Islay Year Review 2008 by Jim Mitchell

January: The Islay Lifeboat came to the rescue of an Irish fishing vessel, showing its usual resource in a tricky situation. 2008 started weather-wise in the same cantankerous mood that 2007 finished. In the matter of the Mutter, i.e. the Bowmore prehistoric whisky, the debate extended to the type of bottle, the constituent glass thereof, the carton and the label. ‘Behave or else’ - a timely warning in regard to the anti-social conduct of a pestilent minority. Bruichladdich Distillery was the subject of an informed and informative TV documentary. Alex Salmond, predictably, said that he supports the Gaelic. The puffers were recalled in a new volume 'The Last of the Puffermen'. Loggerhead turtles, a species more at home in lower latitudes, seemed to be making an appearance. complications were reported viz a viz the allowable passenger numbers on primarily freight ferry services. Details were given on changes in the air service franchise - Loganair remain the operator. Grants were announced for drinking water facilities. Wind speeds of over 100mph resulted in widespread damage, Lochgilphead School roof took off. Catriona Bell reported on the Ballygrant and Keills Actions Group local history project. There seemed to be consider- able activity in the field of minority languages, notably the Irish/Scots Gaelic connec- tion. A public meeting discussed the way forward for the Gaelic. There was a record of John Findlay’s obviously well-thought-out contribution to the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s inquiry into hill farming. Continue reading....February: The emergence of the extended BBC Gaelic service was chalked up. A minke whale, apparently a casualty of the weather extremes was washed up on the Ard. The Round Kirk was struck by lightning. The new Avonvogie abattoir was on schedule. Much cultural and environmental activity - Burns time again, and outstanding High School Band concert, excellent High School results in music exams, and Port Charlotte Primary won an ECO silver award in recognition of their effort for the public good. 'In days of old when knights were bold...' - Keills and Ballygrant in the Middle Ages. 'Celtic Connections' in Glasgow was seemingly an event of rather mixed quality. There were drugs, knives and knavery on the ‘MV Hebridean Isles’. Underfunding precipitated the closure of the Healthy Living Centre. Work was underway on a Finlaggan extension, while a review of Mactaggart Leisure Centre activities gave a most encouraging picture. Two Cuvier’s Beaked Whales were washed up on Islay beaches. Duncan MacGillivray was pictured in impressive action on the 1954 David Brown tractor he has resored. The tragedy of the emigrant ship ‘Exmouth’, wrecked off the west coast in 1847 was recalled. Some likely lads had fun and success at the County badminton championships. The rather complicated question of European funding was thoroughly gone into at a local authority forum.

March: Came in like a particularly unfriendly lion. Limitation of the Road-Equivalent-Try-out to the Outer Isles raised the local hackles. There was a thought provoking report on provision of care for the elderly - move over darling - with the possibility of privatisation to the fore. Islay RFC 12, RSPB 7 - gentleman’s rugby with a nice action picture. A ‘Science Circus’ visited, demonstrating practical scientific applications for the younger element. Mhairi Muir, Islay’s gift to Naval athletics, met the Duchess of Cornwall. Donald MacLeods CD. 'An t-Eilean Mor' raised over £3,566.00 for the Sick Children’s Fund. Snow at the airport put a spanner in the works of the young Islay film makers attendance at a London award ceremony. The crew of the submarine 'HMS Vanguard' raised the wind to provide a flagpole for Bowmore Primary. Dennis Melrose ran the ten miles from Port Ellen to Bowmore in atrocious conditions to raise funds for Children in Need. What defines a so-called 'blended malt'? It was Mark Reynier versus the Scotch Whisky Association. It so happened that the Pillaged Malt 2007 was in the news as probably the last of its kind. The 146th Islay Gathering chaired by Dr Donald MacArthur was, as ever, a much enjoyed landmark. Bridgent Community garden branched out with a massive strawberry planting. Forty Seven noble souls participated. 'Eat Scottish Week' was endorsed by the First Minister. Where did I read that he actually likes curry? Drastic cuts were reported after the new Executive breathed on HIE. James McLellan, the widely appreciated Chief Executive of Argyll and Bute Council retired. Islay High School Archaeology Club were featured in an attractive photo. Do they accept honorary members?

April: A TV 'History of Scotland' team came to Finlaggan. Headline 'Call for the ‘Isle of Arran’ to be moved to the Western Isles - had been thought beyond the imagination of even Alex Salmond. The excellence and proficiency of the Islay Lifeboat crew was to be recognised by the award of an RNLI ‘Vellum’ following their January rescue. There was disquiet over the Scottish Government’s slashing of local government services. The German ‘Whisky News’ raised £1,700 for the Sick Children’s Fund. Kenneth Thomson’s long and melodic service to the Gaelic made impressive reading. brian palmer again anticipates a two-wheeled scenic trip to take in the seductions of Paris. There was an informative article on the attractive ‘batik’ illustrations produced by the skills of Liz Sykes and a bittersweet flavour to Peggy MacEachern’s reminiscence of Western Ferries ro-ro service. It was the end of an era - Marjory Macgown departed the Islay scene at the age of 110. The Port Askaig reconstruction programme was not proceeding happily. Re-Jig totalled 82 tonnes in the year - fifteen of which were plastic bottles. Ella Edgar’s dancers did well in an Inveraray competition. Commendable canines - an encouraging report on that current hot potato - dog management. A good year for the Bruichladdich band-wagon included the new Vatican warehouse facility (Vat-i-can, groan...!). A very successful Walkislay 2008. The Royal Navy refuted claims that the disturbing numbers of dead whales washed up were the victims of sonar transmissions. The Jean Hunter Memorial competition attracted a wealth of very high quality entries. Some Council funding had been approved for IDEAs, but the bulk of the finance remained to be raised locally.

May: Ray (Baroness) Michie, former MP for Argyll, passed away. Regrettably the Bowmore IDEAs ‘Use it Again’ shop closed down (‘elf and safety). The 2011 delivery of the new CalMac ferry will be linked with a multi-port updating of shore facilities. High School pupil Aaron MacEachern rubbed shoulders with the (presumed) good and great at Holyrood. An enlightening article on the evolution of the Gaelic bible. The sturdy complement of the rugby Club did well at the Melrose Sevens. There was word of an EU review of ferry subsidies. Woof-woof - dog fouling was financially penalised in Port Ellen - history is made of such epoch-making developments. Becky Williamson completed a three-anda- half-year, 130 mile walk around the entire Islay coastline (plus another 70 miles of incidental deviations). Jim MacFarlane - who would know the details better? - recounted the rather dubious business of the introduction to Islay, via an Oa shipwreck, of the pneumatically-tyred wheel. More data on Port Askaig pier and the Jura ferry. Feis Ile.... A roads crisis due to local non-availability of surface material. West Coast Motors take over the Glasgow/Oban coach service. Further detail was provided on the Islay Energy Trust tidal projects. Paid Councillors. Should there be a decent silence in the matter of attendance records? A correspondant deplored the state of the Bowmore female toilets - are the Gods sleeping? Nurse Marat Anderson, she of the gentle charm, retired. Under-soil heating for Port Ellen’s Islay hotel site necessitated the drilling of eight thirty metre boreholes - the place gets more like Texas every day. The cultural scene was enlivened by belly dancing at a Port Charlotte Mediterranean evening. The weather was good too. Bowmore Distillery and Bowmore Primary working in happy environmental combination. Bertha Stevenson, formerly of Lagavulin and Port Ellen chalked ap a meritorious 100 years. Petty crime was rearing its ugly head. Port Ellen pre-fives, visiting the airport, said to be ‘quite overcome by the security staff and firemen’ (say that again!). Malt and Music in evidence aver all!

June: Prince Charles and the Duchess, visiting Laphroaig, were at the distillery and Port Ellen School, conversing and socialising freely. At a rather less exalted level, the Council leader had called at Port Charlotte School. ‘Year of Homecoming 2009’ - funding promised. A comprehensive range of Ardbeg bottlings was announced, and whisky enthusiasts arrived in numbers to get their hands on the almost mythological Port Ellen malts. Feis Ile kicked off with a memorable concert, and the festival was reported in detail. The world stopped for an instant with the shock resignation of CalMac’s Hugh Dan MacLennan. There was an interim report on the ‘current’ position of wave power generation on Islay. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.’ There seemed to be something of that in the local scene. The High School won the national education Ambition Award. Emma Fisher of Port Ellen Primary won the National Burns Competition for Art. Islay Mod was acclaimed as the best for twenty years. Beach Rugby was a runaway success, especially the female element. The modest heroes of the lifeboat crew received RNLI Vellum Awards. Pity about 1) the insensitivity of Post Office Public relations to feeling in regard to the diminished service on Islay, and )2 the airport strike. A quartet of stalwart citizens received Fire Service Long Service medals. Mental health provision in Argyll & Bute was under review.

July: Red letter day at the airport – the B17 Flying Fortress, ‘Liberty Belle’ landed on July 3rd. (The IFF must have been working!) Islay and Jura Primaries had a trip to La Belle France. Amazing! The cruise ship, ‘Hebridean Princess’ masterminded the freeing of a grounded yacht. Islay Energy Trust completed a survey of the Sound of Islay sea bed. Attention was drawn to the possibly overlooked health benefits of belly dancing. It was encouraging to read that the performance of the schools and of teaching staff had come favourably to the notice of the regulating bodies. The Jura-Mainland fast Ferry was operative. A public meeting in the Machrie Hotel went into envisaged developments of the ferry terminals. ‘Multi-faceted’ would seem to be the adjective applicable to the Islay holiday scene. Embracing the Raft Race, walking and riding round Islay, music, football and flower festivals, the usual incidental enetertainments and more (not omitting a timely note from the Constabulary on safe driving, reinforced, in fact, by a spectacular collision at Uiskentuie). ‘Broadband’ provision - BT say Islay not left out but 'it would not happen tomorrow' - sounds familiar. Alan MacDonald, photographed with two canine friends, was Young Scottish Gamekeeper of the Year.

August: ‘100Kw power surge’ - the prototype Wavegen power source switched on. Biogas, the mysteries explained, including a Swedish contribution. there seemed to be a head of steam building up on the relative functions of the Community Council, the Council of Voluntary Service, and (possibly) the Ileach itself, the then current edition being somewhat bedevilled by an apparent crisis in collation. Ella Edgar’s Highland dancers distinguished themselves at the Cumbernauld Dance Festival. A delightful squadron of ‘motorised gliders’, frustrated in their original intention to visit Orkney, diverted to Islay. An ambitious TV documentary on Islay commenced filming. Mhairi Muir of Ballgrant continued to astound by her variegated nautical and dryland achievements under the aegis of the White Ensign. Headline ‘the Quiet Life’ - yes he was joking. Commencement of Bowmore’s mammoth water treatment. Super-distilled Bruichladdich spirit propelled a race car at unimaginable speed. A touch of 40th wedding Anniversary glamour from Myra and Jack Prentice. There was pro and con correspondence on the virtues of this present historic record. the ‘ayes’ have it. A house extension erected without planning approval seemed likely to become a fait-unaccompli. On your bike! Some thirty nine, self propelled idealists participated, in varying proprtions in the hundred mile ‘Ride of the Falling Rain’. the Kildalton Cross was won by Simon Freeman The Lifeboat was again in action, saving the day for those in a craft grounded in Loch Sween. The pro- posal for the Overland Route was formally rejected. A calf from tom Epps emerged as overall champion at the Islay Show. Unlikely to be repeated - Charlie MacMillan contrived to heave the sheaf to balance on the crossbar. Pressure of events - to coin a phrase! All the customary seasonal events. ‘Doc’ Martin Clunes paid a well-mannered visit. Black Bottle Islay pipers were second in the World Championship, and Ella’s Highland Dancers did very well at the Cowal Games. ‘Upgrading’ for Port Charlotte and Torra water systems - cheers! Something of a furore over access to Lossit Bay. Islay Woollen Mill introduced the Discover Islay tartan. Millie Mitchell won the Tope Fishing Festival. A darker note - elsewhwere a salmon fisherman drowned.

September: Hear this! Unprecedented! the cognoscenti, the disaffected, the disillusioned, the disagreeale, the prejudiced, the odd eccentric all fell silent for issue 35/23. Not a singe letter to the editor! The Pipe Band came out on top at the Cowal Games. Warm water therapy (Leisure Centre) on Wednesdays, beauty therapy on Thursdays. (get in there lads!) In the Beef Herd Competition, the vote went to Peter MacDiarmid’s five year old cow. There seemed to be a multiplicity of festivals, gala days and competitions. Marine Superintendent Captain Sandy Ferguson had produced a fascinating memoir on the last half-century of island ferry services. The generous contribution by the Oldrey family toward the provision of a medical training manikin - effectively a model of the human body on which an astonishing number of medical procedures can be simulated - was much appreciated. Also, it was recorded that the emergency medical retrieval, set up in June, had made sixty operational flights. And improvements to an already good dental service were foreseen. An editorial drew attention to the shameful manipulation of funds to the detriment of practical developments in the Highlands and Islands. Bruichladdich Mini-Market’s Debbie MacDougall’s innovative approach put her second in the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust Young Entrepreneur finals. The Crofters’ Commission approved six new crofts on Jura. Superior cycling was anticipated following the Jeremy Hastings/brian palmer happy youth instruction idea. The High School was engaged in some commendable far-flung additions to the regular educational programme. There was painful news of the IDEAs financial situation. Lagavulin beat the rest in the ISIS Rowing Challenge. Ella Edgar’s dancers were prominently successful at the Cowal Games. Avonvogie’s abattoir came on stream. Organised volunteer cleaners were doing a great job on the Islay beaches. There was a fascinating item on Michaelmas associations - appropriate to the time of year. The Jazz Festival! It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that zing...

October: Scottish Power envisage marine turbine generators in the Sound of Islay. ‘Better Health, Better Care for Islay’ - local working group set up. Diageo acquired the world’s largest whisky collection. Islay Masters and the Dolphins shone at swimming events at Inverclyde and Dunoon. Business seemed to be booming for Islay (photographic) studios, Stormcat boatbuilders and the jacket range from Jeremy Hastings. Roy Pedersen was contributing to the discussion on ferry replacements. Car sharing officially encouraged - a side effect of the fuel crisis, John Findlay had been in Orkney and Shetland. An intriguing item on the past and present involvement of the Church of Scotland, the Free Church and deviant offshoots in the Parish of Kilchoman. CalMac’s Islay service ran at a considerable loss, albeit with near 100 percent efficiency. There was disturbing evidence of youth misbehaviour and under-age drinking. Duncan McGillivray (last noted breathing life into an ancient tractor) moved the puffer ‘Vital Spark’ through the Crinan Canal. Bluetongue Disease cattle vaccinations were operating concurrently with the flu jab. Coincidence? Port Charlotte Hotel was designated the Good Food Guide’s 2009 ‘Whisky Pub of the Year’. Re-JIG had played a massive part in the 408 tonnes of recycling material despatched from Islay and Jura from April to October. Applications were invited for grants under the Schroder Youth bursary, aimed at financing expenses attendant on developing interests arising on the mainland. The future of crofting came in for encouraging reviews from two sources. There was multiple success for Islay entries in the Falkirk National Mod.

November: Islay, (including Jura) primaries’ shinty competition. - viva Port Ellen! Amna Campbell, notable adornment of the airport check-in, retired. Unbelievable! Bruichladdich distillery lifted an ‘Enterprise 250’ Award for Innovation and Design; and Ardbeg Vistor Centre was rated the best in the country. Various transport issues to the fore - would Robin Currie’s favoured air link to Colonsay get off the ground? ‘Dare to wear pink’ raising funds to tackle health problems. Anyone care to parade at the pool, attired in my favourite shade of Eau-de-Nil? Various manifestations of Hallowe’en, the most terrifying seemingly the allegedly disguised personifications featured by Bruichladdich staff. Incredibly the lost tag from the asylum seeking Snark turned up near Killeyan, as predicted. Jolly marvellous this sat-nav lark! Hugh Smith’s ‘short history of the Round Kirk’ left one with a warm feeling of quiet gratification. Hallelujah! Ferry terminal setups were under scrutiny. CalMac launched a recruiting drive. No show from Highlands and Islands Airports at the Transport Forum. Appalling weather did not deter a creditable number from attending the armistice service at Kilchoman. Dr David Caldwell was at Ardbeg signing copies of his book ‘Islay, the Land of the Lordship’. There were recollections of the life and times of this evolving journal. Jim Murray, he of the ‘Whisky Bible’ named an Ardbeg potion as the world Whisky of the year after tasting what were described as (not my words) ‘a staggering 1500 samples’. Co-operation was developing between Scottish and Irish Gaelic. Ella Edgar’s Highland Dancers continued their victorious progress via Dunoon and Inveraray. David MacLellan and the lifeboat crew members were honoured by the RNLI - recognition that their invaluable service does not diminish. Malted barley silo collapsed at Port Ellen distributing hundreds of tonnes on adjacent land.

December: Shakespeare had a phrase for it - ‘The time is out of joint’. The territory seemed to be experimenting an odd period of contrasting fortunes, the whole dominated by the horror of the road accident which resulted in the deaths of Dugald MacTaggart and his young son, and Neil MacFadyen. A moment for reflection......
Delivery of the new Islay ferry was hoped for in Spring 2011. Ann Clark drew attention to alleged unfair practices in the air service since Flybe took over. MEAT ISLAY and the Avonvogie Abattoir reported ‘steady progress’. Claimed to be the first quadruple distillation in 300 years an Islay spirit designated X4 was featured in Bruichladdich’s festive offerings. The death of James Howat, notable in whisky circles, recalled the evolution of the Bowmore Swimming Pool. Heartening news - a young lady, Katie Currie, making a good recovery from a nasty illness. Christmas 'greeting' - the weepie kind - from Audit Scotland over Argyll and Bute’s sub-standard performance. The success of the new ferry won Jura a ‘Vibrant Community’ award. If you have a house to sell - pettifogging legislation governing valuations. The first Kilchoman spirit graduated to Scotch Whisky status. It has to be said that the dreadful road accident, and what seemed to be rather many deaths in the community cast a shadow. Much was owed to the resilience and compassion shown by friends.

This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.

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