Why are these build­ings be­ing left to de­cay?

The Arran Banner - - News -

The Ar­ran Civic Trust is much con­cerned that, if build­ings with their strong his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences con­tinue to de­cay, part of Ar­ran’s his­tory, and an im­por­tant part, will be lost for ever.

Ian Fer­gu­son, who wrote this ar­ti­cle, said: ‘We ap­peal to the own­ers, whether ma­jor landown­ers or smaller pri­vate ones, to make proper pro­vi­sion to con­serve or re­store what is left. At the very least, pho­to­graphic and writ­ten records should be made and archived for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.’

Those read­ers lucky enough to have had ac­cess to Isle of Ar­ran Her­itage: the Ar­ran High School Project, the so-called chil­dren’s book pub­lished in 2002 with the aid of Lot­tery money but, sadly, not in gen­eral cir­cu­la­tion, will find un­der the sec­tion de­voted to The South End that ref­er­ences are made to the life­styles of the peo­ple who in­hab­ited Ben­ni­car­ri­gan and Glen­rie dur­ing the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies.

Peo­ple live in houses. Houses de­fine peo­ple and pro­vide the am­bi­ences for their liv­ing, sur­rounded as they are by friends, neigh­bours and work places. Peo­ple lived in Ben­ni­car­ri­gan and Glen­rie, but also in now for­got­ten places such as Bog­a­rie and Gar­gadale. A vis­i­tor to­day will find lit­tle trace of these old clachans, just suf­fi­cient to stir the imagination and ask the ques­tions why and how?

Ar­ran has been set­tled for mil­len­nia and was for many cen­turies set­tled by folk in set­tled ways. But those ways came to an abrupt end with the High­land Clear­ances, when the old ‘in­ef­fi­cient’ clachans, of which there were many on the is­land, were swept away to make room for sheep and the far more prof­itable wool trade. The legacy of this ter­ri­ble time was ru­ina­tion of the old clachan build­ings and their re­place­ment by fewer, larger build­ings to house that part of the pop­u­la­tion which re­fused or was un­able to take ship for the New World.


In Glen­rie, we can still see the relics of the old ways of life. The yel­low-win­dowed cot­tage op­po­site Ge­len­rie Farm on the Ross Road (1) is now un­in­hab­ited, but it oc­cu­pies one of the sites to which the in­hab­i­tants of Lower Ben­ni­car­ri­gan were forced to flee when that town­ship was de­mol­ished. Un­til the 1980s, it was in­hab­ited by Muriel Tod. It is of im­por­tance in that it is the last re­main­ing vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of the time of worry and hard­ship, when the great-great-grand­fa­ther of Mrs Walker and his fam­ily had no choice but to ‘move into bog and heather, tak­ing with them only their last crop’.

At the foot of the glen are the re­mains of Glen­rie Mill with its at­ten­dant cot­tage and out­build­ings (3, 4). To the right of the road, just be­fore the bridge, stands the old shep­herd’s cot­tage (2), un­til re­cently oc­cu­pied but now de­serted. The mill is im­por­tant. It was a card­ing mill, card­ing be­ing the process whereby the dis­or­gan­ised wool fi­bres are teased out ready for spin­ning, and was in use un­til the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury. A Mrs McK­in­non was said to be the last of

the wool carders, but her son John was shown in the 1861 Cen­sus to have that as his oc­cu­pa­tion.

What is of in­ter­est is that by the 1860s the Ar­ran clear­ances were ap­proach­ing their end, the crofters’ old land be­ing turned over to sheep. Hence, for half a cen­tury nearly, the mill had im­por­tance un­til it be­came more prof­itable to process the wool off the is­land.

Of even greater sig­nif­i­cance is the ru­ined build­ing to the right hand side of the Ross, op­po­site the quarry, as the road climbs up to­wards Ben­ni­car­ri­gan (5). Cather­ine McLardy, in­ter­viewed for the chil­dren’s book, re­lated that, at the time of the evic­tion from Ben­ni­car­rgan, her great-great-grand­mother was ex­pect­ing a child and could not face the voy­age to Canada. The fam­ily was of­fered 81 acres of bog and heather fur­ther in­land at a place known as Bog­a­rie (Gaelic for The King’s Bog). They built the house and barns il­lus­trated with their bare hands. She com­mented: ‘I’m proud to say that I was born un­der that roof.’


Ben­ni­car­ri­gan it­self was a sub­stan­tial town­ship, with the many cot­tages each leas­ing its share of in-bye land but shar­ing com­mon graz­ing. The arable parts were cul­ti­vated on the rig sys­tem, whereby the land was farmed in strips sep­a­rated by drainage ar­eas. The re­mains of the rigs at Ben­ni­car­ri­gan can be seen to the south­east of the church. Of the build­ings, the church is all that re­mains (6): it was the place of wor­ship for the Free Pres­by­te­ri­ans un­til it fell into dis­use many years ago.

That is the sorry tale of Glen­rie and Ben­ni­car­ri­gan. But there are other sites on the is­land of equal im­por­tance. Two, for ex­am­ple, are in Cat­a­col and Lochranza, where are to be found the re­mains of the bark­ing sheds (7, 8).

These semi-in­dus­trial build­ings were used at the time of sail, when fish­ing boats re­quired their sails to be in pris­tine con­di­tion. The tech­nique was to im­preg­nate the lat­ter with vapour from the bark of trees found only in this part of the is­land.

At Lochranza, a canal ran from the top of the bay to the shed, the ruins of which can be seen to the north of the road, en­abling boats to be moored and their sails brought in­side to be hung up and im­preg­nated in the burn­ing vapour. At Cat­a­col, one of the steam­ing vats can still be seen in the small, ru­ined en­clo­sure ad­ja­cent to the road.

6. The church at Ben­ni­car­ri­gan is all that re­mains.

3 and 4. Glen­rie Mill with its at­ten­dant cot­tage and out­build­ings.

1. The yel­low-win­dowed cot­tage op­po­site Ge­len­rie Farm on the Ross Road.

5. Ru­ined build­ing to the right side of the Ross Road.

2. The old shep­herd’s cot­tage was oc­cu­pied un­til re­cently but is now de­serted.

7 and 8. Re­mains of the bark­ing sheds to be found in Cat­a­col and Lochranza.

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