Down Memory Lane, July 31 2020

Museum of Islay Life

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Islay Life gets back to ‘normal’

Residents and visitors can once again enjoy 12,000 years of Islay history after the safe re-opening of the Museum of Islay Life – Taigh-tasgaidh Muinntir Ìle.

A one-way route through the museum’s varied displays has been designed and a hand-sanitising point at the entrance has been set up.

Museum manager Jenni Minto said: ‘We are really looking forward to welcoming visitors again. Eileen MacKenzie, myself and the trustees have worked very hard to ensure our treasured collection can be enjoyed safely.’

The museum features a new display telling the story of how the island’s iconic Georgian villages were created. Each village has a section looking at how it was established, containing maps, information and photographs.

Eileen MacKenzie said: ‘It has been interesting researching and designing the display, gathering the stories of the villages on Islay from the museum’s archive and, importantly, getting help from Catriona Bell, Eleanor McNab and Sharon McHarrie.’

This work has been supported by Museums Galleries Scotland and Friends of Bruichladdich. The creation of this display was prompted by many questions from visitors about how Islay’s beautiful planned villages came into being.

A new case, funded by Ben Reavey and family in memory of former chairman of the museum Carl Reavey, displays the 1593 Campbell of Cawdor Seal, unearthed during the Islay Heritage excavation of Dunyvaig Castle in 2018.

As a result of a continuing agreement with Jennifer Jones, curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the museum is pleased the American Stars and Stripes, sewn by Islay women in 1918 for the funerals of American soldiers lost in the Tuscania tragedy, will be displayed on Islay for a further three years.

The flag is framed in a new case, funded by Professor Richard Kurin, Ambassador-at-large, Smithsonian Institution, which is mounted on a specially-made wooden case by Alastair MacLellan and Malcolm Wilson.

Jenni said: ‘Having the flag here for an extended period is fantastic. It is such an important piece of Islay history, illustrating how our community just over 100 years ago came together in respect to mourn the loss of young men during First World One.

‘On behalf of the museum, I would like to thank Jennifer, Richard and their colleagues for allowing the flag to remain on display so that more people can experience the thrill of seeing it back on Islay.’

Unfortunately, the museum’s reference library is not available and the tablet computers containing the museum’s photograph and postcard collection which visitors could previously look through have also been taken off display. The hope is both can return  next year.

The new one-way route has allowed Eileen and Jenni to change around some of the much-loved displays and dig into the museum’s collection to bring out some new items.

The Tuscania display has been enhanced by the addition of the blue-print of the ship which belonged to Captain Peter MacLean, along with his medals, donated by his family.

Over the winter months, the museum has benefited from a few new items being donated, including the bell of the Rothesay Castle iron steamship by the Hymas-Shackleton family from North Yorkshire, who wanted to ‘find it a home in which it can be treasured’.

The Rothesay Castle, having left New York on December 27 1939, became stranded near Islay on January 4 1940. An SOS message received by the Coastguard was passed on to the RNLI at Port Askaig. The following day the ship was still firmly stuck on the rocks and the remaining crew were taken off. A court of enquiry found the captain was found guilty of the loss by serious default and his Certificate of Competency was suspended for a year.

The wreck lies near Nave island, although it is now broken up. One of its lifeboats was put to important use, becoming the Gordie’s boat which ferried passengers between Islay and Jura.

The museum re-opened on Monday July 27 and will be open from Monday to Friday, from 11am to 2pm.