153rd ANNUAL GATHERING
Hugh Smith writes;
Happy boyhood holidays spent on a croft in the Mull of Oa were warmly recalled by guest chairman Peter Malcolm Campbell when he addressed the smaller than usual crowd attending the 153rd Islay Gathering organised by An Comunn Ileach Ghlaschu in the Glasgow University Students' Union on Friday, 6 March.
Peter is the current manager of the Cardhu Distillery in Speyside and previously managed the Port Ellen Maltings and Lagavulin Distillery.
As well as looking back on carefree days at his grandparents' croft at Lower Killeyan he also referred with pleasure on the happy decade he had spent working on Islay. During that time he became involved in a number of voluntary and charitable organisations including the Fèis Òigridh, the local festival of music and malt as well as being concerned in a number of fund raising bodies and events. He also found time to be the deputy launch authority for the local lifeboat and served on the island branch of the RNLI's management committee.
Peter was born and brought up in the Stirling district and was educated at Doune primary and Dunblane high schools. He came to work in Islay in 2000 before relocating to his present post in 2010. He is married to Joyce, a senior care worker, and they have two of a family; son Calum and daughter Eilidh.
It was unfortunate that both Joyce and Calum were unable to attend the gathering but Peter was well supported in his big city appearance by daughter Eilidh.
The gathering was hosted by Janette MacArthur, the Glasgow Islay Association's president, who attended to the introductions and welcomed members from kindred associations and those who had travelled from Islay for the event. She also greeted honorary patrons Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Professor William Stewart who were accompanied by their wives.
Peter proved a friendly and affable chairman deserving of the token of appreciation presented to him and Eilidh by Campbell Justice, a grandson of the association's minute secretary Irene Justice and of her late husband Iain who had served as the group's deputy secretary in the early 1960s.
The opening bagpipe selections were tunefully played by Pipe Major Andrew McCowan Jr., the association piper, and the opening songs were ably provided by South Uist singer Linda MacLeod whose choice ranged from her native isle to 'Wild Mountain Thyme', and Islay bard Duncan Johnston's 'Am Bata Rannach'.
The song selection from classically trained baritone Andrew McTaggart, who regularly appears with Scottish Opera and whose grandfather farmed at Kichiaran, went down a treat and featured works by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Morricone and Rabbie Burns, and included 'Some Enchanted Evening', 'Nella Fantasia' and 'Ae Fond Kiss'.
Mòd gold medallist Angus MacLeod, winner of the supreme solo singing award at last year's National Mėd in Inverness, was also in splendid voice and did justice to such favourites as 'Mo Chaillinn Donn Òg', 'Ceud fàilt' air gach Gleann' and 'Mo rùn a Chruinneag'.
Mull vocalist Janet Campbell was also at her musical best and fittingly favoured the audience with 'Mo Chruinneag Ileach' and 'Westering Home', and threw in 'Cumha Iain Ghairbh' and 'Gleann Bhaile Chaoil' for good measure.
Upping the tempo were the Rowan Brothers whose lively selections had the audience clamouring for more as Kyle on accordion and Alan on piano raised the roof with their selection of Gaelic airs, jigs, reels and 6/8 marches.
The brothers have a surfeit of island blood coursing through their veins as their mother Mairi, née Stewart, comes from Bowmore and their soldier and piper father Gordon hails from Tiree.
And while all this was going on, Kirsteen Grant was in her accustomed place providing the soloists with their inobtrusive piano accompaniments.
Peter Campbell Snr., a former president and now honorary president, extolled the talents and virtues of the participants and organisers and the traditional 'Soraidh leibh' brought the curtain down on what was described as another friendly gathering and highly enjoyable concert programme.
The organisers were disappointed that the attendance was down on recent years. Be assured that this will be the subject of a post mortem and steps will be taken to remedy the situation.
During 2014-15 the Association undertook the refurbishment of the Hector MacLean monument at Ballygrant. Little seemed to be known about this illustrious scholar but, thanks to Hugh Smith, we can shed a little light on the life and times of this Islay man.
Hector MacLean, a fine Gaelic scholar, was born in Islay in 1818. His mother Janet was a member of a mainland family brought to Islay by the Campbells of Shawfield as part of their ‘improvements’ programme. His father and namesake came from a well-established local family and was the owner of a trading vessel which served south Argyll and the north of Ireland.
Young Hector was educated at the school at Ballygrant and at Edinburgh University. He spent two years in Edinburgh before returning home following the sudden death of his father. He moved in with his mother and sister who operated the Red House Inn on the outskirts of Ballygrant. Shortly afterwards he became tutor to John Francis Campbell (Iain Òg Ìle), heir apparent to the Campbell of Shawfield estates. Around the 1840s he was appointed as schoolmaster at Kilmeny and was to remain in this position until the introduction of the 1872 Education Act. He retired that same year and was granted a small pension.
His greatest claim to fame remains the sterling work he carried out, along with others, on John Francis Campbell’s behalf collecting and preserving the folktales of the west Highlands. He died at Ballygrant in 1893 and is buried at Kilmeny cemetery where a tombstone provided by the Glasgow Islay Association marks his final resting place.
Following his death, the Association provided a monument to his memory as they also did for John Francis Campbell. The monument, in the form of a medieval Celtic cross is set in the grounds of the village school at Ballygrant. The unveiling ceremony was carried out by Colin Hay of Ardbeg, a MacLean supporter and admirer.
It can be safely said that MacLean, along with Iain Òg Ìle, remain two of 19th century Islay's most accomplished figures.
The photograph above shows the monument before restoration and that below, after restoration.