Islay letter with Hugh Smith

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Robertson House opens

It was fitting that Lord Robertson should have officially opened on September 9 the housing development in the former police station at Port Ellen which is now called Robertson House and named after the distinguished politician.

The property, situated in Frederick Crescent, has been converted into housing geared for young people, aged between 16 and 25 years, local residents on low incomes and those who are homeless or at risk of being in this situation.

The extensively renovated property consists of six self-contained one bedroom and studio flats, with administrative and letting arrangements being carried out by the West Highland Housing Association.

The Labour peer, who served as the Minister of Defence and Secretary General of NATO, has strong links with the station house as this is where he first saw the light of day in 1946 while his father was the serving police sergeant at Port Ellen.

The family connection with the station goes back even further as Lord Robertson’s grandfather was the officer in charge of the Port Ellen property from 1900 until 1911.

Accompanying Lord Robertson at the ceremony was Sir John Mactaggart of Ardmore, whose Port Ellen station project, closely linked to the charitable Ian Mactaggart Trust, helped to finance the £470,000 development, while a further £180,000 came from the Argyll and Bute Council’s Empty Homes and Loan Scheme.

Sir John received the full support and financial backing for the venture from his uncle Sandy Mactaggart, the Canadian philanthropist and educator, whose death in July of this year saddened all who knew him both here and in Canada.

The former station house dates back to 1885 and among the non-criminal one-night cell occupants during the Robertson tenure was Eric Blair, better known as the author George Orwell. The reason for his overnight stay was that he had missed the ferry connection to Jura where he was writing his dystopian novel 1984.

Another policeman resident at the Port Ellen station in the early years of the 20th century was Lewis-born Norman Morrison, who had previously served at Port Charlotte. He became a leading authority on adders and also knew a thing or two about eels. More details of Norman’s life and career in a future letter.

Another affordable housing provision for Port Ellen has been officially opened by Councillor Robin Currie at Dail na Mara (the Sea Meadow) on the outskirts of the village.

The development, also by the West Highland Housing Association, provides four one-bedroom, 10 two-bedroom, and four three-bedroom accommodation.

Book festival

This year’s Islay Book Festival festival will run from September 29 to October 1 and will feature a variety of events in various venues throughout the island.

In a break from tradition, this year’s festival will have a Jura day on September 28 with events taking place in the local care centre and primary school.

Festival highlights will include a crime evening in the famous Round Church at Bowmore, space exploration in Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle and guided walks to local places of interest, including the Mull of Oa and Portnahaven and Port Weymss in the Rhinns peninsula.

Also featured will be island photography by Jura-based Konrad Borkowski along with bookbinding and writing workshops, poetry challenges and puppetry.

Authors appearing in the busy line-up include Colin MacIntyre of the Mull Historical Society, writers Helen Sedgwick, Sara Sheridan, E S Thomson and Dr Ken MacTaggart.

Providing the poetry input is Pauline Prior Pitt and Ryan van Winkle, and festival goers will also have the opportunity to test their bardic skills.

Catering for younger supporters will be Bookbug leader Lynda Copper, children’s writers Barbara Henderson and Alan Windram, while Gaelic song and story will be the domain of Uist singer and raconteur Linda MacLeod.

Local authors Jenni Minto and Les Wilson, as well as leading the Oa and Rhinns tours, will also entertain the residents at the Gortanvogie Eventide Home at Bowmore.

The island festival was established by a group book-minded volunteers in 2006 and among past participants were Ruth Rendell, Christopher Brookmyre, Val MacDermid and former makar and playwright Liz Lochhead.

Further details can be obtained on: www.islaybookfeastival@co.uk.

Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bowmore, Islay PA43 7JX. Tel: 01496 810658.