ten-gallon barrel of whisky. Three parts of the bullock was eaten and most of the whisky consumed. Any whisky left was poured over the field.

'I attended my first ploughing match in 1881, and I saw something that day which I never again witnessed at a ploughing match. A ploughman had two good mares which he placed one in front of the other; and he tied the reins to the hems. When the horses had to be turned in at the end of the furrow, another ploughman volunteered to go to his assistance, but his offer was refused, and the horses turned in themselves without any outside assistance. That ploughman was my eldest brother, Duncan.3


  • I. That match was held at Kilkivan in February 1889 and attracted nearly 2,000 spectators, 'even though the weather was rainy'. James McAulay, Killeonan, was placed second behind Alex Ferguson, Strathbungo, 'champion ploughman of Scotland'.
  • 2. Hugh Macmillan, who died in 1933, aged 72, began his working life as a butler at Lossit House and, after eight years in London in that occupation, established himself in Campbeltown as a publican and caterer.
  • 3. Duncan McSporran, 'one of the best ploughmen in the district' and 'a smart, active man', died on 20 March 1883, aged 37. Earlier that month, in evening mist, he had fallen into a quarry while taking a short-cut home to Mingary from his work at High Tirfergus and had suffered 'severe injuries'. His wife, Helen Merrilees, who was born in Skirling, Peeblesshire, was left with nine children, aged between 14 years and two months, and in May was admitted to Campbeltown poor roll on eight shillings a week.

Reminiscences of Kintyre (1910)
John Mcinnes

The following excerpts from a series of articles published in the Campbeltown Courier in 1910 constitute but small parts of the whole and have been selected mainly for their humour; in other similar stories, chiefly of a religious character, the humour is less in keeping with present-day tastes. These articles were published under the pen name 'Dunaverty'. who was John Mcinnes. a prolific contributor of prose and verse to the Courier. He was a travelling salesman for Lawsons Ltd., drapers, and died in Glasgow in 1935, aged 82. He and his wife. Elizabeth Cochrane, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on 3 June 1925. and, by his death, narrowly missed their diamond anniversary. His father, Donald, a shoemaker in Southend, was born in Salen, Mull, and died in 1904, aged 82. predeceased by his first wife, Margaret McNish, in 1868, aged 42. His second wife, Catherine Reid, also predeceased him, in 1880, aged 56. The family gravestone is at Keil. Editor

Winter ceilidhs

Of the many old customs prevalent in Kintyre forty or fifty years ago, perhaps none tended more to create friendship and cement good feeling among all classes than the old winter ceilidhs. We have seen frequently during winter from fifteen to twenty persons congregated in one house. The formal postcard intimating your visit was quite unknown in those days, as the people then seemed always prepared to receive their visitors no matter when they called. On these occasions the programme for the night generally consisted of an hour's play at 'Catch the Ten', when the company was as orderly and sedate as though they were members of a [kirk] session meeting. After an hour at cards, the company congregated round the auld roon grate with its rousing peat fire, when the guidman or guidwife of the house opened the second part of the programme by telling some story which invariably contained an excellent mural. After this, each in turn sang their song or told their story. Many of the stories told were regarding ghosts, brownies and witches, whose wide domain is the supernatural world. Nevertheless, they were believed in by many to a degree that in this more enlightened age we almost envy.

The Keil Ghost

Reference to these mysterious beings reminds me of what was known in Southend about forty-five years ago as the Keil Ghost. This ghost could be seen and heard almost every night in the week by a certain family who resided in High Keil. It was by no means slothful, nor yet did it adopt that leisurely gait common to its species, as it could be heard at midnight running up and down the byre with an iron meat cooler which made a tremendous noise, almost scaring the inmates out of their wits. At last, it became so bold that one night, after the ploughman and his wife had retired to bed, it entered the house, put its hands beneath the bedclothes and nipped the wife on the leg over her husband, who was lying at the stock of the bed. On this account, the ploughman tendered his resignation to his employer, who for some time had been in possession of all the facts of the case. His employer, in presence of the other employees, refused to accept it, and told him to 'gae awa hame', and he would go up with the gun that night, and he cared not who the ghost might be, he would certainly shoot it. Needless to say, the shot was never required to be fired, and the ghost disappeared, and no doubt has long since left the district. [9 April 1910]

Baldy Ruadh ('Red Archibald')

The late Mr John Lome Stewart, who acted as Chamberlain to the late Duke of Argyll, was on one occasion driving home on a Sunday afternoon to Glenehervie when he overtook a shepherd of his own, familiarly known as Baldy Rhua, sound asleep on the middle of the road at Corven. Baldy, like most shepherds, liked a glass, and it happened that on his way home from church called on passing at the old thatch tavern in Kirk Street, where he seemed to get more of the spirit than was good for him. Baldy had to be removed from his Macadamised [sic] bed before the Chamberlain's carriage could pass, and Mr Baxter, the coachman, had to dismount to see this done. Next day, Baldy was summoned to appear before Mr Stewart, who insisted on knowing where he got the drink the previous day, but Baldy bluntly declined to give the information asked for. The Chamberlain became very angry, and on Baldy being further pressed for a reply, said: 'I got it, Mr Stewart, where you would get it if you had money to pay for it, and, if you had no money, you might not go to ask it.' [19 March 1910] On another occasion, when clipping sheep, Baldy allowed a number of wedders to break away that were wanted into a fank. The Chamberlain became wroth at this, and in the excitement of the moment threw a very heavy walking stick which he held in his hand at Baldy, which struck him between the shoulders. The Chamberlain afterwards regretted what he had done, and on the first opportunity asked if he was hurt and wished to be excused for his rashness. Baldy looked his master straight in the face and said: 'You may thank God that the stick was not in my hands in place of yours when it was flung, or you would not be here now to tell the tale.' [19 March 1910]

'McNeill of Machrihanish'

The late Captain Macneal of Ugadale was a terror to all farm servants and others who took more than their own share of the public road when in charge of horses and carts. Driving home from Campbeltown to Lossit one evening, he overtook at Kikivan a namesake of his own who was serving in Machrihanish. John had been in Campbeltown, and from some unknown cause had felt rather heavy and fell asleep in his cart on the way home. Owing to the position he occupied with his cart on the road, it was impossible for the Captain to get past in safety, so John was roused from his slumber, which irritated him greatly and caused him to resent vigorously the Captain's interference. 'Do you know who I am?' asked the Captain in commanding tones. 'No,' replied John, 'who are you?' - 'I am Macneal of Ugadale,' answered the Captain. 'Well,' said John, 'I'M McNeill of Machrihanish - what's the difference?" [March 1910]



The late Donald McQueen, who was the country constable at Stewarton for many years, was passing the inn at Southend one day with some excisemen when they met a local character who was known by the nickname of 'Rickles'. Donald, anxious to poke some fun out of Rickles in front of the strangers, addressed him thus: 'Well, Rickles, how are you today?' - 'Fine, McQueen, fine,' was Rickles' reply. 'But do you know what I was thinking, McQueen, when I saw you coming down there?' ...: 'No, I can't say that I do,' answered the man in blue. 'What was it you were thinking, Rickles?' - 'I was wondering if you could tell me the two laziest things in creation, McQueen.' - 'No, I am rather afraid I cannot do that; but what do you think they are, Rickles?' enquired the policeman. 'Well, it's a country policeman and a pig.' The excisemen, thinking that Rickles had the best of the encounter, handed him a shilling, telling him to go up to Mr Taylor's and drink their health and that of Mr McQueen. 'I'll do that,' said Rickles, 'and the health of the pig too.' [19 March 1910]

Donald McWilliam
There are few people who are not delighted to have bairns, but such was the case with at least one Kintyre farmer. The late Mr Donald McWilliam of Uigle, although one of the most jovial of men, remained throughout life a bachelor, and when filling up the census paper of 1871, opposite the query 'How many children have you?' he answered 'None, thank God.' [19 March 1910]

A sub-post office has just been opened at Knocknaha, from which a daily delivery is made by messenger, and the improvement on the old method of calling for letters at the smith's house is greatly appreciated by the residents in the district. Argyllshire Herald, 19 August 1899

Letter to the Editor

The following letter, from Nick Ferguson, was prompted by the articles on the Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse published in the previous issue of this Magazine. He was brought up at Beach Hill, Campbeltown, with his father Hugh - a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and president of the Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society - and mother, Frances. He was a submariner in the Royal Navy during the 1960s and 70s, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He remarks that he 'enjoyed being based at Faslane on three occasions - it was near home!' He subsequently worked in business and, like his father, spent many years overseas, in Brazil, Malaysia and Continental Europe. He is now retired and lives in Devon. Editor

Lighthouses: Sailors' Friends

Passage through the Firth of Clyde and the North Channel involves encountering several major lighthouses, identified at night by the characteristics of the light, and, during the day, by their physical structures. In poor visibility, it was a case of navigating with care and accurate estimations of the ship's position - in more modem times and in some vessels, radar could be used to assist.

In days gone by, all our lighthouses were manned and there was a very human connection with the keepers, who one knew were there looking at you from their high points of observation, just as you would be looking at them. One was always reassured by the knowledge that the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners ran a very efficient organisation, and there was no reason not to have total confidence in the service which the lighthouses provided as aids to navigation.

Taking passage out into the Atlantic from the Clyde, one of the significant points of departure is the Cumbraes Lighthouse on the port side, as the ship heads south into the Firth. This is an area of water which was well populated by fishing vessels - often from Campbeltown, Tarbert and Carradale. Ahead, briefly, is the lighthouse on Ailsa Craig on the port bow, and Pladda Lighthouse shows up on the starboard bow as the ship clears the island of Arran.

Pladda is a familiar light to a Campbeltonian, as its loom is visible beyond Davaar Island when viewed from the slopes of Cnoc Scalbert or Beinn Ghuilean. At this stage of the passage, yearnings for home are present as Davaar Lighthouse can be seen on the starboard bow; soon afterwards, course is set to round the south end of Kintyre. Two of our own lighthouses play an important part in navigating this difficult piece of water: the Ship Lighthouse on Sanda Island and eventually the lighthouse on the Mull itself, of which there was an illustration on the cover of the previous issue. Although there were still three more lights - that of Altacarry Head on Rathlin Island to port, the Rhinns of Islay to starboard and, finally, Inistrahull on the north coast of Donegal to port - it was the fading away astern of the Mull Lighthouse that meant we really were off to sea and would be far from home for a matter of months.

Needless to say, the return passage brought forth different sentiments - those of excitement at the prospect of returning to land. Once again, it was the Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse that was the milestone which marked the feeling of imminent arrival. This time it was on the port bow, soon to be followed by the Ship Lighthouse on Sanda - again, it was a course for rounding the south of Kintyre. The final passage up through the Cumbraes, heading north, took in Toward Point Lighthouse to port and then one was almost home as Cloch Point Lighthouse signalled that the Tail of the Bank was nigh.

So, the lighthouses around our coasts are indeed friends to the mariner, even in this day and age when satellite navigation systems are available and used worldwide. They are visible and tangible fixed points of land or rock which the sailor knows are going to be there regardless of what is happening on earth - and in space.
Nick Ferguson

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