Clan Donald Magazine No 5 (1971) Online
The Glencoe and North Lorne Museum by Barbara Fairweather of Invercoe House.
The Museum has just started its fifth season. Many people ask how it started and what problems I have come up against. In 1966 "The Scottish Women's Rural Institute," to celebrate its Jubilee year, held a special competition for each Institute to write its village history. I did the work for Glencoe; and, after the entries were in, in speaking to a friend, I said that I wished we had a museum in the glen, as there was so much of interest that had got overshadowed by the Massacre. She agreed that this was so, and from there I started to get in touch with friends who might be interested. We sat one evening in my house and formed a Constitution and Committee.
Our first problem was accommodation and we were lucky to get a small cottage in the village to start us off. We held ceilidhs to raise money for the necessary repairs to enable us to make a start. Notices were put in the local shops and papers. Slowly items came our way.
We had a lot to learn. For example we were given three arrowheads of flint and told they had been found locally. When taken to an expert in Edinburgh, they proved to be of Red Indian origin, though how they got into Glencoe, no one knows. I was very touched when an old-age pensioner asked me to her home and took out of her cupboards her best china tea set. It was a fine blue and white old one for which she could easily have got £10 to £15, and this made me realise the great responsibility we had to our donors to care for and display the treasures that they have so generously given us. One child I met in the village told me she was going to present to the Museum the wooden mushroom she used for darning her socks. I did not wish to hurt her by refusing, but wondered how I would display it. When she came a day or two later I thanked her and started to unwrap the parcel. She told me she had changed her mind and brought something else. This proved to be a very fine stone-age axe. I asked her where it had come from and she said. "Aberdeen"; so I started to write the label "Found in Aberdeen." "No," she said, "It was found locally by my uncle, but he took it to Aberdeen and I wrote to him for it."
Sometimes it is difficult to know when an exhibit is suitable for a museum, or how long should it be obsolete before being shown. On the one hand we have older people getting quite cross because we have on display such things as upright plunger churns, and they say "That should not be in a museum: I used one when I was a girl." At the other end of the scale I had a young girl who wanted to see a fountain pen to learn how it worked, as she had never seen one before.
When the Museum started it never occurred to us that it would provide services as well as display. Now we have a constant stream of students coming for information. Many are now teachers: Some are studying the art of embroidery. We are trying constantly to keep information available on as many subjects as possible, and those wishing extra information usually come up to Invercoe House after the Museum has closed. Then we get people who are trying to trace their ancestors and sometimes we can help there too. Many from abroad wish to learn something about their clan, and we are trying to build up a store of information in this area as well.
We are asked to give talks and slide shows within the North Lorn area and Fort William to Guilds, Rurals, Historical, and Natural History Societies; and I believe in this way we get people interested in their local history.
As we are in the holiday area, we arrange that the Museum is of interest to all the members of a family: For the younger members we have a fine doll's house. The first year it was on show a little girl came up to me with a very worried face and asked where the dolls were to sleep at night. She was entitled to ask, as there was no bedroom, and we have since put that right. Once a small boy offend us 6d for two fine cannon from Invergarry Castle on loan from the owner.
We realise the need to show visitors from the towns how country folk lived and worked. We have a fine old steel fender with the words "Speed the plough" worked in the top. A woman came in, looked at it, and remarked, "I never knew this was what they used to plough the land!" It made one realise how far apart town and country have drifted to the loss of both. I hope that this Museum and others will help to bridge the gap.
Repairs are a problem for a small museum. We do not have the skill nor the facilities for repairs. The exhibits are many and varied and sometimes have to be brought from afar at great inconvenience. Perhaps the most awkward one was a "muckle" spinning wheel (and "muckle" is the word) which went to and fro to be repaired in Edinburgh and carried back. Leaving at 6 a.m. from Glencoe by bus to Crianlarich, thence by train to Glasgow, again by train to Edinburgh (where it was repaired expertly by St. Cuthbert's Co-Op coachworks, by appointment to Royalty!) and all the way back by the same route, was quite an undertaking, with such an awkward antique under one's arm! Fellow travellers regarded me as somewhat eccentric.
And for the future? We hope to move into larger premises which consist of two cottages joined together, one of which goes far back into history, being a "cruck" cottage in which the roof-trees come right down to ground level instead of resting on the tops of the walls. This is in the main street of Glencoe Village, and I hope we may have the pleasure of meeting Clan members there during the summer season.
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