Monday, September 24, 2012

1930s Islay Adverts

The following images are reproduced from the 1936 'Guide to Islay' published by Archibald Sinclair, Celtic Press, Glasgow. The author was L.MacNeill Weir, MP for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire. The book had been revised from a 1924 edition of the guide 'Under the guidance of Dr. A. N. Currie', with new photographs as well as other new and revised content. 

Lauchlin MacNeill Weir (1877-1939) was a Labour MP from 1922 to 1939, with a gap from 1931 to 1935. According to a 1939 obituary he was 'the son of the late Mr Robert Weir of Port Ellen'. Trained as a teacher, he was the first Labour candidate to stand for Argyll in 1919, though he was unsuccessful. 'During his life Mr Weir delighted to visit Islay. He was for long a member of the Glasgow-Islay Association, serving for a time as one of its directors. In 1931 he presided at the annual gathering of the association. He rendered useful service to Islay with his pen in a well-informed guide book, extolling the beauties of the island and inaugurating what was a form of "Come to Islay" movement'. His funeral took place in Port Ellen (Glasgow Herald, 19 August 1939).

I will try and find out some more about Weir, and will return to this book again. But for now here are some of the adverts, which in themselves tell us about life on Islay in the 1930s.

Two hotels in Port Ellen - Quintin's Hotel ('Commercial Gentlemen and Tourists will find every comfort and attention') and The Commercial Temperance Hotel in Port Ellen. I believe that in the same period there was a Temperance Hotel in Port Charlotte (now Temperance House), and the Lochside Hotel in Bowmore was also once a Temperance hotel (no whisky bar in those day):

More Bowmore Hotels - the Seaview Hotel ('Car meets steamer on request... Walter Weir, Proprietor') and the Imperial Hotel ('Mrs Cameron, Proprietrix'). The latter is now the Harbour Inn. Also an advert for James R. & M. Anderson - 'Bakers, Butchers and General Merchants'.
Archibald Cameron, Douglas House, Bowmore - 'Stationer, Printer, Confectioner, Tobacconist':

Bridged Hotel ('long famous for its home comforts'); Malcolm M'Arthur ('car hirer, engineer and haulage contractor') of Bridgend; John A. Bell, Ballygrant butcher:

Alexander Currie & Sons 'established 1850', 'Bread, biscuit and pastry bakers' of Bowmore and Port Ellen:

Machrie Hotel and The Islay Wool Mills near Bridgend (J.T. Christie and sons) - the latter was established in 1863 and is still going strong (see current website)
Also a couple of photographs from the same book - Kilnaughton Bay, photo by Robert MacDonald, Port Charlotte.

Geisgeir Sands, Port Ellen - photo by Archibald Cameron, Bowmore. Not sure how common that name is for that bit of shore by Port Ellen distillery, but Islay Blog has previously featured a 1929 postcard with that name.I know that Geisgeir Golf Club was the name of the golf club in Port Ellen shortly before the First World War and that there is also a Geisgeir on Tiree - sounds like a Norse name, but no idea what it means.

Monday, September 17, 2012

RAF Kilchiaran - a Cold War relic

Subterranea Brittanica is a society of enthusiasts for underground places who like nothing better than to find some forgotten railway tunnel, mine or bunker to poke around in. On Islay a few years ago they investigated the remains of RAF Kilchiaran, a relic of the Cold War with most of its buildings located up on Creag Goirtean Na Feannaige,  north of Kilchiaran Farm.

A Chain Home Low Radar Station was first built there in 1941, but was closed at the end of the Second World War. In the mid-1950s new buildings were added and the site was put back into operation as part of the ROTOR programme, a network of radar stations designed to detect Russian planes. It quickly became obsolete and was closed down in 1958, though  BT microwave equipment has been based on the site more recently. The buildings were bricked up by the RAF when they abandoned it, but he Sub. Brit. crew gained access and took some photos of what remained.

Lots more information and photographs of this site at Subterranea Britannica (photos above by Nick Catford sourced from that site).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kilchiaran Cup Stone

Outside the walls of the ruined chapel at Kilchiaran there is an intriguing stone lying in the ground. It is a fine example of what is known as a cup-marked stone, with a number of circular carvings on its surface. Examples of similar stone carvings are found elsewhere in Scotland, Ireland and northern England, and indeed further afield. Archaelogists find it difficult to even assess how old they are, but most agree they date back to the neolithic period (between 4000 and 6000 years ago).

photo by Neil Gordon-Orr, July 2012
According to RCAHMS: 'A cup marked and perforated slab lies in rough grass 20yds WSW of St Ciaron's Chapel (NR26SW 6) and 20yds N of the road. The slab is of schist 6ft by 3ft with a thickness of 6ins exposed, the rest being buried. Graham noted 22 cups in 1895 but only 18 are now visible, 6 1/2 ins in maximum diameter and 4 ins deep, clearly man-made but some having vertical sides. Two cups have penetrated the slab completely. The local tradition is that church-goers turned a pestel in any cup-mark and wished. The constant turning wore the cups, in some cases right through the stone'. There is a stone in one of the holes to this day, as shown in the picture I took this summer.

Robert C. Graham noted the stone in his 1895 work 'The Carved Stones of Islay': 'There are indications of various ancient buildings near the chapel, and to the west of it there is a curious cupped stone, of which a sketch is given. The holes vary in depth; two, which are shaded, pierce the whole thickness of the stone'. Graham included a sketch of the carvings, not all of which are still clearly visible:

Clearly the stone has been there for many centuries longer than the 14th century chapel, and indeed may have predated the birth of Christianity by a couple of thousand years. That suggests that the Kilchiaran site may have been regarded as special for a very long period of time.

What the carvings represent, if anything, we can probably never know. Were they a way of recording information about the stars or the seasons, or were they just a pattern people made because they liked doing it? 

The folklore suggests that people used stones and similar places for their own purposes long after the intentions of those who made them had vanished into the ancient past. In the case of Kilchiaran it is possible that the original carvings were made thousands of years ago but in more recent times they have been further worn by people turning stones in them and making wishes. 

The folklore was described in an article by Ronald W. B. Morris in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 100 (1967-1968) in his article "The Cup-and-Ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the Southern Counties Part II." He wrote that at Kilchiaran the 'Cups [were] said to have been enlarged by former 'wishing' rite', and also noted similar customs at Kilchoman: 'At foot of Celtic cross 20yds east of church in cemetery. On slate slab (3ft square 0.25 ft high, forming base of cross) 4 basins up to 7 inch diam. 6inch deep - still used in 'wishing ' or 'fertility' rite by turning a pestle 3 revolutions with the sun and leaving a coin. Full of pennies on 1968 visit'; and also at Kildalton: 'On the flagstone base of the Kildalton Cross 7yds. north of chapel. On flagstones NE corner was a cup mark, similar in size and traditional use to that at Kilchoman - broken off and stolen c.1920'.

Across Scotland and Ireland all kinds of folklore and legends have become attached to cup and ring stones, as Kevin L. Callahan shows in his survery  Ethnographic Analogy and the Folklore of Cup and Ring Rock Art (2000)

More photos of the  Kilchiaran stone at the Modern Antiquarian.