ACHABAN HOUSE I have been curious over the years regarding various stories I have come across on the connection of the MacCormicks to Achaban House in Fionnphort. (A search today unexpectedly uncovered the £495,000 price asked for Achaban through the Knight Frank group – see http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-46328663.html. Any family bidders?) – One version I read in a recent publication was that NEIL and ANNABELLA MACCORMICK bought Achaban after moving from Fionnphort House. However a search of the Valuation Rolls on the Scotland’s People site shows the following. The latest available record is the Valuation Roll of 1925, the year NEIL MACCORMICK died. . Thus at the time of his death, NEIL MACCORMICK was a tenant paying rent to The Duke of Argyll who even at that time continued to own much of the property on the Ross of Mull and Iona, including Achaban.
ANNABELLA died at Achaban in 1932. But I have no information as to the ownership of the house. at that time. Nor do I know when JOHN and ANNABEL HARPER-NELSON acquired the property, presumably from the Duke. Perhaps other family members can provide that information either by email to me or by adding a comment to this post. The Valuation Rolls provide a rich source of other information. For example, the name of the Tormore Quarry firm was The Shap Granite and Patent Concrete Company Limited – I did not have this elsewhere. And the names and occupations of owners and tenants/’occupiers’ give a fascinating view of the social structure of that time – one soul is labeled ‘pauper’ and this in 1925! The 1925 record also shows the Tormore quarry as ‘unlet by the owner, the Duke.
A view of life at Achaban is given by JOHN HARPER-NELSON in a piece he was kind enough to provide me a few years ago. TORMORE QUARRY SITE ET AL A note on the Tormore Quarry site,. Several years ago, Jack Campin passed along the following to me on the Mudcat web site during a discussion of the origin of the tune, Bunessan. “Okay, here is what Joan [Faithfull] says about MacCormick in her book The Ross of Mull Granite Quarries, 2nd ed, New Iona Press, 2004:
Neil MacCormick succeeded William Muir as Tormore quarry manager in 1875 and moved into Fionnphort House with his wife Annabella MacLachlan and their large family, of eventually eleven. Neil had been born in Iona in 1836 and shortly afterwards the family moved across to the Ross of Mull. He worked in the quarries from an early age, acquiring great knowledge and technical skill. It is said that his invention of a brake, applied by a lever, to the steep rail which took trucks from the upper Tormore quarry down to the quay became widely known. A memorable event in his life was a visit to Egypt to advise in a dispute about transport methods, which had arisen between the Government there and a firm of London sculptors who had leased a large porphyry quarry. Neil MacCormick took a close interest in the social and religious life of the community. Besides leading the local choir, he was a precentor in the Free Church and was president of the Band of Hope (later the Temperance Society) which met once a fortnight at Creich School and to which William Vass and quarrymen such as Lachlan MacCormick [his son] and Alexander Maclean also belonged. Neil also liked sailing and competing in regattas with his boat the Fairy Queen. Two months before his death in 1925, at the ripe old age of 90, he and Brigadier General Cheape judged the piping competition at the Iona Regatta and Games. A tribute to his memory in the Oban Times of 21 November 1925 was fittingly headed ‘A Noble Highlander’.
“I have frequently stayed in the quarrymen’s cottages at Tormore (which Joan grew up in and still owns). That is probably where MacCormick grew up – Fionnphort House, where he would have written the tune, doesn’t exist any more. “This ties a few things together. A missing link might have been Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser – she stayed for a while in the cottage at Tormore just below the one I’ve stayed in. Joan’s father William Caldwell Crawford leased and then bought the cottages just after MacCormick died; he was a painter so may well have been told about the place by Kennedy-Fraser’s batty painter friend John Duncan (I’ll ask Joan about that). Kennedy-Fraser would have known Neil MacCormick. “MacCormick would also have been happy to see his tune used for the Temperance movement, so maybe the connection goes back a long way. But he would not have been best pleased to see the Catholics getting hold of it.”
A STORY ABOUT STONES – A MYSTICAL MULL TALE. I am inserting this piece as is rather than retyping it. It seems to me more authentic this way. The story is in two parts. The first part was told to my mother by my father, NEIL MACCORMICK. The second part relates a curious chance encounter in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York in the 1970s which my mother and my sister Morag had with an original member of the Iona Communiy, a Reverend Barrows. And so the tales will continue.