Islay: call to place

MV Finlaggan at Kennacraig

Back in May, we took the ferry from Kennacraig in Kintyre to Port Askaig on beautiful Islay (pronounced Eye-la) where we spent a wonderful week tramping all over the island. We last visited on our epic Hebridean tour of 1989, parts of which we replicated last summer, so we were well overdue a visit, especially as we had only been there for a couple of days the first time and felt we hadn’t done it justice. Since then, of course, a certain amount of Islay whisky had been consumed and it was not impossible that a distillery – or two, or more – would appear on our itinerary.

John and Janet Sinclair, John and Meg

In addition to the scenery and whisky, another attraction of Islay was the pull of family lore. One of my great-grandfathers, my mother’s maternal grandfather John Joss Sinclair, was born there in 1866. John was destined to be a Church Minister, as decided by his father. However, he declared that he had no intention of going around the countryside with his collar on back to front, and at 16 years old he ran away from the island to mainland Scotland.

Over the next few years John was employed in farms around the West of Scotland and became a noted ploughman. Eventually, he arrived at Kilmacolm to work on The Green Farm where he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Janet Carson. John and Janet’s first child, and only son, John, was born in 1886, sometime before their marriage. By 1901 seven daughters had been added to the family, so Janet’s life must have been a hard slog.

John Sinclair ploughing, 1908

John and Janet worked on farms in Coatbridge, Cumbernauld and Amochrie, and John was eventually in charge of a Clydesdale stallion. In his fifties, he gave up farm work and returned to Kilmacolm. They moved into the Bridgend Toll House, which came with his new job in charge of the road-menders. The Toll figures largely in Mum’s many happy memories of her childhood. Here she is in the late 1920s as a baby and toddler, “Wee Chrissie”, with her grandparents. For reference, Janet must be about the same age as I am now. How times have changed!

John never went back to see his parents, only returning to Islay in later life with one of his grandchildren (not my mum) to see his sister Katie MacAffer. He and Janet are both buried in Kilmacolm – compare the gravestone below as it was after my great-grandmother died in 1949, and as it is today. (Thanks to my cousin, Tracy Rice, for the current photo.)

When we visited Islay in 1989 I either didn’t know about this family history or wasn’t especially interested, I can’t remember. However, in the last few years I’ve worked with Mum to blog about her memories – you can read her post John and Janet for a fuller version of what I’ve written here – and now I’m much more aware. I’m not about to start researching our family tree (far too much like hard work) but I love collecting the stories Mum is passing down and decided on our recent visit to Islay to look out for any references to Sinclairs or MacAffers.

So we went to Islay looking for whisky, walking and family history. The next few posts will tell you how we got on. This post, I’m linking to Cathy at ~wander.essence~ who has a monthly Call to Place strand in which she invites you to write about what enticed you to choose a recently visited or future destination. Head over there for her fabulous traveller’s tales!

91 thoughts on “Islay: call to place

  1. Dr Sock August 21, 2019 / 19:28

    How wonderful that you are helping your Mom record family history. Although my Mom recounted many family stories to me, none of it was written down, and now that she’s gone, I find that the family history is fading from my mind.

    Jude

    Like

    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter August 21, 2019 / 21:02

      Yes, it’s been a great thing to do. I’m not going to research my family tree but it’s nice to know where I came from for a few generations back.

      Like

  2. rosemaylily2014 August 12, 2019 / 13:17

    Fascinating story Anabel – I find family memoirs so interesting! 🙂

    Like

  3. Su Leslie July 30, 2019 / 12:25

    Looking at old photos really highlights how we age differently to past generations. Sixty is the new forty and all that.
    The photos are lovely — they both look like kindly people.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Birgit July 29, 2019 / 17:49

    I’m so sorry i am late to read this but I love family lore and history. I love the old pictures too and I can see the resemblance between your great grandfather and you

    Liked by 1 person

  5. londonlifewithliz July 28, 2019 / 22:53

    Islay sounds wonderful, and the family connection must make it all the more special. I love your family photos, which put me in mind of some of the photos I have of my own family: it was a shock finding out recently that I am older than most of the people in them, who I was convinced were decades older than me.

    Like

  6. Erica/Erika July 28, 2019 / 15:22

    Hi Anabel, Interesting about the family history from Islay (thanks for pronunciation – I had it wrong:) Hard work meant something different in those times. Truly, hard work. Unfortunately, many stories can be lost. It is great you are trying to collect some from your Mum:) I look forward to reading more:)

    Like

  7. Jo July 27, 2019 / 00:41

    Whisky, walking and family history. I love it. Reading this from Australia and dreaming of a Scottish island holiday. My husband was born in Falkirk but his family history is not something we know yet – he was adopted as a baby. I loved this story of yours.

    Like

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