Sleuths chip in to solve fry bar puzzle

A hidden part of Oban history was revealed as Nories chip shop changed its sign at 86 George Street. Photograph: Julie Ruddock.

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When Nories fish and chip shop replaced its sign at 86 George Street, it revealed a hidden part of Oban’s history and a mystery.

Lurking behind it was a forgotten hoarding, displaying a forgotten local milliner with an unusual name, Mairi Maclucas, an agent for the Pullars of Perth dyeworks.

Curious to know who she was, when she lived and where she came from, an amateur detective at The Oban Times tried his best in the Google searchbar – only to be twice ‘googlewhacked’ – where a query returns a single result.

One of the few hits told of a bard Màiri NicLùcais, born near Ardtun, Ross of Mull. One of her few surviving songs, Sìoman Donn/Brown Twist, about running out of tobacco, was recorded by folklorist Calum Maclean in 1953 and sung by Donald Morrison, a scion of the clan of storytellers to the Macleans of Duart. Could we now add this painted shop sign to her oeuvre, veiled above the jars of pickled eggs?

Another noted a single signature of Mairi McLucas, on the death certificate of a seaman Roderick Macdonald, who died in 9 High Street, Oban, in 1913. Mairi McLucas, a postal assistant, described herself as an ‘Intimate Friend’, living at Dana Villa, Oban. Was this sign the second mark of her time on earth, lurking above the chippy brown sauce?

Who was our mysterious Mairi Maclucas?

Step forward another sleuth, Gordon Bruce, from the Isle of Iona.

‘A look at Scotland’s People reveals only one record for Mairi,’ Gordon explained: ‘Her death in 1953.

‘She’s described as a milner (retired) and single. She died at Dana Villa and was the daughter of Angus MacLucas, harbourmaster, and Mary MacLucas, M/S Cameron, both deceased. Her death was recorded by Angus MacLucas, her nephew, of The Schoolhouse, Taynuilt.

‘Valuation rolls show that Mairi has the shop at 88 George Street from 1913 until 1935, although it seems there are gaps in the records. The 1940 record shows she’s at 15 George Street.

‘Her father has Dana Villa from 1890 to 1914, although there are gaps in these records too. Her mother, Mary, assumes responsibility for the house thereafter until 1929. It’s unclear who is responsible for the house after that.’

Case closed, it seems. Thank you to the investigators who helped us put this enigma to bed and to Julie Ruddock who took the photograph.