NATURAL HISTORY SOCIETY
A letter to our editor from Mr. John Blue of Plano, Texas, asking for confirmation that the family originally McGORME or McGURMEN had originated in Knapdale before spreading to Kintyre and the nearby islands, was sent to me and the subsequent research on the families produced some interesting details on the families in Kintyre and Knapdale. The old Gaelic surname was found to vary from being written as McGURMEN, McGURMAN, McGURMAINE, depending on the locality. The earliest traces, however, were found in North Kintyre in the parish of Kilcalmonell and later in Killean parish to the south, before several listed as rebels in the 1685 rising by the Earl of Argyll were located in the Tayvallish peninsula of North Knapdale. The remainder both in Knapdale and Kintyre remained loyal and are all listed as fensible men of various parishes in 1692.
The family were renowned meal millers and operated the mills at Ballochroy, Tayinloan (Largie), Killean, Glachaig, Glenbarr and Kylipole (Calliburn) during the 18th and 19th centuries. Several were weavers, shoemakers and farmers in various parts of Kintyre. Later generations became shoemakers, slaters and builders in Campbeltown, whilst others left their native shores to settle in America and Canada. The earliest member traced was Malcolm Blue, a tenant at Kilhammag in Kilcalmonell Parish, Barony of Knapdale in 1627.
On 26 February 1627 John MacDonald, heritable proprietor of the 8 merklands of KILCHAMAG, GARNAGRENOCK and MUCKROY issued a Precept of Warning to the four pretended tenants of his lands in Knapdale. It was written in Edinburgh, signed by himself and witnessed by Charles McAlester and John McKay. The warning was sent to Adam McKay, sheriff in Kintyre to execute. It ordered Malcolm MoIlgorme and the other three pretended tenants to flit, remove with their spouses, bairns and stock, etc. before Whitsunday 1627.
The warning was to be made at the next preaching of God's word or prayers in the parish church of Kilcalmonell allowing 40 days for the completion and compliance. No further details were found until 1685 when Donald, Donald jun., Iver and John (Blue) McGurman living on the island of Gigha took the oath of allegiance on 10th Sept. 1685 at Campbeltown together with a number of others from the Glen Barr area of Kintyre who had fled to the island for safety. By then Angus and Dugald McIlguirme were located on the farms of Ducheran and Barmollach in Saddell, then part of Killean Parish whilst Duncan McIlguirme was farmer at Amod, also nearby in Barr Glen.
When emigration from Kintyre, due to high rents and oppresion, commenced about 1730 Malcolm Blue, his spouce More (Sara) Smith, and their three young sons left, it is believed with the Neil McNeill batch of colonisers about 1746/47. Their three sons were Daniel, Duncan and John and five more children were born near Campbelltown (Fayetteville). Subsequently several other members of the family also emigrated to the Cape Fear area the main port of arrival being Wilmington, North Carolina. On 2nd September 1748 the Presbyterian Community in Bladen Country petitioned the Synod of Argyll to send them out a minister. Malcolm Blue was one of the signatories of the original which is preserved in the Archives of Inverary Castle. His son John 1745-1781 was a colonel in the Revolutionary War. He married Mary McKay and their eldest son John married Effie Gilchrist, the only daughter of John Gilchrist and Flora Currie. The Gilchrist family farmed at North Loch Kiarran near the village of Clachan before emigrating in 1771 to North Carolina. Their grandson, Rear Admiral Victor Blue, was accorded every possible military honour when he died in 1928. In an illustrious career in the Navy he was decorated many times and served in the North Sea Fleet, being commander of U.S.S. Texas in World War I.
After the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and the onset of less troubled times the most of the Blue families located in the Largieside area of Kintyre. The oldest grave stones known to the writer are in Killean churchyard around the church which fell to the ground in 1770. The old burial vault still stands and houses the MacDonalds of Largie ancestors, direct descendants of the Lords of the Isles. The first stone erected is in memory of DUGULD BLEU, late miller at Largie Mill, who died 5 July 1792 aged 58 years. Next to it stands a stone erected by Grace MacAlister in memory of her husband, DANIEL BLUE late miller and tacksman of Killean who died A.D. 1815 aged 65 years.As early as 1661 land owners were ordering the destruction of the old quern stones used for grinding meal (A pair of stone tools for hand grinding a wide variety of materials. The lower, stationary, stone is called a quern, whilst the upper, mobile, stone is called a handstone.-- from Wikipedia.com) in order to subjugate unruly elements and the old meal mill at Killean can be traced back to early in 1700. Before being given a lease by the Duke of Argyll in 1757 Donald Mc Vourich had to produce a Certificate of Allegiance. The minister of Killean, the Rev. Robert Thomson, was security for him and a condition imposed on the miller read "He shall not on any pretense whatsoever give any disturbance in religious matters in Kintyre in opposition to the Established Church or contribute to the support of any other minister or preacher but only as such as shall be duly ordained or licensed according to law." This of 19 years was followed by a similar one to Donald McGeachy and Archibald McCallum, the millers until 1789. In that year Donald Blue sent a petition, signed by himself and backed by some twenty farmers on Crubisdale and Killean estates, to the Duke asking for permission to build a new mill. This was granted at once.
The old mill built on to the rock face was continually dripping water which left the earthen floor permanently wet thus ruining both the grain and the finished products stored. He proposed to build a new mill with new machinery at a cost of £100 sterling. A New dam and lade were constructed and grinding stones cut in the hills above Killean where one still lies.
After his successful building of the new mill Donald and his son Donald Jun. obtained the tenancy of Kylipol (Calliburn) Mill near Campbeltown from the Duke of Argyll. This was taken on a 19 year lease at rental of £42 and 20 bolls meal in 1809. The restrictions imposed on previous millers were not found to apply except that "No grain to be distilled or spirits retailed without written authority of the Duke of Argyll." It is probable that John Blue and Mary Hyndman, his spouse and three children William, Barbara and Janet who were residing at the adjacent from of Drumgarve in 1792 were also relatives. After the death of his father in 1815, Donald Blue gave up the tenancy of Kylipole Mill and returned to Clachaig mill, near Muisdale. The 1851 census return shows Malcolm Blue (64) and his son Charles (24) as miller and assistant miller at Killean. During excavation work at Killean in 1984 both mill stones were uncovered and one now stands at the entrance to Killean House.
The two noted weavers in the Killean area were Dugald and Angus who both lived at nearby Achloiskin. Angus died in 1810 at an early age, leaving a widow, Grisel McKinnon and six children. An old record of his accounts was found to include indigo, soap, tea, sugar, and metal and horn buttons.
Many members from these families emigrated to Canada and settled in Elderslie Township, Ontario where several are interred in the old St. Andrew's Cemetery.
In Kilcalmonell Parish the Blue families were in several locations near the villages of Clachan and Whitehouse. An Act of Parliament passed on 19th July 1797 required all men between the ages of 18-24 to register for military service. The only member registered in that age group was John Blue, residing at Loch Kiarran and described as "labourer-at-home."
The marriage of Daniel Blue and Catherine MacFarlane, both residing at Duppine, was recorded on 26th December 1818 in the old parish records. Their daughter, Jane Blue, married a Wilson, the family later emigrated first to Canada and later to America. A notable descendant is President Ronald Wilson Reagan of the United States of America. In the 1841 census of Kilcalmonell Parish Donald Blue (75) widower, was miller at Ballochroy Mill which served the adjacent large township of Kilmichael. Near to him was Nancy McGeachy (60) and her family who had removed from Tayinloan Mill after the death of her husband, also named Donald Blue.
When large scale clearances of the area occurred between 1844-1852 many emigrated to Ontario, Canada.
The last man to produce illicit whisky in the area was the, celebrated Johnnie Blue, who died in 1895 aged 88. The late Mr. William McGougan, head shepherd on Largie Estate, knew the site of the old still on a small stream running into Loch A'Vogart and this has been photographed. The two brands of whisky produced by Johnnie Blue were "Daylight", declared to the Revenue and "Moonlight" double strength retained for local needs. They became famous- known the world over when it was discovered he was a fourth cousin of President Regan.
Little is recorded about female members of the family, but in 1806 a petition was sent to Saddell Parish Kirk Session by Donald Shaw, tacksman of Knockanrioch, anent Mary Blue, cottager there. In 1806, the Session duly constituted, Donald Shaw, tacksman of Knockanrioch, appeared before the session. He complained of having received abusive language from Mary Blue, cottager at Knockanrioch. Her immodest expressions were highly indecent. She called him a Buggar, the son of a bitch and like a profane prophetess sealed his doom by assuring him the gates of Hell would not be shut until he was fairly in! The Session ordered their Church Officer, Mr. John McPhee, to summon the fore-mentioned Mary Blue with instructions to appear at the next diet of Session. The Session closed with prayer. No doubt she had good reason for her action. John Blue was the last of the family farming in Kintyre. He was tenant of the large sheep farm of Ducheran, situated in Carradale Glen. This farm has now gone over to afforestation. He may have been a descendant of the family first found there in 1692.
Research on the Gigha branch of the family showed Malcolm Blue to be miller at Ardelay in 1795. In 1827 Ardelay was occupied by Elizabeth Galbraith, a widow of 64 years. She engaged Donald Blue from Killean as miller. In an old record he gave his age as 40 years at that time. He subsequently married Barbra Smith, daughter of a nearby farmer. In 1847 his mother died at Ardelay aged 84 years to be followed by himself shortly afterwards. His wife died early in 1849 but it is probable they had a family as a Donald Blue signed the call to a Mr. Duncan Black to come as parish minister after the death of the Rev. Dr. James Curdie. The old document was dated 24 December 1868.
The gravestone for Dugald Bleu in Killean has a carved millwheel on the rear face and below the detail of his death, a verse which runs as follows:
"Weep not my wife and children dear,
I am not dead but sleepeth here.
My debt is paid in full you see
Therefore prepare to follow me."
The writer trusts this short account shows how the changing times in Scotland affected many people unable to support large families on small crofts and farms. Many emigrated to America and later to Australia and New Zealand. The original of Donald Blue's petition to the Duke of Argyll, preserved in Kintyre Presbytery papers perhaps sums it up:
"Unto His Grace the Duke of Argyll: The memorial of Donald Blue, Tacksman of Laich Auchlaoskin, Kintyre: Most humbly Sheweth That the memorist did himself the honour of petitioning Mr. Ferrier last year upon the subject of the minister's gleeb. He means the gleeb in Laich Auchlaoskin being in the memorialist's possession. This gleeb being now in your Grace's gift the minister having got a new gleeb cut for him. The memorialist stated the grievances that would reasonably be to him or any other possessor of the farm that any other person should have the gleeb and begging the preference of the gleeb upon equal terms:
1st: The minister sett the gleeb to a person and that person sett it to many small cottars who built as many small huts, houses they cannot be called. These small cottars getting a cow's grass from the tenants round about them they keep so many cows that in fact how soon the corn is gathered off the ground these cattle falls back upon the memorialist's possession and eats up all the foggage and even roots out the grass. This the memoralist must submit to or be in hot watter all the year tho the memorialist has as great reason to keep his grass in winter as well as, in summer, but this can never be effected while so many cottars huts is upon the gleeb. When the memoralist first possessed the farm the gleeb was set at three pounds per annum, but is now rised to Nine pounds. This rise is owing to in part to the cattle of the cottars lying all winter and spring upon the memorialist's possession and in part to the rest of lands.
May it please your Grace to take this into consideration and seeing the said gleeb is in the middle of the memorialist's possession to give him him the preference to it upon equal terms, or should your Grace be pleased to refuse this petition and give it to any other person to restrict the same to one house, barn and stable upon the premises. And should the memoralist be preferred he mean to pull down all the useless huts upon it and convert their stance to arable land.
At the time of this petition one hundred and ninety one people resided on and made a living on the old lands of Auchaloiskin and Drumnamucklach. The population almost two hundred years later is less than twenty.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT : The writer wishes to thank: Mrs. Jean McCulloch, Chesley, Ontario; Mrs. Janette Drayton, Oakville, Ontario; and Mr. Bob Gilchrist, Titusville, Florida; for their valuable information.
The lands of Keil occupy a fertile, free draining strip of coastal land at the southern tip of Kintyre, and thereby enjoy the temperate climate brought to our western shores by the warming current we call the "Gulf Stream." Fnom Keil Point there is an uninterupted view of the Antrim Coast from wherein the early centuries of the Christian era the Scots began to colonise Kintyre. Around 500 A.D. the Gailic-speaking race founded the kingdom of Dalriada, under their leader Fergus, in what we now call Argyll.
The Scots displaced the native Picts and gradually introduced Chritianity to our shores through the work of missionaries like St. Columba who settled in Iona in 563 A.D. It is widely believed that en route to Iona, Columba crossed the North Channel and landed his coracle in one of the sheltered bays on either side of Keil Point, which provide the nearest safe landing places to the Irish coast. Columba and his followers probably sheltered in the nearby caves - hence the name of Kilcolmkill - the cell of Colmba.
Close to these caves there is a green but rocky knoll with a footprint carved in the rock. This dates from the first millenium B.C. and is said to be an example of the "fealty foot" used by newly-elected chiefs when they swear an oath of loyalty to their tribe. Today we know this ancient carving as "St. Columba's Footprints." Immediately behind the footprints one can, still identify the outline of a small building which was perhaps a crude cell (or church) erected by Columba and his followers. Nearby there are the remains of a large church surrounded by a graveyard on three sides. This church was built in the twelfth or thirteenth century and was dedicated to S. Columba. In the early fourteenth century possesion by the building was granted to the Priory of Whithorn by Patrick Macshillinger and Finlach, his wife, in a charter confirmed by King Robert the Bruce. It continued to be a place of worship until about 1670.
In 1611, Duncan Omey became minister of Kilcolmkill. He was one of a long established Kintyre family of whom many were ecclesiastics. The name Omey is derived from Gaelic "miadh" meaning respect or esteem and is still found in the area. John Orney is recorded as being tacksman in Christlach in 1505. Cornelius Omey graduated B.A. from St. Andrews in 1528 and was Rector of the neighbouring Kilblaan Parish at the time of the Reformation in 1560. Donald Orney, a brother of the above Duncan, was minister of Kingarth, Bute and afterwards was appointed to the Parish of Kilkerran (now Campbeltown).
In 1617 a Commission of the Scottish Parliament united the parishes of Kilcolmkill and Kilblaan and Duncan Omey became the first minister of the new parish which was later to be re-named Southend. There is no record of any manse at Kilcolumkill, and the Rev. Duncan Omay resided in Keil House which his family had tenanted for many years. Five years later the Bishop of Argyll granted a charter of the lands of Keil to the minister, as recorded in the Argyll Sasine Paticular Regiister:
"Sasine of the twenty shilling land of Kilcolmkill in the parish of Kilcolmkill and lordship of Kintyre given by Colin Stirling burgess of Rothesay, as baillie, to Duncan Omey, native tenant of said land, on a charter thereof by Andrew, Bishop of Argyll, with consent of the dean and chapter, but reserving four acres of glebe to the minister of Kilcolmkill"The Charter was written by John Craig, notary in Glasgow and was signed there on 15th May, 1622 before witnesses.
Duncan retired frm the ministry in 1641 but remained proprietor of Keil. Between 1647 and 1666 Kintyre was ravaged by the plague. Very many deaths occurred and so many fled the parish in fear of their lives that much of the land lay uncultivated. During the height of the outbreak it is said that Keil was one of only three houses in Southend from which smoke continued to rise.
The estate passed to James Omey in 1659 and then in 1682 a further charter from Hector, Bishop of Argyll granted the lands of Kilcolmkill to a James Omey of Collinlongart, his heirs and assignees. There are references to Ronald Omey of Keil (in 1717) and to James and Duncan Omey of Collinlongart (in 1731) in MacNeill of Carskey's Compt. Book. In the Roll of the Valued Rent of Argyllshire, published in 1751, a Duncan Omey is recorded as proprietor of the 1½ merkland of Kilcolumkill.
Ownership then passed to his son James, as recorded in the Register of Sasines for Argyll and Dumbarton on 12th, 1754. In 1778. James was succeeded by his son, Archibald. Unfortunately Archibald did not survive his father long, for in 1781, an Instrument of Sasine is recorded in favour of his cousin and heir, also Archibald Omey. Ill luck continued to beset the family for in 1786 Archibald also died and being without children his estate passed to his brother Samuel.
Samuel proved to be the last in the line of Omeys in Keil. On going to live in Edinburgh in 1819 he sold the estate to Dr. Colin McLarty of Chestervale in the Island of Jamaica, who was at that, time residing in Sanda House. (Macharioch). In 1835 his son, John Freeman McLarty and other Trustees inherited Keil. The estate appears to have blossomed under the hand of Dr. McLarty for we read in the New Statistical Account of Southend written in 1843:
"The farm of Keil has assumed a very improved appearance since it became the possession of the late Dr. McLarty. When he entered into possession of this property about 24 years ago, it was absolutely in a state of nature. He improved it in every way by draining and enclosures, planted trees about his farmhouse and gardens: decorated the place with a variety of beautiful shrubs which has been an ornament to this part of the country; and his rising plantations will ultimately prove a most valuable acquisition to his property."
In their time at Keil, the McLarty's were one of only seven landowners in Southend; the others being the Duke of Argyll, William MacDonald of Ballyshear, John McMillan McNeil of Carskey, Donald MacMillan of Lephenstrath, George McNeill of Ugadale and Wm. Mc Donald of Sanda.
In 1865 the McLarty family sold the estate to James Nicol Fleming, a Glasgow merchant. By 1872 he had acquired the tenancy of South Moil to complement his interest in Keil and Gartivaigh farm which had previously comprised Keil Estate. While Dr. McLarty had invested heavily in improving the agricultural output and enhancing the amenity value of the estate, the new owner's plans were directed towards the building of a new mansion house.
Fleming was an instinctive speculator who had started his career in Bombay. During the American Civil War he amassed a fortune by buying up Indian cotton cheaply and selling again for inflated prices in Britain. By the time he acquired Keil he was a director of the City of Glasgow Bank. Being discontented with the existing dwelling house, he employed Campbell Douglas, a Glasgow architect specialising in the design of large houses, to plan a fine new mansion, which would be in keeping with his new-found status.
It was built on a new site slightly nearer the shore than the existing house, which is shown on a map of Southend surveyed in 1866 to be near the foot of the steep bank planted by the McLarty family. Much of the sandstone required was probably quarried from the cliffs at Keil Point. Finishing stone was imported by sea and unloaded by means of a crane mounted on the rocks in front of Keil. The interior was richly panelled with the finest timber and adorned with considerable plasterwork. The surrounding gardens were greatly enlarged and enclosed by a high wall with a number of access gates in it, one of which was formed from the front doorway of the old house. The mansion was served by a new access road, lined with substantial iron railings, at the foot of which a snaIl lodge was erected. New cottages were also built at Keil Point and High Keil as part of the development. The new house was finally completed around 1870, and was said to be one of the finest residences in the Western Highlands.
Even the wealth of Fleming, however, was exhausted by the demands of such a large project and he had to borrow heavily from the Bank on the strength of doubtful securities. His fellow directors were equally unscrupulous in their dealings. One morning in October 1878, the doors failed to open and by the crash countless of its clients were rendered destitute. The shareholders were responsible for debts of around five million pounds.
Fleming fled the country; he was taken off from Keil by a yacht, and eventually reached Spain. Later he returned, stood trial and at the High Court in Edinburgh in January 1879 was sentenced to a prison term. Above the archway over the main entrance to Fleming's new mansion there had been installed a plain slab on which it is said he confidently expected to mount his coat of arms when he was so honoured. The ignominous collapse of the City Bank and Fleming's part in its downfall had forever dashed his hopes. The slab remains empty to this day.
After lying vacant for several years, the Estate was sold by Fleming's trustees in 1883 to another Glasgow merchant, Ninian Bannatyne Stewart. Following the death of Mr. Stewart and his wife, their survivors sold the Estate in February 1915 to the Trustees of the MacKinnon MacNeill Trust. Soon afterwards they sold Gartvaigh Farm separately to Mr. Archibald Cameron, South Carrine. Sir William MacKinnon of Loup and Balinakill and his nephew, Duncan MacNeill, had left a bequest for the educational benefit of West Highland boys. Their trustees undertook an extensive conversion of the mansion house, and opened it under the name of Kintyre Technical College, which offered three years free education to less well off boys.
A catastrophic fire destroyed the complete building on the night of Sunday, 7th February. 1924. The blaze started in a wood store below the school science room, and spread with such rapidity that the building could not be saved. The insurance covered only a part of the College, and it was never restored to its former state. The Governors of the School purchased a new property in Dumbarton and moved there, where it is now known as Keil School. In 1926, the MacKinnon Trustees at a public Auction in Campbeltown sold Keil to James Barbour, Farmer of Gartfern, by Drymen, Stirlingshire.
The writer gratefully acknowledges the help and the various documents lent to him by the present owner of Keil, Archibald C. Barbour, son of the above-mentioned James.
Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.
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