Saturday, August 2, 2014

Calum Ban MacKillop and the Macleod Gunnery - Berneray

I do not claim to know much about Calum Ban MacKillop of Berneray (1887-1937). I am only acquainted with him via a few, well written glimpses, in Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's Searching the Hebrides with a Camera (1933). In chapter 6 of the book, entitled Echoes of the Cromwellian Wars and the Jacobite Risings, MacGregor describes a walk on Berneray where he meets Calum Ban at an old building known as the gunnery of the MacLeods. MacGregor writes:

Here I am introduced to one Calum Ban MacKillop, whose very fair hair and bonnie blue eyes would put the spell on you. Calum Ban's eyes are the colour of forget-me-nots; and he is as fair as any Northman. This day he is eident with the hay-rake by an old building used as a barn in connection with the Town farm. This building is said to have been the gunnery of the MacLeods of Berneray. Placed above its entrance is a white marble slab bearing the Latin inscription, Hic natus est ille Normannus Macleod de Berneray, eques auratus - Here was born the illustrious Norman MacLeod of Berneray, a distinguished cavalier.

The gunnery
Calum Ban goes on to tell MacGregor the history of the 'gunnery', which I will not repeat here. This interesting structure, beside its use as a barn (see this RCAHMS link), may also have been an old chapel (see this RCAHMS link). 

Having read Searching the Hebrides with a Camera many times since acquiring it in 1992, I was excited when the opportunity arose to stay on Berneray in the late 90s as part of a trip to St Kilda. I wondered what ever happened to Calum Ban, and I also wanted to duplicate MacGregor's photo of the gunnery, which included Calum Ban (see below).

When I was on Berneray I stayed at Burnside Croft, a B&B run, at the time, by Gloria and Don Alick 'Splash' MacKillop. I asked Splash about Calum Ban, and he told me Calum was his uncle, and that he passed away at the age of 50, only a few years after MacGregor's book came out. He told me where Calum's grave was, and so I set out to pay my respects to Calum Ban of the bonnie blue eyes.

Burnside Croft lies at the west end of Borve. From there I crossed the machair to the grand white-sand west beach of Beneray; one of the most beautiful in the world; a three mile stretch of brilliant white sand. From its north end I climbed to the trig point atop Beinn Shleibhe, the highest hill on Berneray, and then descended a ridge to the south east. Halfway to the shore I came to a small, walled cemetery. In it I found the grave of Calum Ban MacKillop.

Grave of Calum Ban MacKillop
I don't think there are many of us MacGregor devotees these days, and so I doubt that, aside from family, anyone visits Calum Ban's grave. I paid my respects to this man who'd inspired MacGregor to write of him, and then descended to the shore. A half mile walk south took me to Baile, at the north tip of Bays Loch. Here I found the MacLeod gunnery, looking mostly the same as it did in MacGregor's old photo. I put the camera in timer mode, and then took a photo of myself standing in the spot where Calum Ban posed some 65 years earlier.

MacGregor's photo of the gunnery in 1930s - Calum Ban Mackillop at right
Standing where Calum Ban stood - I wish I'd taken off the sunglasses
On the following day I set out on my first trip to St Kilda. As the sailboat Annag departed from Berneray Harbour I could just make out the little cemetery on the hill that I'd visited the day before, where Calum Ban rests in peace. I was so glad that MacGregor's book had inspired me to visit Berneray, where I'd met Gloria and Splash MacKillop, and found Calum Ban's grave. MacGregor's experiences on Berneray led me to experience the island. And, although I did not know it at the time, his books would eventually inspire me to write about my own island experiences; experiences that, I hope, will inspire others to see amazing islands like Berneray; to learn their history and meet their people.

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