THE ILEACH :: THE INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER FOR ISLAY + JURA

Excerpts from issue 51/13 6 April 2024

Port nan Gàllan
port na gallan

Port nan Gàllan from Mark Unsworth's photo book, 'Coast to Coast', a scene that features in the Kilnaughton Mystery, outlined by George Robertson in this week's issue. Mark's book can be purchased directly from islay studios

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In this week's issue:

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny and Easter Duck Derby, CEO Robbie Drummond leaves CalMac, Council set to cancel council tax rise, Mactaggart Leisure Centre suffers governance difficulties, Progress at Port Ellen Playing Fields, Bowmore iCentre to close, Council's road spend, Islay Golf Club prizegiving, Islay Football team confounded by the weather, Karate on Kilchoman Beach, Keills Work Week, Islay Schools' Wind Band trip, Glasgow Islay Gaelic Choir celebrates 80 years of song, A walk on the wild side, with Craig Walker, Easter T-in the Church, Dunlossit's Peatland restoration, What does CMAL do?, The story of the Unknown Negro's headstone, Planting yew trees at Islay's and Jura's primary schools, Islay RNLI activities.

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Islay FC suffers first defeat; to the weather
port ellen fc

Frazer Campbell writes:
As stated in the last Ileach we were supposed to be going away for a tournament in Mallaig on 23 March. Unfortunately high winds cancelled the ferry and despite trying to find alternative means to get there, we could not make it. We'd like to thank everyone who tried to make it possible for us.
That meant that our first game of football took place on Islay, playing a Port Ellen Legends team on Easter Saturday on the Port Ellen pitch. We are still awaiting our Viktor Home Repairs & Maintenance sponsored strips arriving due to supplier delay, so we made use of a Kilchoman unbranded kit.
The sun was shining and a 50 strong crowd came along to enjoy what was a good game of football. Both teams started with 15 strong squads as special guest referee Gordon Dunbar blew the Bowmore Hotel sponsored whistle to get the game started and both teams got used to running on grass again.
Port Ellen took the lead after ten minutes, but Islay quickly responded and added to it. Port Ellen equalised to leave it two each at half time. Rolling substitutions ensured that all involved gained game time, but as legs tired, experienced (bald) heads, who should know better, started diving to the ground untouched feigning injury (tut tut), and some had to head off to work. The game was stretched and the scoreline ended up 7-4 to Islay FC.
Thanks to all who came to play, support and to SID who helped organise, roll and cut the pitch in a short timescale.
Our next planned outing is a five team tournament on Mull taking place at the start of May. More details will follow in a future Ileach but at present we have an 18 strong squad, excited to travel.

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Band on the run
islay schools wind band

Scott McDermott writes:
Thanks to the National Lottery 'Awards for All' grant, the Islay and Jura Youth Wind Band was able to travel to Edinburgh on 21 March on a musical learning experience.
After arriving at our hostel, we all had a good walk to the restaurant where the children ate loads of delicious, freshly made pizza and desserts, accompanied by Mr Yin the magician, who entertained and bamboozled us all with his fantastic magic tricks.
The next day saw us pay a visit to the Edinburgh-based band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. We were greeted with hot and cold drinks and a lot of biscuits which delighted the children, and Nero, the Director of Music's Labrador was part of the welcoming committee (and we think he was the chief biscuit taster!) He even has his own bed in the main rehearsal room.
This was followed by some amazing performances by a brass group, a clarinet quartet and their ceilidh band which had everyone up dancing a Gay Gordons. We were then treated to a demonstration by the army band who played music from Frozen 2, Brave, and Scotland the Brave. The sound they make is absolutely fantastic, especially as they have every percussion instrument known to mankind!
After further refreshments, both bands joined together. The professionals were very friendly and welcoming to the children. They played some music on which we have been working and was certainly enjoyed by all. The children were then treated to a performance of 'Spaceman' which was outstanding - the sound was out of this world! The day finished with a talk about life in the army as a professional musician, along with different uniform demonstrations. All the kids were able to try on different hats and good fun was had by all. And it was great seeing an Ileach, Tuba player Angus MacGregor, who set the ball rolling and arranged that we could visit with the band. Thank you Gus!
A huge thank you to Major Brendan Wheeler and his team for a fantastic day.
Saturday had us at Newbattle High School in Dalkeith, to take part in a music day along with their junior band and some primary children. The day began with a short ice-breaker activity, then a clapping rhythm game. The children were offered the chance to lead the game and Lola from Bowmore Primary was very brave and had a go - well done Lola.
Both bands then joined forces and what an amazing sound they all made! We rehearsed a fairly short but tricky programme and everyone had a great time. After lunch, we put on a short concert for parents and families, which went down very well indeed. We asked the Dalkeith staff if they would consider coming to Islay next time, a suggestion that was warmly received. It would be great to make visits between us a regular occurrence.
Thanks to Mr Alan Fernie, Miss Jess Purbrick, and Mrs Sarah Macrae for organising the day and to all the young Dalkeith musicians for making us all so very welcome. Team Islay had the very best time.
These trips cannot happen without a lot of help, and we must thank Bonnie Wood, Maria Heads and Maha Rangasamy for coming along and looking after us so well - their breakfasts were amazing!
To finish, I must commend the children whose behaviour was outstanding! Every young player fully committed to the trip and gave 100% to everything they were asked to do. Thank you for making a great trip simply amazing!

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The Kilnaughton Mystery

George Robertson recounts the mystery of an unknown sailor Here's the mystery. When the Americans took all the bodies away from Islay after the tragedies of the Tuscania and Otranto in 1918 they left only two behind in the Kilnaughton Military Cemetery, outside of Port Ellen. One was of Private Roy Muncaster whose mother decreed that he lay where he had died. But there was one more.
We don't know his name but he had been on the torpedoed troop ship Tuscania which now lies deep beyond the Mull of Oa. We know only his race because the gravestone was blunt. 'Unknown Negro, SS Tuscania 5 February 1918 - Known Unto God'. Nobody knows any more about him or why he lies in Kilnaughton cemetery when all the American bodies were taken to the US and Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.
The mystery deepened when that stone, which had been there for ninety years, suddenly disappeared just before the centenary of the disasters. Without any notice or warning, it had gone. In its place was a standard War Graves Commission stone with the anonymous legend 'A sailor of the Great War - SS Tuscania' and the date of the sinking. Not only had his description gone but his race had disappeared too.
One part of the mystery was resolved when I enquired with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (which, as Secretary of State for Defence, I had once chaired) and they explained their policy. The Commission, a truly remarkable institution charged with looking after war graves across the world, had done a global audit of the wording on gravestones. Some were not appropriate for our modern times and some were highly inappropriate. 'Unknown Negro' apparently fell into these categories.
The War Graves Commission made it clear that designating race was never an official description. "Ethnicity is of no relevance to the CWGC, as all should be treated equally in death."
The stone was removed. A standard stone with less controversial wording replaced it. End of story? Not quite.
The 'Unknown Negro' stone had marked the anonymous sailor's last resting place for nine decades. In my view and that of many others it was part of this island's history, part of the Islay fabric and part of the story of that double tragedy which hit our island in the last year of the First World War. It might, perhaps rightly, be replaced but should not be destroyed.
And so the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, after representations and some drama, decided that the original stone would stay on Islay. It is now on display in the Museum of Islay Life at Port Charlotte. It sits there now beside the United States flag, made overnight at Islay House by local women, to fly at the mass funerals which followed the Tuscania sinking.
The Flag, presented after the War to US President Woodrow Wilson, is on short term loan to the Museum from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. It is undoubtedly one of Islay's most precious artefacts and should be seen by all before it has to go back.
But returning to the Stone. Who was this man? Why is he buried alone and apart from the graves of the British sailors who perished and the repatriated American troops? Why was his race the only description of this man?
Many people have speculated on the answers to these questions. No one has yet found the solution. The War Graves voluminous files provide no clue.
He may have been one of the crew. Most of them on the converted liner /troopship Tuscania were from the West of Scotland. But searches of the ships manifest have not given clarity. Was he a stowaway on the ship? Maybe an undocumented crew member? Maybe...
Or was there possibly a more sinister reason? He was not white so was US discrimination then so deep that he was singled out for special treatment even after death? It seem unlikely, given the hurt felt in the whole US at the Tuscania disaster, but there are precious few clues today to guide us.
For now, his original stone preserved, he lies in Kilnaughton beside the water - at peace. But the story lives on and will the mystery ever be solved?

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This is Islay
this is islay podcast

A monthly podcast featuring individuals, personalities and features of Islay and Jura. Listen now at https://anchor.fm/thisisislay

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NEXT ISSUE ON SALE, Saturday 20 April 2024

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