THE MACCORMICKS – A ROSS OF MULL/ISLE OF IONA (SCOTLAND) FAMILY PART 1


GRT GRNDFATH MACCORMICK PLUS

Left to right Andrew MacCormick,  my uncle; Annabel (Campbell MacLachlan) MacCormick, my great-grandmother; Neil Lamont MacCormick my grandfather; Neil Lamont MacCormick Sr., my great-grandfather; John MacCormick, my granduncle.   (Note the characteristic of photographs of the period I have observed – subjects looking away from the camera, perhaps because of the magnesium flare used to illuminate.)

 

Several years ago, I had the idea and ambition to put together a history of  my father’s family, the MacCormicks.  I contacted several relatives and scoured the internet for information.  Unfortunately or not, I had to put aside the project.. Now,  as time moves on its customary fashion, I feel that I should pass on the material  gathered.  Perhaps another family member will be inspired to add to and complete this rough piece.  Frankly, I presently have no time nor energy to polish up my draft.   I ask your forgiveness and indulgence! NOTE:  two figures are prominent in the MacCormick family collection:  John MacDonald MacCormick and his son, Professor Sir Donald Neil MacCormick.  Because of the huge amount of data on the two available on the internet,, I have chosen to give more space here to other family members whose activities may be less familiar. Here follows the material I have collected.

.THE MACCORMICKS

                                       A  Ross of Mull/Isle of Iona (Scotland) Family.   We write family histories for many reasons: to see how far back in time we can  trace our roots;  to try and understand  where we came from and perhaps who we are; and  to ensure that our descendants will be informed of their past.   In this brief record, I will first concentrate on the more notable accomplishments of my family.I find it intriguing to consider how a mix of genes, circumstances and chance all play a  role in personal outcomes.   This work should have been initiated years ago while older generations with rich stores  of family history  were still with us.  But we were all too busy getting on with our lives  to recognize  the  need to  record.  Anyway, this is a beginning.   The information presented here is from personal knowledge, from family members,  information from my mother ( still going on at age 96),  and data recovered from the internet.     

We have to start somewhere.     I have chosen to begin with my great grandparents on my father’s side because I have substantial  information available for them.  The family can in fact  be traced at least to the 18th century:  NEIL LAMONT MACCORMICK (born Iona 1836, died Fionphort 1925),     ANNABELCAMPBELL MACLACHLAN MACCORMICK  (born Iona 1838,  died  Fionphort    1932 )    As there will be many Neils and Annabels  listed in this brief essay. I have chosen to add, not only the the normal  use of arabic and  Roman numerals to indicate generations but also, where useful,  to clarify identities by adding place names – for example – Neil Tormore, my great grandfather.  (Footnote – I encountered  this problem  at first hand  as a youth when at a dinner table in my home in Glasgow, we had five Neil MacCormicks seated :   me,  my grandfather and  my father, plus a son and grandson of William and Mary MacCormick).   

Neil Tormore  came from an Iona crofting family.  But he built a career at the Tormore granite quarry in Fionphort at the western extremity of the Isle of Mull. .   He became a quarrier in 1871 at the age of 35 and manager of the Tormore Quarry ten years later   This enterprise was the only non-agricultural organization of any size on Mull.  The granite from Tormore was used to build many structures including  Blackfriar’s Bridge and the Embankment in London . Neil Tormore was  a well-known figure on the islands of Mull and Iona.  Among his contributions to island life was his role as conductor of Bunessan church choirs.  It  has been claimed by family members that he composed the well known hymn melody, “Bunessan”.  However . the most recent attempt to have that accomplishment recognized officially was rejected in 2007 by the Church of Scotland Committee established to revise the Church Hymnal.   Recently I have found indications that he may have notated the melody for his  choirs.  One  of his writings is an account of a journey to Egypt.     Because of his knowledge of economic geology, and his expertise in the operation of stone quarries, he had been asked to join an expedition to the Upper Nile (via the Red Sea).  The purpose was to explore ancient Roman porphyry quarries to determine if they could be reopened and exploited.  . As it turned out, the quarries proved unworkable.  However, we are able to benefit from the expedition because of  the insights in a journal he kept (unpublished – original manuscript retained by Annabel MacInnes, Ruanich, Isle of Iona, a great granddaughter of Neil Tormore.)     His obituary read (note the surname spelling, as on the headstone of the grandparents’ grave in the Iona Abbey graveyard)

Oban Times  21 November 1925                                 

 A Noted Highlander  Deep regret was felt throughout the Ross of Mull and in Iona at the death of Mr. Neil McCormick, Achadh Ban, Fionphort, Ross of Mull, who was held in the greatest esteem and respect by all who knew him.  His long life almost spanned three generations in Mull and Iona, and that, coupled with his position as Manager of the Mull Granite Quarries for many years, made him a familiar figure in a wide district.  Mr. McCormick was born at Culbhuirg, Iona, about the year 1836 so that he passed away in his 90th year.  Mr. McCormick was therefore probably among the eldest of the readers of the “Oban Times”.  During his long life Mr. McCormick witnessed many interesting phases in the social growth and development of his native parish.  He was only an infant when the croft in Iona was exchanged for the croft in the Ross of Mull, just across the Sound of Iona, and there he was reared, though during the whole course of his life, he was in close touch with his native Iona, where the majority of the people are his near relatives.  When Mr. McCormick was a youth, the principal industry in the Ross of Mull was quarrying.  The building of Skerryvore Lighthouse had already opened up the place and given a name to what was afterwards known among the quarry masters of the period as “Mull Granite”.  Mr. McCormick entered the trade as a young man and by his grit and perseverance rose to the position of manager of the Mull quarries.  For nearly 40 years he was sole manager, and on account of his great technical skill, his expert knowledge was often sought, and several times it took him far afield in connection with questions of arbitration.  A Visit to Egypt At one time his services as an expert were given in Egypt.  Differences arose between a firm of sculptors in London, and the government of Egypt over the question of transport in connection with a large porphyry quarry which the London firm leased from the Egyptian Government.  It was mutually agreed to settle the matter by arbitration, and Mr. McCormick was accepted as referee.  Mr. McCormick’s interest in antiquarian matters prompted him to undertake a task which for his years had certain risks, for the sun-baked Egyptian desert had to be negotiated to its very centre.  Besides climatic hardships, the Sudan War was in progress, and the Government of Egypt equipped the expedition with an armed guard.  Mr. McCormick had many reminiscences of this trek through the hot desert, and loved to relate interesting incidents connected with the journey, such as the manner in which his guard could ascertain the approach of danger by listening through the sand over a large area at camping time each night.When Mr. McCormick was a young man, the manager of the quarries was an Englishman named Spence.  He was a civil engineer, and is still remembered as the builder of the Suspension Bridge across the Clyde.  Mr. Spence, while in Mull, laid the rails leading from the quarries to the shipping quay, but owing to the steepness of the gradient, which is 1 in 9, there was continual trouble.  Something had to be done for the safety of life and property.  Mr. McCormick evolved the idea of a ‘rail brake’, applied by a lever.  For more than fifty years his invention gave every satisfaction, and during that period it was known as the only ‘rail brake’ in the world, and strangers visiting the quarries were puzzled as to the way in which the machine was worked.  Many years afterwards the Corporation of Glasgow employed a similar brake applied by electricity for their tram cars.  In the course of Mr. McCormick’s management of the Mull Quarries, some of the biggest quarrying contracts in the country passed through his hands, and today in many parts of Europe and America the polished “Red Granite of Mull” still proclaims the superiority in defying climaticonslaught.                                Interesting Reminiscences Although he was always a busy man, Mr. McCormick took a deep interest in the social and religious welfare of the community.  He remembered the Disruption, and though only seven years of age at the time he had interesting reminiscences of the great ecclesiastical upheaval.  He used to tell how, cuddled at the fireside, he would listen to his father, who afterwards became a Free Church Elder, Catechist and Schoolmaster, reading the ‘Witness’, then edited by Hugh Miller, and discussing the points at issue in the great conflict to many earnest men and women who took a pious interest in the memorable struggle.  Like his father, Mr. McCormick was an ardent Free Churchman all his days, and in the course of his active life he contributed to its welfare.  He often acted as precentor, and for many years conducted a psalmody class, the members being drawn from all the denominations in the parish. Tangible proof of the earnest spirit in which Mr. McCormick’s voluntary services were looked upon by all and sundry in a wide area came when he was presented with a handsome marble timepiece – ‘from the people of both Churches’ in the Ross and Iona.  To Mr. McCormick the work he undertook as choir conductor was a labour of love, but of the gift he received by the spontaneous act of his friends and neighbours he was always proud: and today his family cherish it as a token of the respect and esteem in which their father was held among his people.  Notwithstanding his ripe old age, Mr. McCormick enjoyed excellent health up to the day on which his illness began.  He leaves a widow and nine of a family – seven sons and two daughters – to mourn his loss.  It is a remarkable record that with the exception of a child who died in infancy, there was no break in his family of eleven until a son, William, an engineer in the Navy, was killed during the War.  Mrs. McCormick and her family have the sympathy of all who know them in the great loss they have sustained and they have received letters of condolence from far and near.”  ————————-

Neil Tormore and his wife  Annabel had eleven children as noted

JOHN  Gaelic scholar, teacher, author

MARGARET b. 2 April 1862, d. 19 December 192

DONALD      Sea captain, shipping superintendent

WILLIAM (died in infancy) 

NEIL LAMONT   For most of his working life, he was Superintendent of a large working men’s hostel in Glasgow. 

DUGALD  He was a sailor, master mariner and captain in the Australian army. He settled in Australia where he was a grazier of sheep.  Here is a rather bedraggled photo of Granduncle Dugald, I am certain on his return voyage from Australia (with unidentified companions).

Uncledugaldscanned-012b

 He composed verse in Gaelic and English as well as tunes for pipes and songs.  See this site for a remarkable collection of 56 stories and songs narrated  or sung in his native Gaelic by Granduncle Dugald.   http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/results     Upon his return to Scotland, he was much in demand as a Gaelic raconteur at The Highlanders Institute in  Glasgow.   In 1948 his book written about his son, Iain, was published:

 (A personal note.  Granduncle Dugald was the kindest of the siblings to me and my immediate family.)

Here is a letter of interest with his view of the MacCormick family origins which  he sent to my late youngest sister, Fiona Campbell MacCormick.  You can get a clear impression of his  sense of fun (which did not always sit well in his brother’s home at 25 Elmbank Crescent, Glasgow).  Uncle Dugald Letter0001
WILLIAM   Naval engineer
LACHLAN   
                  

ROBERT   Shipping Superintendent

ANNABEL Nurse

COLIN COLL MCDONALD    Lighthouse keeper, Islay  

As  far as I have been able to ascertain, , only LACHLAN remained on Mull, the other siblings seeking livelihoods in  Glasgow and elsewhere, John  however returning to Mull.    A question to be asked is why so?   The most likely answer may be  found in the combination of two major and catastrophic events: the Mull Clearances carried out on behalf of the Duke of Argyll  and the Potato Famine, both of  which occurred a few years after  NEIL TORMORE’s birth on Iona in 1836. See e.g.,   http://highlandrenewal.org/assets/files/Tireragan_History.pdf   (The Tormore Quarry closed in 1910.)  I can only speculate that there may also have been a paucity of suitable arable land to support eleven new MacCormicks in their adulthood.  Another possibility is that Neil TORMORE, a community leader and sage, may have  encouraged his offspring to seek their fortunes off the Island.  This matter is one which intrigues me and I will investigate it further.)

JOHN MACCORMICK, their first born,  and my most admired family member (I will explain this  later) was a  well known Gaelic writer and poet.  He was crowned Bard at the 1925 Mod in Greenock, I  calculate, just before his father died.  . He was also author of a still-quoted book, The Isle of Mull,  out of print since 1934He was co-founder of The Iona Press.  A recent research paper sets forth his remarkable career and is highly recommended reading – “The Forgotten First John MacCormick” – http://www.abdn.ac.uk/celtic/sgs22.hti  (This is  currently a non-working link.  I am checking it out.) It is noteworthy that his son John was the sole member of the family to remain in crofting and  on Iona.  Today, his great great  grandson farms Culbuirg on Iona while his granddaughter, ANNABEL and her spouse, John MacInnes, retired from active crofting to ANNABEL’S  Iona family home, Ruanich. _

  
We now turn to the  next  (or third?) generation to see further accomplishments.    
                                   
  JOHN MACDONALD MACCORMICK (BORN 1904 –  DIED 1961) ,third child of DONALD and  Marion , practiced law in Glasgow.  He  came to public attention in    the 1930s    for his leading role in the formation of the Scottish Nationalist Party.   In his 1955 book, Flag In the Wind, reissued in 2008, he predicted correctly that a Scottish Parliament would emerge by the end of the 20th Century.   He was elected Rector of Glasgow University. He famously brought suit to protest the use of QE II mottoes on postal boxes in Scotland.  He argued accurately that the first Queen Elizabeth did not rule Scotland.    The suit was unsuccessful but brought continuing attention to Scottish concerns.      In the 2008 film, Stone of Destiny, Robert Carlisle plays his role in the removal of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey.   
 ————————————————————–
MARGARET HARPER-NELSON (born1910, died 2003) was the first child of ANNABEL AND JOHN HARPER-NELSON.   Her father was a medical officer  in the Indian Army.  Lieutenant Colonel Harper-Nelson  served from 1930-35 as Principal of the second-oldest educational  institution in the Indian sub-continent, King Edward Medical College.   MARGARET’S  parents retired to “Achaban” the home which they had maintained at Fionphort, a hamlet west of Bunessan, and the terminus of the Iona ferry.   {I have not had time to properly research the ownership history of Achaban.  I know that it was originally a manse and later became the home of the Manager of the Tormore Quarry.)  Neil Tormore died while living there.  Like most property on the Ross of Mull, Achaban was owned by the Duke of Argyll.  ln any event, John and ANNABEL Harper-Nelson subsequently took ownership of Achaban and the adjacent Loch Poit-Na-Hi.  The house later  passed out of the family and is now a hotel.) 

MARGARET played a significant role in the heyday of the British film industry in the 1950s as an imaginative and dedicated casting agent.   Yet you will seek in vain for her name in the credits of such films as The Lavender Hill Mob and Whisky Galore.   Ealing Studios decision  not to identify her role in their most outstanding films is one of those corporate mysteries.   But it was so.  (Nowadays, you will be informed of the name of the standby tea-boy!)    Rather than summarize her accomplishments, I thought it would be more informative  to  insert (without permission thus far) an appreciation of her life which appeared in The Times of London  on June 25, 2003: The Times obituaryJune 25, 2003

“Margaret Harper-Nelson Respected Ealing Studios casting agent who discovered Audrey Hepburn on a chorus line

“As a casting director in the heyday of the Ealing Studios, Margaret Harper-Nelson holds a unique place in the annals of British cinema.With her keen eye for talent and shrewd judgment of scripts, she was personally responsible for casting some of the best-loved British film comedies made in postwar Britain.  In 1949 alone she cast all the leading actors and supporting cast in Passport to Pimlico, Whisky Galore! and Kind Hearts and Coronets. In the last named it was Harper-Nelson’s suggestion that Alec Guinness playall eight of the doomed d’Ascoyne family.:She worked closely with Sir Michael Balcon who, as head of EalingStudios, left a distinctive mark on British cinema and on the representation of”Britishness”. He produced quiet comedies of English character whichusually featured a downtrodden group which rebelled against authority. The comedies were noted for their quirky freshness and originality and the studiosemployed a repertory of known and unknown players.“Harper-Nelson always encouraged new talent. She saw the potential forthe young Peter Sellers and cast him as the Teddy Boy, Harry, in TheLadykillers (1955). One of her favourite stage comedians was Frankie Howerd andshe cast him in the same film as a harassed barrow boy. In Whisky Galore!(1949) she found a small role for an unknown Stanley Baker. She regularlyattended theatres throughout the country and the West End in search of newactors.

“But her new finds were not always appreciated by the studios. Smitten by the charm of one young chorus girl, Harper-Nelson cast her as a cigarette girl in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). When she suggested a long-term contract she was told that Audrey Hepburn “would not go far”.

“Although Ealing Studios were run very much as a family affair,Margaret was one of the few women working behind the scenes. She was, however, highly respected, not least by directors such as Robert Hamer, Charles Frend and Alexander Mackendrick and by the scriptwriter T. E. B. Clarke.  Intelligent and witty, she was popular with actors and she numbered among her many close friends Alec Guinness and Jill Balcon. She was a close friend of Audrey Hepburn until the star’s death in 1993. Harper-Nelson, a heavy smokerfor many years, always offered others a cigarette as well. She claimed that she did so to put people at their ease, but on retiring from the film world she gave up overnight.

“As well as casting comedies such as The Titfield Thunderbolt (1952) and The Ladykillers, she also turned her hand to several dramas. In 1953 she worked on the wartime naval classic, The Cruel Sea, starring Donald Sinden,and the same year Mandy, the weepie starring Phyllis Calvert and Jack Hawkins. She also liked to cast against type, or as she called it “misplacing people”,  such as Majorie Fielding as The Lavender Hill Mob’s elderly hotel resident hooked on crime thrillers and Danny Green as the sentimental gangster, One Round, in The Ladykillers.  “Harper-Nelson worked at the studios for ten years from 1946, yearsmthat she described as “the happiest of her life”. When the studios were bought by the  BBC in 1955 she attended a ceremony with Sir Michael Balcon, who unveiled a plaque that read “Here during a quarter of a century were made many films projecting Britain and the British character”.

“Margaret Harper-Nelson was born in Stepps, North Lanarkshire, and was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College.   During the Second World War she worked for Basil Dean at ENSA, the Forces entertainment organization known by the troops as “Every Night Something Awful”. She worked at the headquarters at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and also as a continuity announcer for Geraldo and his Band at the Fortune Theatre and at munitions factories throughout the country.“In 1946 she obtained a post as an assistant at Ealing Studios and within months became a leading casting agent. In 1957 she worked for a period at the Rank Organisation, promoting new starlets such as Jill Ireland, Susan Shaw, Susan Beaumont and others. Two years later, Harper-Nelson joined the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson as a headhunter for television commercials for the newly formed ATV. Among her most memorable successes was Mary Holland who would play “Katie” in the long-running Oxo commercials.

“At the age of 51, Harper-Nelson suddenly retired and went to look after her mother at the family home in a remote village on the Isle of Mull.

“Six years later she was joined by her sister, the novelist ANNABEL   CAROTHERS.   Harper-Nelson acted as a typist for her sister, notably on Kilcaraig, an epic romantic saga set on the Isle of Mull. Tragically, after a long illness, during which she was nursed by her sister, Annabel died on the day  that her book was published. It became a bestseller.   

“For the rest of her life Harper-Nelson lived alone but enjoyed a huge correspondence with friends all over the world. She kept numerous diaries and notebooks; a typically modest entry read: “Tuesday. Had lunch with the Attenboroughs  Went shopping.” Always fascinated by   people, she was acutely interested in current affairs, new films and up-and-coming actors.  ‘I   may be alone,’ she said recently to a friend, ‘but I am not lonely.’    “Margaret Harper-Nelson, casting agent, was born on October 17, 1910.    She died on June 6, 2003, aged 92 in Bunessan..

Not cited in the obituary was her role in casting The Maggie, my favorite Ealing film.  (The captain  was played by Alex MacKenzie who sang with my father in a quartet of the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association.)  Margaret once told me she recommended a Mull lad (a MacMillan?) for the part of the wee boy in the film but was overruled by the director.
In the years before she died, Margaret moved from Achaban to Earobus,  Bunessan.  She later  had a new house built in Bunessan and named it “Kilcaraig”.  
ANNABEL CAROTHERS, Margaret’s younger sister, I was told, began writing her bestseller novel, Kilcaraig,in the 1940s (?).  However following the death of her husband in action in World War II, she stopped work on it for decades.   He book was finally published in 1982 sadly on the day that she died.    [I have recently discovered the existence of another volume listed by one source as Kilcaraig: Part 1 1913-1946, The Breeze In the Barley published in 1985 in a large print edition.  I have not located other editions  thus far.)     For those who have not had the pleasure. Kilcaraig is a good read about quite a grand family on Mull. Annabel’s daughter, Fionna Eden-Bushell, recently found a manuscript by her mother and had it published in 2011:  Four Ducks On a Pond, by Nicholas the Cat, and Annabel Carothers is of interest to this history because it portrays life at Achaban in the 1940s..   Fionna has her own web site:  http://www.fionnaeden-bushell.info/ and she has just sent me the  following news.  “I wonder if you know that I, as Fionna Carothers, had a sequel to Four Ducks published last year?  A Grass Bank Beyond – Memories of Mull – extends the period through the 40s and 50s and is found on the Birlinn website and, of course, Amazon where the .uk.co version has a couple of excellent (unsolicited!) reviews.”
JOHN HARPER-NELSON. the youngest of the three. served in the military reaching the rank of major, and was a successful radio and television broadcaster, author and promoter of aboriginal art  in Australia. You can see a sprightly looking  John four years ago at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Perth (Australia) ABC television programming here  http://watvhistory.com/2010/05/abw-channel-2-50th-reunion/   I will later add links to other sites relevant to John’s life.
At this writing (January 2 2015) JOHN HARPER NELSON is the oldest living member of the MACCORMICKS.

THE MACCORMICKS – A ROSS OF MULL AND ISLE OF IONA FAMILY. AND THE OLDEST MACCORMICK, CONTINUES TO CARRY ON IN AUSTRALIA


For the past several years, I have waited expectantly for the first card of the season.
This year I was wondering if an annual event would not be repeated.

But true to form, JOHN HARPER-NELSON, the oldest living member of our family,  came through once more, bless him, with the brief message, ‘still alive.’  

If you would like his address, let me know.

D DAY 1944. THE MACCORMICKS WHO LANDED


MY RECORDS SHOW TWO FAMILY MEMBERS WHO PARTICIPATED IN THIS MAJOR EVENT IN 1944 AND THANKFULLY SURVIVED  If there are others, please let me know.

NEIL MACCORMICK of the WILLiAM line.  Linda Towne’s father.

IAIN MACCORMICK of the NEIL line.  My uncle.   His son, Neil in Canada, tells me his father’s  landing point  was Sword Beach.  (He remarkably also earlier left the Continent safely  in the Dunkirk evacuation.)

Both since sadly deceased.

YER TOO LATE!


If you are old fashioned enough to send Christmas cards and want to save money on stamps….well, in the UK, yer too late for using surface mail  to reach your friends and relatives on time  in many countries around the world.  For example, Royal Mail tells us that  September 28 was the last date for sending cards to Australia at the cheapest rate for Christmas delivery.  

What do   you think they do with your stuff for almost three months?  Maybe they have figured out the ocean currents and drop crates of cards at the right spots to be carried to their destinations by Christmas.

Anyway, I will check the US Postal Service for their Christmas deadlines.  But I suspect that postal services around the world agree on such matters.

To be completely fair however, keep in mind that for Australia, you have until December 10 to use airmail for  timely delivery.  So they give you lots of time to save up for that extra cost!

Yes, my Australian and other correspondents around the world, I will send most of you a card this year.  My piggy bank is gradually filling up.

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME LOOSE CHANGE – A FEW TRUE TALES OF A PREVIOUS BANKING WORLD. TRANCHE NO. 1


This is the only one of these tales not originating from my own years  as a New York banker.

In 1949, while on his first return visit to his native  Scotland in over thirty years, a Granduncle, now a citizen of the USA, decided to cash a few of the travelers checks he had prudently bought for this memorable trip.  And the bank he chose to handle this transaction was unsurprisingly that very establishment in his home town still standing, remembered from his younger days.  As he walked through the door,  he was faced with an unchanged layout and decor.  But he still felt a sense of intimidation which banks in the past sought to inculcate in the public.

Nevertheless, recalling his new status as a proud American, he strode up to the counter and declared that he would like to cash some travelers checks.  The bank clerk excused himself and disappeared in the direction of his manager’s office.  When he returned a few moments later, he offered his apologies to the visitor.  “I am very sorry sir.  We only cash travelers checks for our  customers.”

This was quite an astonishing statement, one in direct contradiction of the essence of the travelers checks system of the time.

Not to be repulsed so easily, my Granduncle reached into a pocket and produced a rather dog-eared bank book.  “Well, sir, I am a customer and here is my passbook in evidence.  In addition to exchanging my travelers checks, I would like to take the remaining account balance in cash!”

The poor clerk took the passbook and again raced to consult his mansger.  When he returned, he again apologised but this time in a slightly more gracious  way.  “Would you please have a seat over there sir.   We first have to examine this account.”

It transpired that indeed the account was quite in order.  But the remaining challenge was that  interest had not been accrued for over thirty years.  The clerk had to enlist the help of a colleague and they poured over dusty ledgers, reckoning the periodic earnings, interest upon interest.  And this was long before the digital/computer age and calculator machines were not widely available.

After a considerable time during which the returned native watched the labouring clerks toil over his account, he enjoyed seeing the occasional local enter and conduct whatever business they had.  Memories of his own experiences there came flooding back.  He wondered what happened to that haughty lady behind the counter who treated all her customers as if she was doing them a great favour by taking in their filthy money or allowing them to take her clean money right out of the bank- as if it was their own!

 
“Excuse me, sir.” My Granduncle was stirred from his daydreams by the clerk. “We have completed our reckoning of your account. With thirty years of interest, you account is now valued at seven shillings and sixpence. Here are three half crowns and your closed account book.”

“Now, how much in travelers checks do you wish to cash?”

I never did ask Granduncle Donald if he would have bothered closing the ancient account if his original request had been honoured. 

 

THE MACCORMICK – AN IONA AND ROSS OF MULL FAMILY – THE NEIL LINE – THE SPLIT ROCK IN FIONNPHORT BAY


splitrockI think it was in the late 1980s when, with my eldest son, Neil, my mother, Jenny MacCormick,  and my  sister, Morag, we made the multi-part  journey from Gourock to Fionnphort where we would get the ferry to Iona.  We parked the car and strolled by the shore.   My mother pointed to one of the row houses up from the pier  and told me to take young    Neil and knock on the door.   I felt a bit embarrassed because I did not know anyone in the hamlet.  The door opened and an elderly gentleman greeted us. .  It transpired that he was delighted to meet two Neil MacCormicks, namesakes and descendants of a well known local figure.  Over  a cup of tea and some cake, he told us a few tales of  Neil of Tormore of which the most memorable was this one.

He pointed out of his window to the huge rock standing alone on  the shore.  (From my rudimentary knowledge of geology I knew it was termed an ‘erratic’ deposited there during  the melt of the retreating Ice Age.)   “See that split in the rock, well that was  made  by Neil Tormore.’   The villagers wanted to know if the rock could be used as building material and asked Great grandfather Neil to assess that possibility.  The quarrymaster brought some explosives to the site and inserted them in holes he had bored.  Alas, after the test, he declared that the rock had faults in its grain revealed in the split  that would make it unusable for building. 

And so the Split Rock of Fionnphort has remained solitary on the beach,  a curiousity for visitors and one whose origins might not otherwise be known.

INTERESTING QUOTES – TWO


OK so this is hardly a quote. But it has intrigued me ever since, as an eleven year old, I came upon it in my first French text book, at Woodside Senior Secondary School, . Glasgow.   It was accompanied by a drawing which served to explain the seeming circular  nature of the piece.  My lack of drawing skills prevents me from replicating the small sketch.   But it’s an easy read for those with more than an elementary knowledge of the language. 

Je  suis ce que je suis.

Je ne suis pas ce que je suis.

Si j’etais ce que je suis,

je ne serais pas ce que je suis.

 

 

INTERESTING QUOTES – ONE


The Maine, USA, artist, Marsden Hartley

‘We return to our childhood home at our peril. The familiarity may be comforting; the contact with ghosts, consoling. But the inevitable, entropic pull back into old patterns of thinking and feeling we spend a lifetime trying to undo can….be difficult.’

 

GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART – THE 1930S -1940S AND THE GREAT FIRE OF 2018


Many many Glaswegians will have their own stories about the Glasgow School of Art, now in ruins, victim again of an unforgiving conflagration.

My stories are from my childhood in the 1930s into World War 2.  

From the age of four, for six yeats,  I passed the Glasgow Schoolof Art four times a day, going to and from Garnetbank Primary School.  Did I realise then that I was being exposed to  the masterpiece  hallmark icon of a building by  Charles Rennie MacIntosh?  No.  Nor was I even aware then of the structure’s purpose.  

But I have no doubt that. the style.  the swagger, the  unique designs were etched firmly then in my young brain. 

My second Glasgow School of Art story, again from childhood, is eerily related to the current tragedy.  

During World War 2, the government,  as part of preparation for attack by air, had built on vacant plots in cities, large steel tanks – as I recall, about forty feet long by fifteen feet wide.   Thry were filled with water to be used as auxiliary supplies against fire and had a wire net on top to try and prevent wee folk from falling in.  

One such structure was placed on a vacant lot just below the Glasgow School of Art, adjacent to the Regal Cinema (predecessor of the O2).  My best pal, Roderick Bruce, lived on the other side of the Art School, at the corner of Scott  and Renfrew Streets.  So the water tank was fair game for us.  We found pieces of wood and sailed these ‘boats’ in the smelly stagnant waters.  (A bonus from that wasteland was finding a film frame of Betty Grable in full technicolour discarded by a Regal projectionist.)

In retrospect, think of  that lonely tank of water when  you compare it with the need almost eighty years later to lay fire hose from  Renfrew Street all the way to the River Clyde – about 3/4 mile –  to attempt control of the 2018 Glasgow  Art School blaze.  

As an adult, I have boasted to all within hearing in various parts of the world, especially in the U.S.A.,  of the remarkable creations of Charles Rennie Macintosh and his partners, known as ‘The Four.’

Now I am in tears, and angry that not a wartime incendiary bomb but something  preventable has taken away a lifelong symbol of the Glasgow I grew up in and admired – no, loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY 60TH CORNELL UNIVERSITY REUNION


Tonight, I  will join my classmates in Ithaca, New York , via the internet, in their celebration of the  60th anniversary of our graduation  from Cornell University in 1958.   This will be the third and last night of their gathering and I look forward to greeting as many old friends  as possible via Facetime.

At the Memorial Service yesterday, my piece, An Alumni Hymn, was sung. 

 

EPSON scanner image
EPSON scanner image

My Class CoChair, Dick Haggard, tells me that the piece was well  received and that it is likely that it will become a standard Cornell song.