Yvonne Sivell: Remembering Kildalton Castle

The Ileach issue 36/06 of 17th January 2009 carried an extract from the memoirs of Eileen Sivell, the grandchild child of Alfred and Florence Sivell who were butler and head housekeeper to Talbot Clifton at Kildalton Castle. We were therefore delighted to receive a visit from Yvonne, who is the youngest daughter of Alfred and Florence. Talbot Clifton was a colourful, and fabulously rich, adventurer who arrived on Islay after being forced to flee from the IRA in Ireland following an incident during which he had shot and severely injured one “Captain Eugene Gilan” of that organisation.

Kildalton Castle - Image taken in May 2010

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Yvonne was born in the servants quarters around Kildallton Castle courtyard and although she was to leave the island to return to the Isle of Wight (from whence her father originally hailed) at the age of around five, she has some happy memories of her first island home. Yvonne recalls going to school in Ardbeg, but was embarrassed because as a privileged daughter of senior servants, she was given shoes to wear. All the other children went barefoot, so to be like them she would remove them and hide them under a hedge until she came home. She remembers the terror of finding them missing one day - only to discover that her mother had found them in their hiding place...

The privileges extended to the daughter of the butler and head housekeeper extended further than simply wearing shoes however and Yvonne remembers going on picnics with Talbot and Violet’s daughter to the islands we call the skerries. They would all be taken there in a boat by another of Talbot’s faithful servants, a man called Conboy who had brought Talbot over from Ireland. Yvonne was also allowed to play in the house with the three Clifton daughters who were enterprisingly named Yseult Hermione Aurea Alathea, Avia Lena Elmira and Muriel Easter Daffodil Therese. It was indeed one of these girls who had chosen the name ‘Yvonne’ for their housekeeper’s daughter.

Life was of course very different back then, and communication with the outside world difficult. When her father contracted appendicitis while on the island the fastest way to obtain treatment was to be taken to Oban on a cattle boat. Yvonne Sivell (now Harrigan) has maintained her links with her Islay past, making several trips here over the years and her family too have continued to come, not least because of their interest in sailing. We wish her many more happy visits to her childhood home.

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

Tag: history kildalton kildalton castle