Slate Islands Heritage Trust

The lighter side of life

The Lighter Side of Life

Although life was hard and money scarce, the quarrying community of Easdale never lacked for entertainment. A visit to the island's museum will show evidence of the pastimes enjoyed from sailing, fishing and skating to music making, picnicing and cycling. Reference is made to balls and ceilidhs held in the Volunteer's Drill Hall.

From the mid 19th century onwards, adult education was a feature of island life. While the Technical Institute was initially introduced to further the education of the young boys joining the quarries, classes were attended by all ages with lectures given by the Quarry Master, the Doctor, the Minister . . . whoever could put himself forward as an expert in some subject of interest to all. When the quarries were at peak production the philanthropist Sir Peter Coates of Paisley donated a library of books to the Easdale Technical Institute.

Social life centred for the most part around the various churches in the Parish. A Women's Guild, several Friendly Societies and the Easdale Volunteer Company (forerunner of the Territorial Army) not only performed their specific functions in the community but by their fund raising activities, provided a focus for entertainment of every kind. Sales of work, soirees, musical concerts, whist drives were regularly reported in the Oban Times.

The Friendly Societies were mainly temperance groups set up to counter the demon, drink. By means of small weekly contributions from members they also provided insurance against sickness and contributed towards funeral expenses. In the early days of the National Health Insurance Scheme which was introduced by Lloyd George in 1911, it was bodies such as these which were used as the organs for administering the funds.

The Easdale men, being skilful seamen, took part in annual regattas up and down the coast, while the Highland Games were held every year in the grounds of Dunmore House, as they were up until 2006.

Although Victorian society frowned upon the excessive consumption of alcohol there was always a regular source of supply of the hard stuff. In mid century this would have been the distillery which was sited in a cottage in what is now known as An Carla Garden. The burn running through the grounds and down to the sea, appears on Ordnance Survey maps as the Distillery Burn. The only inn in the village for decades was a temperance hotel. When the Quarry Manager's house was purchased and turned into a licensed house, The Inshaig Park Hotel, the schoolmaster, Mr Stewart, proposed a toast to the success of the new owners, a Mrs Gillies and her son. This prompted a spate of correspondence in the Oban Times under the heading, Whisky and Education at Easdale.

There was occasional excitement engendered by political events. The Breadalbanes who had always been Whigs, now supported the Liberal Party. The men of Easdale traditionally followed the Marquis' lead even though they were longer his employees. At a meeting held on May 14th 1887, they voted in support of Home Rule for Scotland and Ireland. A Liberal Member of Parliament represents the Parliamentary constituency to this day.

A Votes For Women badge, found in one of the cottages suggests that at least one of the island's female population supported the Movement for Women's Suffrage.

A hundred years on, the centre for island activity is the Puffer Restaurant and Bar. Here events such as engagements and weddings, Halloween and Hogmanay are celebrated. The islanders meet here when some important matter demands a collective approach.

In Summer there are barbecues while ceilidhs are held throughout the year at the slightest excuse. In September the island hosts the World Stone Skimming Championships, the flooded quarry behind the village providing an ideal arena for this sport.

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