Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles

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June 2004 Issue

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Top stories & Local News
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Rum, Eigg
Local Genealogy

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On the 2nd May Bishop Ian Murray present the Papal Award 'Benemerenti' to Helen Kennedy at St. Patrick's Church Mallaig. The Papal Award 'Benemerenti' is a papal honour instituted in 1832 by Pope Gregory XVI to a lay person who has significantly supported the church or its activities. This was an honour for our Parish and to Helen Kennedy that Pope John II has conferred upon her this Award for the services that she has given to the Church in the field of Music for over 60 years.

(l to r) Fr Joe Calleja, Helen and Bishop Ian Murray

When the word Shopmobility is mentioned, most people automatically think of a service used by disabled people in larger towns and cities. While this maybe used to be the case in the past, it is certainly isn't now. Shopmobility has arrived in the outlying areas of Lochaber, and is available to all residents of Mallaig and surrounding area, who have either a short-term or a long-term mobility problem.
Thanks to a generous grant from Lloyds TSB we managed to lease a mobile unit. The unit now visits Caol and Corpach on a Monday, Spean Bridge on a Tuesday, Arisaig and Mallaig on a Wednesday and Ballachulish on Thursday. The van normally arrives in Mallaig at approx. 11-11.30 am and remains until approx. 2:30, depending on the weather and number of clients using the service. You can find the van in Mallaig somewhere in the car parking space between the Mission and the Pierhead, ably manned by Peggy Ralph and supported by a driver. Scooters can also be delivered to your doorstep to allow you to go from home to the village and back again. We will then pick the scooter up again from your house. There is a drop-off service for Arisaig about 10.45, picking up again around 2.45 pm.
Registration for the service is free, as is the use of the scooters. A demonstration of how they work is shown to all clients before they are let loose on their own. Also once you have registered in Mallaig you can use your registration card in the office in Fort William without the need for registering again.
We are slowly increasing our clientele in the Mallaig area, and if usage and funding etc allows us, we would like nothing more than to have a satellite office situated in Mallaig, so that more scooters would be more available more of the time. One celebrated user of the scheme in the past has been Lindy Henderson, who like many others before her, was nervous when she first sat on a scooter, but now loves the way it makes her shopping trips so much easier.
Shopmobility is a charity and as such, we rely heavily on donations. A lot of fundraising work takes place during the year, and the next event on the calendar is a Sponsored Wheelchair Push/Scooter Run on Sat June 5th. Participants will start at the Shopmobility Portacabin a Fort William Railway Station and go to Banavie, on the way back having a picnic at the BA. Sponsorship forms are available on the counters at Spar, Co-op, Harbour Shop and also in Walkers office. Please feel free to donate as much or as little as you like, every penny counts.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the above mentioned businesses for their co-operation in allowing us to place the sponsor sheets with them, and also thanks to Morar Hotel who have kindly offered to put one of our collection tins in their bar. If you would like to know any more about the service, or would like to help by volunteering with Shopmobility, or indeed by giving a donation, please call the Co-ordinator Jan Jones on 01397 700051 Monday to Friday from 10am until 4pm OR see Peggy or the van driver when they are in Mallaig.
Remember too, that June 7th to 13th is Lochaber's Volunteer Week. If you have an hour or two to spare each week, and are interested in volunteering contact Rachel Carr at Volunteer Lochaber on 01397 704633 Jan Jones

In memory
A short memorial service for all those who have died at sea is going to be held at the mouth of the river Morar, over the lower bridge, on Saturday 19th June at 12.15 pm. People who wish to attend are asked to bring a flower with them, to throw onto the water.

The Fishing Scene
On Saturday 15th May the West of Scotland Fish Producers' Organisation hosted a presentation by the Fisheries Research Services (Marine Lab) of their most recent research work on west coast nephrops (prawns). One of the biggest problems facing local fishermen is the fact that the nephrop stock is clearly much healthier than the quota suggests, but landings are capped by the quota limit so the increase in the stocks does not show in the landings. The original 16,000t quota, a figure basically plucked out of the air, was reduced as landings failed to achieve that level over the years; since then the tonnage landed has been used as the yard stick for stock size. Now whitefish stocks are decreasing and nephrop stocks are increasing, but the landings are limited by the 11,000t quota. The Fisheries Commission refuses to increase it unless there is evidence that the stocks can support an increase.
There are three main nephrops grounds off the west coast: the Clyde, the South Minch and the North Minch, and surveys of these stocks had been carried out over recent years using cameras mounted on sledges being towed over the seabed and the number of nephrops burrows counted. Similar work on the main North Sea nephrop stock had brought about a considerable increase in the quota for that area as it had shown there to be more nephrops than previously estimated. Findings from the west coast surveys suggested that the main west coast stocks were either stable or increasing at current levels of fishing effort; in places the stock is judged to be up to 40% bigger than was previously thought. These findings are currently being collated by the ICES' (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) Nephrops Working Group before being passed onto the Fisheries Commission along with a request for an increase in the quota from the Scottish Executive and the UK Government. The Commission appears to have also suggested that the nephrops quota may be increased if fishermen can come up with further ways to avoid catching cod. The Scottish Executive have asked fishermen to consider more seasonal closures of cod grounds, increased mesh sizes, larger square mesh panels; these will be discussed at a meeting of all west coast fishing interest on 22nd July at Inverness.
Robert Stevenson, West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation Ltd

The Waverley at Mallaig Pier

The Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, paid a visit to Mallaig last month. Thursday 6th May was the date as she docked, just long enough (in between ferries) to disembark passengers waiting to go ashore and wander round Mallaig and embark those, including a goodly number of local school-children, waiting to experience a unique journey on a unique craft.
At 2 pm the Waverley went for a two hour 'paddle' up Loch Nevis and, with the weather favourable, the grandiose loch and mountain scenery were greatly enjoyed by all.

As part of an Aberdeen University charity group H.E.L.P (Humanitarian, educational, long-term projects) I am going with a group of 6 other people to the Philippines in the summer to work in an orphanage for children with special needs. Each member of my group were required to each raise £250 which goes directly into the running and upkeep of the orphanage. We are also required to raise the money to get us there. I am planning to do a sponsored event in the summer to try and fund my trip, and any donations towards it would be greatly appreciated.
You can get in touch with me on: 07768 521150 (Mob) or 01687 462849 (home).
Alternatively, you can e-mail me on orcapete9@aol.com
The web address for the orphanage is: www.chosenchildren.bizland.com
Rachel Inglis

Moidart Local History Group, who meet monthly in Glenuig Hall, have published a booklet on the area entitled simply 'Moidart'. Research for the book has been done by members of the group, who have amassed a deal of information on Moidart's early history through to today, touching on Bonnie Prince Charlie, emigration, Clanranald, lazybeds, the West Highland line and more. The booklet includes many quality colour photographs and facts and is on sale through their website www.moidart.org.uk or at The Land, Sea & Islands Centre in Arisaig at £6.75.

On 10th June, 2002 new legislation came into force in Scotland allowing Registrars to conduct civil weddings away from the designated Registration Office. The first such civil marriage in the district was conducted on the beach at Camusdarach on Friday 16th April, 2004. The Bride and Bridegroom, Carla Risi and Stephen Rowe, both from Glasgow, enjoyed a wonderful day. The reception was later at the Morar Hotel.
The new legislation allowed another first in the area. On 15th May, 2004 the first ever civil marriage to be conducted in Knoydart was conducted at Doune Stone Lodges, Doune. The bride and groom were Gail Kent and Tim Colbourne, both from London. Again nature was kind and they had a good day for their wedding. The reception was held at Doune Stone Lodges.
The licence for the beach at Camusdarach was a temporary one; however Doune Stone Lodges has a period licence which lasts three years. Both ceremonies were conducted by the registrar for Mallaig and Knoydart, James MacEachen.

The bride wore a wet suit...civil weddings are now allowed outside the Registration Office.
Camusdarach Beach saw the first in this area.

Road to the Isles Agricultural Show
Preparations are well under way for this year's show at Camusdarach on 12th June 2004. Judging of livestock begins at 10 am while the judging of the Baking and Handicrafts sections begins at 11 am. Please have your entries forward in plenty of time and good luck to all exhibitors!
The afternoon entertainment begins at 1.30 pm and includes a Junior Shinty Match, Sheep Dog Demonstration, Falconry Show and Working Horses Demonstration. There will also be a Sheaf Tossing Competition and a Tug o' War. There should be something for everyone to enjoy so do come along. There will also be the usual plant stalls and local organisations taking part. Food and drinks are available on site and the committee hopes that everyone has a good day out. We look forward to seeing you there!
Compost Competition
Your annual chance to win a bottle of whisky at the Road to the Isles Agricultural Show is here again! All you have to do is grab a shovel full of your best home made compost - about a litre in an ice cream tub or other rigid container and bring it along to Camusdarach on Saturday the 12th of June before 11am. Ben Nevis Distillery has kindly donated the whisky and Norrie MacLaren from Ard Daraich Shrub Nursery will be judging the entrants on the day.
Why don't you put an entry in and find out just how good your compost is or if you're just starting out come along and see what others have done. Lochaber Environmental Group will have a display on the history of composting and improving soil fertility in Lochaber as well as lots of information and advice on composting and wormeries. For further details please contact Alison Devey at Lochaber Environmental Group on 01397 700 090. Compost Bins will be available on the day for £10
Boy David is one in a thousand At last year's Road to the Isles Show a bullock calf owned by Mairead and Catriona MacDonald of Kinsadel won first prize in his class. In May this year the calf, called Boy David, was sold to a woman in Stirling, and last month his new owner entered him into a big show down in the Stirling area. Over a thousand beasts were entered. No-one expected a calf with a croft background to be able to compete with cattle raised on the rich arable land down south but Boy David proved this to be nonsense by taking first prize and coming in as show champion!

Here I am again since Tommy has decreed that we should alternate month by month. However due to total exhaustion and temporary loss of memory following a very good night out the previous evening, I forgot about the ceilidh with visiting dancers on Wednesday evening, and have had numerous reports that it was FANTASTIC to my chagrin. So, Tommy is going to add his summary of that event to this missive plus his report on the games on Rum.
Last week-end a dozen plus children and parents took off for Fort William on Saturday morning to take part in the 'Singing Kettle' performance, dressed the part as mermaids, jelly fish, a sea fairy, shark, flounder, Neptune et al, the theme being, you've guessed it, creatures of the sea. The 'Singing Kettle' seems to have been part of our little grand-daughters' lives almost from their births, on tape or film. By all accounts a most enjoyable event despite some parents returning at the end of the day with sore heids. Knoydart is teeming with visitors, as is usual in May, especially with two Bank hols and finding a bed for last minute stragglers almost impossible. Please don't anyone suggest that 'last.minute.com' add us to their web! Especially since Broadband is now part of life for many of us here in the 'remote' outpost of the empire. Masts are attached to chimneys, attics have been invaded and wired up and visitors have even been reduced to sleeping in the odd roofspace.
Gardens have at last dried out and things are starting to grow; now we need the rain forecast for this week-end again. Jen has realised her dream and brought goods and chattels to live here, with help from true friends. A brave move; we hope the venture proves worthy of her expectations. The view alone is worth it Jen. Matthew and Samantha celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary next week by taking off somewhere exotic...exotic I said and not on high powered bikes, leaving the children to look after the wrinklies.
Toby, Kath and Coll are off to America next week to take part in the Son Rise programme for Coll at source. We wish them 'bon voyage' and a fruitful experience.
Anne Trussell

Knoydart attended the Small Isles Games in Rum for the first time (ever?). A team of 12-strong travelled over with Mark Woombs in RIB Liparis. We came second in Welly throwing, the obstacle course, the two-person sack race - and third overall. A last minute attempt to claim ownership of the tug-o-war trophy by Nick Tokely on behalf of Knoydart was foiled ('I'm from Eigg,' was the phrase used by Nick...). The ceilidh was excellent , with all the Knoydartians joining in with various amounts of enthusiasm. Good to meet some of the people we hear so much about through the pages of West Word. 'Dannsa' put on a storming show this week, with a large turn out of locals in the village hall. Not only did they treat us to step-dancing and (very complicated) reels of their own devising, they also managed to drag much of the audience up on to the dance-floor. Perhaps the whisky that Gabe McVarish won in the raffle helped (he generously donated it to the common good - i.e. a thirsty audience). An entertaining night indeed.
Tommy McManmon

For someone who had for all his life thought that Scottish dancing was based on country dancing steps only it was a real revelation to see Dannsa perform in the school last Thursday. A remarkably talented (and fit) group producing a remarkable range of steps and movements performed both to their own musicians or to the Gaelic Mouth Music. This evening alone made all of Mandy Ketchin's hard work with Camas worthwhile.
The construction of the new waiting room has started and this time we have been lucky in having Don Michie from Onich as contractor. He has been willing to employ islanders for all the less skilled jobs and there is even the possibility of sharing his slater on the roof of Pier House. This has been a major worry over the last few months.
May has been a very dry month in contrast to April with only about an inch of rain but on the farm the grass is growing well, the 'marking' is finished and the shearing is well under way. I have also has time to experiment with various sprays for grassland weeds. I hope to report in a future West Word. We only have four pet lambs this year, which is less than usual. However talking of pets I must mention Clare Walter's pet pig Betty-B. Clare got her at a week old {the sow did not have enough milk) and that was six weeks ago and she is doing fine. Before any other readers consider pet pigs Clare warns them that piglets are not easily house trained, noisy and very messy feeders. A bit like children!
Remember Muck's Open Day is on Sunday 20th June!
Lawrence MacEwen

May is always a bit mad on Rum, the weather starts to pick up, the tourists flood in, the midges start to tickle and we have lots of ceilidhs. We started off on the 10th with our annual visit to Loch MacIvor - named after Richard, who sadly died in 1999. The 10th was his birthday and he loved a bit of fishing (though not eating it, trout that is), so we took a wee rowing boat up and dragged/slid it down to the lochside. We all had a row but the wind was blowing so hard, the amateurs among the group (me) sadly got blown far away from where we meant to go. We didn't catch any fish either, but we basked in the sun till it disappeared behind Ard Nev. A fine day.
The games on the 15th were more of a success than we imagined. The weather was great and loads of folk showed up, including a team from Knoydart. Highlights were:- the Falconry display which was a real treat, lots of the kids and a few of the big kids got to hold the hawk on their arms; Dave (whose surname I've forgotten) the chainsaw sculptor, who made an owl and a seesaw, the seats of which were carved into otters and a fisherman mid cast, he'll be coming back to finish off next weekend. The obstacle course was worthy of 'It's A Knockout' and the men's favourite was 'how far can you hammer a nail into a log in one go' competition, typical.
Rum won overall, naturally on home territory, but shockingly, and we still don't know how they did it, the Eigg men's team won the Tug o'War and hence the trophy. In the children's races the Eigg team also won. Thanks to the Lifeboat for coming over and letting people on board to look around. The ceilidh was fantastic, the band, Hakum Plakum, did an amazing job, playing well into the early hours to make up for the other band who cancelled at the last minute. Sunday kicked off with a barbeque with enough food to feed most of Lochaber, I think Colin Carr ate most if it. Before the boat there was just enough time for some more sweating and swearing in the form of an inter-island football match. I think it's best to say you're all winners, aren't you, just! Thanks to everyone who came along and took part and the squad over here for organising and clearing up.
Yet more ceilidhs...last weekend (22nd May) we had a real treat, as Duncan Chisholm, Charlie McKerrin (from Capercaillie) and Mark Clement were here and played some amazing tunes, and next weekend we have Dannsa performing, along with a couple more musicians just to make sure things go with a swing.
In June we'll be mostly sleeping. Will bring you up to date with the more serious stuff next month. Fliss Hough

Summertime seems to have finally arrived after such an unusual cold start for May. John Chester, our Wildlife ranger, is thus able to reports a fine start for birdlife, with a great number of Cuckoos, Sedge Warblers and Swallows this year and an all time high number of Bullfinches. The ornithological event of the month was a huge and unprecedented northerly passage of Pomerine Skuas between Eigg and the mainland in early May: 389 "poms" were counted between the 4th and 7th of May, Ronnie Dyer recording 164 on the 4th alone during the Sheerwater's crossing over to Eigg from Arisaig. As these totals are only of birds actually seen, the number of birds must have been enormous! This remarkable inshore passage was undoubtedly due to gale force winds affecting the seas to the west at the time, as these birds normally migrate to the west coast of the Outer Isles. As to the recent spell of good weather, it has brought a good number of Dolphins and Minke Whales to our waters with Ronnie recording 100 Common Dolphins on the 22nd !
With the tourist season now started in earnest, we also had the pleasure of meeting the first "ancestor hunters" of the year, in fact three in one week alone! It is always fascinating - at least for me - to meet descendants of Eigg emigrants as they always have some stories to tell about how their ancestors got on as they settled in Canada or Australia. It all helps to fill the big puzzle of Eigg's history, and we need to broadcast more widely the resources we actually have on offer for such quests as these folks often turn up on Eigg without any idea of what there is available. This is something that the Eigg History Society is very much trying to remedy. Meanwhile, the Society's May outing to the Clearance village of Grulin was well attended in spite of the inclement weather and it is good to see many folks interested in the stories old stones can tell, something that the Society's guest speaker this year, John Wood, is very keen to encourage. John, who headed the Highland Archaeology unit until recently, gave a stimulating talk on cultural strategy throughout the region and came away from Eigg totally enthusiastic about the island's potential for interpretation in the wake of the Royal Commission survey. We hope that in his new incarnation as heritage management consultant, John will be able to help us present the island's rich history to the public in the best possible manner.
Another cultural experience this month, was Dannsa's infectious energy in bringing back to life ancient forms of Highland traditional dancing. It brought it home how traditional is and can remain a very creative artform. After such a thoroughly enjoyable night, we look forward to Dannsa coming back to Eigg this winter to rehearse next year's tour in the comfortable space of the Glebe Barn, Eigg's superior hostel! Dannsa inaugurated the "Green Shed" at the pier with its brand new floor, which will be our alternative venue for summer events now that renovation work will be starting on the community hall. What the swallows nesting high on the eaves of the Green Shed will make of the mixture of trad and contemporary offerings on our anniversary ceilidh, we'll never know, but they seemed happy enough with the last gig! In any case, readers, make sure you make Saturday 12th June a date in your calendar: this year's line up is Ya matha, Sharon King and the Never Never Cowboys, The Essential Ceilidh Trio, Hoogie and DJ Dolphin Boy. Eclectic or what?
As the Trust's 7th birthday anniversary approaches, it is always a time to reflect on achievements and new targets to be set. A lot has been learnt in the past few years and if there is no denying that it has been a steep learning curve and that we do not have all the answers, the good news is that we are increasingly getting away from crisis management to planned development, that a lot of thinking is going into how best to implement the democratic process and that there is increasing confidence about starting new businesses. To date achievements have been many for such a small population, and with the general buzz of activity about the place, especially this year in the area of crofting, this augurs well for the future!
Camille Dressler.

Arisaig was the focus of much media attention during May as the 60 year anniversary of D-Day approached, thanks to the small Special Operations Executive section in the Land, Sea & Islands Centre and articles in West Word, both of which come up in internet search engines if SOE is typed in.
In a few days I had spoken by phone to BBC Scotland (Holly, who purchased the Centre's SOE book by post), a freelance journalist, and the editors and assistant editors of the Sunday Herald, the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times. Some of these calls I took at work in my VAL office in Fort William and my work mates got used to hearing me say 'We have a detonator' or 'I don't think a metal detector a very good idea, we might turn up another grenade' but I was alone (luckily) the morning I answered a call to find myself seconds away from a live interview on radio. It was VIPonair, a Glasgow station for blind people on which stories from the daily papers are read out. They had seen the short column in the Record, which I hadn't. The Sunday Times did a very nice full page story on Arisaig and the SOE - I especially liked the photo with the caption 'Eisenhower: valued Arisaig'. If anyone sees any of these articles any time I'd be grateful if they would let me know as I might miss them. Meanwhile David Harrison's book on the SOE, exclusive to the Centre, is selling very well and we've had visitors who came because of the article.
On another tack, the Hall Arts programme has been awarded a grant of £3500 from the Arts Council and £1500 from the Highland Council. We have to put in £1700 ourselves which we hope to get back in ticket money, so don't think the entertainments are free just because we get grants! Last year they enabled us to put on a £10,000 programme. Dannsa were excellent on Monday, in a more sedate night than those on their island gigs, and we have a programme of activities during the school summer holidays and are planning a winter of crafts etc.
Ann Martin

Birdwatch by Stephen MacDonald
May saw the arrival of the majority of the summer visitors to this area. Good numbers of sand martins, swallows and some house martins were seen over Loch nan Eala, Arisaig, on the 4thof the month. Although numbers of sand martins seem healthy at their Rhubana colony, no sand martins have returned to their colony at Portnadoran for the second year running.
Greenshanks were reported from the Morar Estuary in the first week of the month and also a pair on the hill above the Borrodale Burn. Sedge Warblers were seen and heard at Glasnacardoch on the 7th and Camusdarach on the 8th, with Tree-pipits at the latter site, also on the 8th. Whitethroats were seen at Rhubana from the 20th. Common Redstarts were seen near the Glen House, Arisaig, at the beginning of the month and a male Ring Ouzel was seen and heard in Glen Mama on the 27th. Also seen there was a Dipper and several Cuckoos.
Good numbers of Teal and a few Mallards were present on Loch nan Eala at the beginning of the month. A Little Grebe was also there on the 4th. A pair of Greylag Geese with 5 Goslings were seen near Millburn, Rhue, on the 8th, while a group of 14 birds at Traigh on the 31st was the highest count. Shelduck and Eider were seen regularly at Traigh and Goosander an red breasted Merganser were seen on Loch Morar, where a Merganser with 5 young chicks were seen near the end of the month. Lapwings near the Caimbe had good sized chicks on the 24th. Also there 4 Redshanks and a pair of Common Sandpipers. Small numbers of other waders were seen regularly near the boathouse at Traigh, where 24 Dunlin and 11 Ringed Plover on the 7th was a good count.
Two Goldfinches were seen at the Main's Farm, Arisaig, on the 4th, with other reports from gardens in Morar and Arisaig during the month. Bullfinches were recorded in Arisaig, Camusdarach and Traigh. A flock of over 60 Linnets with a few Twite were seen at the golf-course on the 8th and a flock of 10 Redpolls were seen feeding in a tree at Morar Church on the 10th. Family parties of both Greenfinches and Siskins were reported from many gardens in the area.
A few winter visitors lingered into May. Several flocks of Pink-footed Geese were seen flying Northwards in the first few days of the month and an Immature Iceland Gull was seen in Mallaig on the 6th. A few Great Northern Divers hung about offshore from Rhue, Traigh and Glasnacardoch till the end of the month, with 13 together, all in Summer plumage, off Rhue boathouse on the 8th, a fine sight.

A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: ealasaid6@btopenworld.com)
Anne Malone
In August 2003, Bill MacLellan from California paid a visit and met up with many relatives and descendants of the Brinacory MacLellans who remained in Scotland after his particular ancestors had emigrated. I wrote about his visit and this prompted a query from Anne Malone of Canada who is also a descendant of these MacLellans. Anne has a particular interest in her g.g.g.g. grandmother, Anne Gillies, daughter of Capt. Gillies. Anne Gillies was born in Stoule, North Morar and she and her husband, Alexander Gillies, from Ard na Murach, N. Morar, emigrated in 1826. They took with them a letter of reference written by Rev. Reginald MacDonell, long time parish priest of that district. Alexander Gillies' patronymic was, Alasdair Mac Iain, 'ic Alasdair.
Anne Malone will be staying at Morar Hotel from 19th to 25th June 2004. She hopes to visit her MacLellan relatives and make contact with the Gillies relatives, also.
Gillian Johnston from Australia has been in contact enquiring about her ancestry. She is descended from Angus Gillies, born 1839, son of Donald Gillies and Jessie MacDonald, Angus married Anne Marshall, born 1832, daughter of Alexander Marshall, schoolmaster in Bracara and his wife Jane MacLellan.
In the 1861 census Angus and Anne lived at the pier in Mallaig and with them was Anne's sister Catherine, aged 30 years and brother, John aged 10 years.
Angus and Anne had a son, Alexander Marshall Gillies who married Sarah Mulgrew and they lived in Dumbarton. Their son, Angus Gillies was Gillian's grandfather.
If any one has any knowledge of this family and present day connections, could they please get in touch with me so that we can help Gillian in her quest?

A sense of adventure
In February and March this year, Ranald Coyne of Arisaig went to Ethiopia - here is part one of his journal. Part 2 next month..
Ten of us went out on a BESO assignment to Ethiopia to report on potential, problems and development of micro and small enterprises, my own speciality and that of two others was tourism. Fairly nasty flight out on a BA Airbus 320 with no legroom and very short haul seats.
Up late and spent most of the day meeting people after which hosts took us to Fasika's a very smart Ethiopian restaurant where we started of with tej (mead), a carafe each drunk from the carafe and huge communal plate of injera and an unlimited supply of chicken, spicy lamb, beef and various veg. Glad that I had previously learned to eat with my fingers.
Most of the first two weeks were spent in meetings with Government officials even a Minister of State and a lot of private operators and operators groups. We worked from about 8.30am to 6.30 pm and in the evenings we dined out very well. In Addis Ababa there are a lot of very good and extremely cheap restaurants, dinner at the Hilton with lots of wine was £8. The people we met, not only at meetings but also in the town were all very friendly and a lot of them spoke English.
On Saturday most of us went off for the weekend in the minibus to a spa resort hotel about 150 kms South. After lunch we went down to the hot springs which are not inspiring, a concrete river about 2 feet wide full of people. I go off for a walk along the river which apparently has crocodiles and hippo, surprisingly quite a few locals are swimming. Later I go to cool off in the "Olympic size pool" which is 3 metres deep and the temp is bath temp. Swimming is tiring.
Meetings almost all week Most of our party went off towards the end of the week but as part of my job was tourism in Addis I stayed there myself for a further three days. Addis Ababa with a population of 5 million is the third biggest city in Africa, although very near the Equator it is at an altitude of 2,400 metres and the February climate is about the same as a really good summer's day in Arisaig. The city is very green and wherever you went there are trees. I started touring Addis Ababa's attractions. Kiddist Selassie cathedral, built by the late emperor who with his late wife is now buried there, as is Sylvia Pankhurst. Shown round, lovely stained glass windows including picture of Queen of Sheba, a direct ancestor of Haile Selassie, , meeting King Solomon. Had a talk with our driver today about cars. Many cars have German Dutch Danish etc identification marks, these are imported at high prices and very highly taxed. Our driver owns his own car a 1987 Toyota Carina with 114000 kms shown and which he bought recently for the equivalent of £ 5,000.
Started off today with Washa Mikael Church, a ruin but one of only two rock hewn churches near Addis. Parked on the edge of town and persuaded the driver to accompany me, otherwise I would never have found it. I think that Wollie, our boss and that really is his name, who knew I was going, had probably told him to go with me. Started off and were soon accompanied by a "Guide" who quoted us 10 EtB, about 70p, walked up through shantytown and then about 40 minutes of fairly steep track to reach the church in a grove of Eucalyptus and Euphorbia. The church had been carved out of solid rock and had obviously been derelict for several hundred years. Being built of solid rock it had weathered fairly well much of the construction was still discernible and very interesting. By the time we got down I was fairly knackered and so was our driver. At the foot for the first time ever I found that the agreed price was disputed and eventually had to pay 25 EtB. After a lunch and a rest I went to book my hotels for the next week, here if you don't pay for hotels in advance the booking may be lost, and then did the obligatory two museums, the ethnological museum which was a very good display of relatively recent tribal information and the National Museum just down the road which was much older. Here I met Lucy, great great etc grandmother, at 3,200,000 years the oldest fossilised human ever found, actually a plaster cast, In Amharic Lucy is known as Denkenesh, "You are beautiful." Back to the room for a shower and a bit of time on the laptop, then with Michael, the only one of us still here, started on the gin and back to Ricos for a steak and a bottle of wine
Saturday morning I spent at the Mercato, claimed as the biggest market in Africa it is massive, the driver dropped me off just after 9 and I spent 4 hours wandering around and doing a bit of shopping, find that like yesterday's guide a bargain is not always a bargain, in this case having agreed a price he then allegedly rang his father to confirm it and started haggling again. Mercato is over a mile square and the town bus station is in the centre. It is claimed that you can get everything from camel saddles to Kalashnikoffs, I certainly saw the first but gather that the latter is now more clandestine. Spent the afternoon writing up my report, panic when a disc died but in Addis at 7pm I only had to walk 50 yards for another
On Sunday morning at last I was on my own to get out and see this country. Punctually at 8 my car and driver turned up. The driver who was to be my companion for the next 9 days was Ayele, pleasant and friendly and spoke very reasonable English. The car was a 5 year old Nissan Patrol and by the end of the day we did need the four wheel drive. My job was to investigate as many as possible of the existing and potential tourist enterprises in the areas I passed through and the Tourism Commission had given me a basic itinerary which looked promising. Once out of town I had the opportunity to stop for photos when I wanted and I think Ayele soon got fed up with me but did not complain. After about 90 minutes we came to a small town Debre Zeyit and turned off to examine a large lake and 4 crater lakes. The large lake was very shallow and apparently dries up but there were several hotels, piers and speedboats, very much aimed at the domestic market. The crater lakes were much nicer and in particular Lake Hora was very attractive with reed shores and a great variety of bird life, in a few minutes I saw kingfisher, pelican, coots and geese. Then on to Nazareth where I was booked in to the Adama Mekonnen, a smart commercial hotel, very nicely laid out with a large bed and TV at the foot, marble bathroom and a sitting area. Incidentally the first hotel I have ever stayed in where there was a large complimentary packet of condoms by the bedside.
Nazareth is a regional capital but with little to commend it to tourists. After checking in I asked to see the manager and was basically told what do you want to see him for, anyway he's not here. I then produced the letter we had all been given and in about five minutes he appeared. His name was Alemayehu Mekonnen and he was very smart and helpful. We had a general talk and agreed that the only tourist sites were Sodore where I had been the previous week and the Awash National Park 100 kms away which I was to visit tomorrow. He then mentioned two possible potential sites which were on the list I had been given by the Tourism Commission. He gave my driver instructions as they were well out of the way and after lunch we set off to investigate, the first at Boku was about 8 kms out of town on a rough track, when we got there it was basically a Turkish Bath. Natural steam coming out of the rock was trapped and passed into two tin sheds which were used as Turkish baths. The second at Gergredi was 16 kms out of town over very rough tracks through countryside that was virtual desert except for the river banks where a lot of small scale irrigation made fertile ground. The driver got lost several times and 4 wd was very necessary. We eventually arrived at Gergredi and a series of muddy pools of hot water beside the river were occupied by about 400 people of both sexes, largely naked, no photos. I think the site is probably too remote and the water not warm enough.
Ayele picked me up next morning and Alemayehu took me round and introduced me to the tourist officer, he in turn produced from a dusty shelf several large files with full costings for developments to be sent to prospective investors who might be interested in the site I had looked at Gergredi yesterday, the national park I was going to today and a site in the Bale Mountains, the costings did not appeal to me and they assumed an initial occupancy rate of 80% and rising. Ayele then drove me the 100 kms to the Awash National Park, I have never seen camels in any numbers before and the road was full of them. Arrived at the park we first went to Palm Springs, one of the sites for prospective investors, before we could go we had to have an armed guard as the local nomads the Afars are feuding with the Oromo, the Afaro were the renowned wild men, they are camel herders and it is not advisable to upset them or to take photos without asking, something to do with the fact that they all carry Kalashnikovs. Not an encouraging situation for a tourist development.

Palm springs is 30 kms off the road on a pretty poor track, no sign of any wildlife except one dik dik but literally hundreds of camels and cattle, the park wardens don't try too hard to evict them. Palm Springs when we got there was lovely, crystal clear springs about 6' deep under palm trees. Ayele said it was good for swimming so I stripped off and tried the water, almost bath temp, anyway I dived in and when I got out half a dozen nomads were rolling around laughing. I asked Ayele what the joke was, I had a foreskin. Anyway I even managed to get a couple of photos of them. photo

Half a mile away was a muddy water hole which was an ordinary spring with cattle all round and lots of crocodiles. Another hour back to the main road and saw some warthogs then across more park to the Awash river which went over some rather impressive falls, lots of crocs. Then went looking for game and saw 3 lesser Kudu, beautiful stripes and then by the main road several herds of Oryx which are very beautiful. A 2 hour drive back to Nazareth rushing to get there before dark, this is the road to Djibouti, Ethiopia's access to sea and a large load of steel plates had obviously just arrived, the lorries are unlit and mixed with cows and camels driving after dark is not a good idea. Driving in the dusk this really is Africa again. After a bath went down for beer and dinner and Alemayehu sat with me and talked. He is building an extension and currently digging foundations, looks very stony and he is paying 8 EtB 50p per cubic metre to excavate, by hand. This hotel which serves a steak at £1 enables him to send 3 children to London University, he would like to visit us in early Sept. Trying to write up after dinner, why is it that 15 watt bulbs appear to be standard issue here
Today is a public holiday, VI day, to celebrate driving out the Italians. Left about 9 and drove South. First stop was Lake Ziway where there were Maribou Storks other birds and papyrus reed boats then to Abyatta Shail National Park. Yesterday I complained about camels and cows in NPs today not only cows and goats but lots of houses and cultivated fields. Lake Shail is a Rift valley lake with huge numbers of flamingos. As it is now dry season we had to leave the Nissan before we broke the crust. Got fairly near before walking also got difficult. Saw some ostrich and one Grants gazelle but both were semi tame. Back on the road, passed a hut where they were still winnowing tef. In this case trampling with cattle, got a couple of pictures and a sample to take home. Arrived at Awassa about 4 and was booked in to the Wabishebele a government owned hotel. Nice lakeside situation , management non existent, dirty shabby and food poor.. Found a message asking me to phone the tourist office and did so. Tourist Officer Ato Abri and his boss then came round and we talked for a long time. Apparently there are two new NPs to the West and even more interesting Nech Sar NP at Abra Minch, which it was announced a few days ago is to be leased to a South African has to be cleared of squatters before the lease takes effect.
Wednesday morning drove round to tourist office and met Ato Abri who took me to see the Bureau's Head of Coordination a real VIP. We then went down to the beach where all the fishing boats, about 80 of them were unloading the nights catch of tilapia. They are filleted on the spot and the remains are boiled into soup at 20 cents about a penny a bowl. Didn't try it but got a very nice small red avocado for 2p. Then went in the 4wd up to the top of the local hill for a panoramic view of the lake and town. I took Ato Abri and driver to lunch and suggested a typical Ethiopian restaurant so we went to Pinna Hotel which incidentally is far better value as a hotel than where I am. Don't tell Dr. Shina but I had Kitffoor which was quite nice but far too much. A large plate on which was a thick slice of raw beef, a bowl of raw mince, a bowl of curds and a bowl of very hot powder, all with two injaras. After lunch went to the university where they have just started a degree course in hotel management. After a trip to the souvenir shop I decided enough was enough and we all had a beer.
To be continued next month….

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