Childhood Memories of Lismore in the early Nineteen Fifties
Ken Ross

I have been visiting Lismore for almost 60 years and I thought you may be interested in some of my memories of the early years. I started coming to Lismore when my widowed father married Jessie Stewart’s sister, Morag MacCormick.


To give Morag some respite from two boisterous young boys, my brother Jim and I were encouraged to  spend most of the school holidays at Balnagowan. At first “Granny” MacCormick kept us on a tight line. After Jessie married Joe Stewart we were allowed a little more scope but before we could go off and do what most of the time we shouldn’t be doing, we had numerous chores to do!


Old Daisy, the milking cow, was quite happy to let a youngster milk her although on occasions she did a great job of stirring the milk pail with her foot whilst she swatted you in the face with her not so clean tail. Cleaning out the byre was very hard work as I could hardly move the old wooden wheelbarrow empty, never mind full and it was more than once that the wheelbarrow full of dung tipped up as I bumped it down the byre steps!


Daisy the Mill's Milk cow

Craigie the Kilandrist Clydesdale

Helping in the crop fields was usually a family/communal affair and I recall that it was always sunny and warm with no midges, cleggs or ticks. My first ever memory of sowing crops was of old  Johnnie  MacCormick from Killandrist broadcasting seeds by hand. Shortly after that Joe Stewart converted the old horse-drawn reaper to one that could be hauled by his newly acquired “old” Ferguson tractor that had to be started by priming it with paraffin. Making haystacks was fun and would only stop when Jessie appeared with drinks and “plain loaf pieces” that were almost too thick to fit into my mouth. Lifting tatties and turnips was always back-breaking hard work.


Working with the sheep was always a mystery to me as I could never understand just how stupid they could be! I certainly learned of country ways early in life and by aged nine or ten I could skin a dead lamb and put its coat onto an orphan lamb. Feeding lambs was enjoyable to start with but when they learned to butt the door at 4am it was quite different. For lamb castration Big Dougie was called in and his method of using his pen knife and his false teeth was an eye opener and a knee closer! When out and about at Balnagowan there was often a thundering and frightening noise as Craigie the retired Killandrist Clydesdale horse would gallop freely over Killandrist and Balnagowan.


My Lismore friend Robbie Dunn, like me, was a townie who came for the school holidays. We would fish from the pier in all weathers to catch tiddlers to feed the cats. If the tide was out we would search the shoreline for small crabs and take them up to Peggy Stewart’s Post office and deposit them on the counter. Peggy would get mad and chase us out with her broom!


There was plenty time for leisure activities but taking out Colonel Fell’s rowing boat on the loch was one event that got us into deep trouble. The locked fishing hut with the oars and rollocks had a window that could be easily opened.  Neither of us could swim and lifejackets did not exist. To make matters worse we lost an oar and spent a worrying time recovering it before getting back to shore. To put it mildly, Jessie and Joe were not amused and the threat of returning on the next boat to Oban was a real one!


Jessie was, and is, a great cook and baker and her pancakes are renowned around the globe. When I first went to the Mill there was no running water, power or light and so candles and paraffin were the main source of light and heat. I recall Jessie using a paraffin oven to bake a variety of cakes, and her scones, well; they just melted in your mouth! The oven was a double skinned box with paraffin burners below which allowed the heat to surround the inner oven without the fumes tainting the food. To compliment her pancakes, scones and cakes Jessie would make jams and jellies and I recall spending many a happy time collecting crab apples from the trees which surround the fank adjoining Johnny Balure’s farm.


The islanders were always very kind and helpful. Jim Corrigan at the shop would slip us the odd sweet or two from the big jars, Big Dougie would let me ride on the tups back, Johnnie Balure let me be tar boy at the clipping,  Jimmie MacCormick made me a hazel walking stick and a few of the crofters taught me swear words in the gaelic!


My wife and I love to come back to Lismore and we try and spend a few days every year re-exploring and chatting to old acquaintances. Our first port of call is usually Balnagowan to see Jessie and taste her freshly made pancakes!


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