Location: KIntyre

Miners and football in South Kintyre

"Although now in my early seventies, the memory of working as part of the surface team at Argyll Colliery still holds a special place in my heart. Yes, the work was physical and demanding, but the hard daily graft paled into insignificance when compared to the light-hearted camaraderie always on hand at the drop of a hat. The end of shift encounters with a sea of blackened faces made me aware that underground workers were a special breed, a race apart when it came to making light of the everyday dangers that surrounded them. However, apart from assisting the engineers to renew the haulage cable system, for the most part my experience underground was non-existent. Nevertheless, even a fleeting glimpse of the conditions they endured filled me with admiration for my fellow man. As often heard – life ‘down under’ was like entering another world - (The approach to Argyll Colliery from the Campbeltown road to Machrihanish. Still from the 1955 film Kintyre by Iain Donnachie, NLS/Scottish Screen).

"Away from daily toil, it never ceased to amaze me how organised the miners were when it came to spending their leisure time, whether it was sport, the arts, or many other forms of recreational escapism. However, in all of these activities this group of ‘Titans’ had a secret weapon – the presence and assistance of the wonderful Miners Welfare Association. A small deduction from our weekly wages helped fund a multitude of local activities, culminating in the annual Gala Day in which every child – colliery related or not – was treated to a day out thanks to the kindness of the miners. The Miners’ Welfare Hall – Old Courthouse in Bolgam Street – doubled as the nerve centre for social activities, and, a mere youth, it was here that I watched live football beamed onto a large screen via a contraption called a television set – unbelievably, some sixty plus years ago.

"The mention of sport, in particular the wonderful game of football, has helped to draw back the veil of time. Back then the miners of Argyll Colliery, like fellow workers throughout the industry, had a special relationship with the ‘Beautiful Game’. Nevertheless, it came as a surprise to find the existence of an Argyll Colliery team as far back as 1926, a period in which ‘the Miners’ won the Ainsworth Cup – an Argyll-wide competition organised by the Mid-Argyll Football Association. Sadly, this sporting success was earned during a catastrophic period for the town’s traditional industries. The local shipyard at Trench Point was first to close its doors in 1922, a disaster for the local economy that was closely followed by the collapse of the whisky industry. The town’s unprecedented collection of distilleries failed due to the Government’s capitulation to the temperance movement, this coupled with high taxation and the advent of prohibition in the USA. Naturally, local distillers used Machrihanish coal as the main source of fuel, a chain-reaction that led to the closure of the colliery itself in 1929. The collapse of local industry preceded the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in history – a period known as the Great Depression (1929 – 1939).

"As the unprecedented economic crisis receded, another human disaster was about to unfold – the rise of Nazi Germany. Once more, the world was plunged into a destructive war between 1939 and 1945; however, hope sprang eternal with the cessation of hostilities and election of new Labour Government to nationalise and reopen Argyll Colliery at Machrihanish in 1946. It was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of mining in Kintyre, a period superseded by an influx of experienced key workers to educate the next generation of miners and give the town immediate relief from the threat of post-war unemployment."

As told by Alex McKinven

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