The history of the SS Dunara Castle is as interesting as the many sites devoted to its history; bringing supplies and passengers to the outer Islands of the West Coast of Scotland for 70 years, weather permitting.
The Old Style of celebrating new year on the 12th January is also interesting, a custom that in January 1879 seemed to be losing favour and perhaps was not observed by every village or town in Argyleshire.
Excerpts from the Oban Times, Saturday 4th January:
Ballachulish: Collain – Hogmanay night was observed in the villages of Ballachulish, Tayfuirst, Carnoch, Glencoe and Lettermore hamlets in the usual way. Dry day. Camanachd play.
Lochgilphead – The first day of the year was welcomed in all over this district with the usual amount of first-footing by the young lads of the community.
Inveraray – The usual holiday amusements and gratulations were indulged in, the more notable being – first footing, shinty, dancing, &c.
AND the festivities in Oban were of a very mild kind which, however, is not unusual in this quarter. Wednesday was fine and people indulged in outdoor walking for its’ own sake and to visit friends; further down the column, a mention of drunkenness and a commendation for publicans – “a noteworthy fact is the early closing of public houses, for which act of self-denial they merit thanks”.
In Ardnamurchan we have not yet come to our New Year (12th) and so we are unable to give you our greetings so enthusiastically as we would wish, but we keep up our cheer in the hope that our day is coming. We have had some three weeks of keen frost and a covering of snow, but last Saturday week thawing set in, much to the delight of man and beast.
Registration – We are happy to say that our registrar is kept busy with the discharging of marriage preliminaries; but, on the other hand, sad to say, death registrations are unusually frequent, while births are by no means numerous.
A week later, Saturday 18th January:
Islay: Old New Year’s Day – On Monday last a number of people here kept the New Year holiday – each in his several way; some jolly and sprightly, others sombre and demure; all apparently anxious for the welfare and happiness of each other.
Duror – Shinty Match – On Old New Year’s Day (13th) between the Duror and Kintallen people, 18 a side. Upon the whole, the old style passed over as usual. A feeling is gaining strength that the new style should in future be held in this district.
Old and New Styles: The first of January was held as New Year holiday here for the first time, by nearly half of the inhabitants.
A good deal was said both for and against. It was apparent that a majority were in favour of the new style, but objections were urged against the untimely notice of only one day to consider and make the necessary arrangements and that a time honoured custom ought not to be so slightly departed from on so trivial a notice.
How people who are proverbial for their attachment to old established customs assented to do so, almost in a moment, is difficult to understand.
One reason given, perhaps characteristic of Highlandmen, was that the principle element conductive of Highland felicity at New Year was still on board the Dunara Castle and if the next day was stormy (which was the case) no liquor could be landed.
It is customary not to order the New Year beverages until the end of the year, for it sometimes happens, even in well-meaning families that the best Islay will disappear in hot haste.
Our absent friends will no doubt be glad to hear that the New Year was held again on the 12th, as usual by the other half; but the Dunara Castle passed again in the midst of the storm unable to land the needful, but may probably do so on Friday.
Written on the 17th and published the 25th January, H.A.B. of Tobermory wrote – ”PS – I am glad to find that a large proportion of the inhabitants of Iona have led the way in giving up the observance of old style. I hope all other islands will follow and, that when 1880 comes, no Highlander will be found lagging twelve days behind the rest of the kingdom”.
Whether cousin John McKinnon son of Catherine McTavish and her husband, Morven born seaman, Alexander McKinnon was on board the SS Dunara Castle during Christmas/ New Year 1878-79 is unknown. What a nuisance from a research point of view that … If the vessel is trading exclusively between Scottish Ports the law does not require the Master to keep an Official Log at all.
The Census taken on 3 April 1881, while the SS Dunara Castle was docked at Tarbert, Harris, records him as age 25, born Oban and Ship’s Cook.
The crew of the SS Dunara Castle were lucky, reports of wrecks and drowning during this stormy season were usual.
Saturday 11 January 1879
- Stornoway: Communication with Harris again interrupted; heavy fall on mainland; Ondine did not arrive Friday.
- Mull: Salen – Severe storm from the south-east with keen frost, not experienced for several years; “Clansman” from the north unable to call at pier last Tuesday.
Saturday 18 January 1879
- Islay: Lloyds telegram states the schooner Witton of Stralsund, Germany, F H Boortman, master bound from Larne to Liverpool in ballast was wrecked on the Stremnist, near Mull of Oa, Islay at about 10pm on the 7th inst. The master, his wife and the ship’s cook, Fritz Garbash drowned. Remaining 4 persons saved.
- Islay: “Nations of Glasgow“. Accidental drowning Lachlan Kennedy on the 4th inst. off the Mull of Oa, overboard. Master John Kennedy of Bowmore (father). A brother also on board. Both unable to render assistance.
- Ardrishaig: Crinan Canal frozen. No traffic.”Struggler” lies panting at Auchindarroch. “Plover” icebound at Miller’s bridge.