Ballachulish, the town at the straights of Loch Leven, has always been synonymous with slate. The famous quarry was established in the late 17th century and is not used any longer, but during the heights of the Industrial Age about 800 men worked in the quarry and the connected businesses. They were mainly producing roof tiles. A large workforce and a poor one as well.
The quarry had a major impact of the lives of the villages, many of whom were employed in the mine. All were affected directly or indirectly by its activities, and the intermittent deafening explosions and the continual drilling, hammering and chiselling by both machine and man adversely affected the village soundscape. There were also two long running dispute over medical care between the management and the work forces, before the quarry eventually closed in 1955.
The workers also produced slate gravestones for the area but won’t have been able to afford such a a large and expensive headstone for their own graves. One can safely assume, that the mostly unnamed and frequently numbered iron crosses in between the rich slate stones belong to the workers. Those men who lived and worked with slate but could not afford it in the end.
Beautiful carved slate stones are abundant on Eilean Munde, the MacDonald and Cameron burial island in the water of Loch Leven.
Ballachulish in the 18th and 19th century will have had an industrial feel to it but it fascinated the Romantics, too. Robert Southey, one of the three famous English Poets (next to William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge) almost wished he would believe in Ossian on a night looking out from Ballachulish to the mountains. But Southey also saw the harsh reality behind the sublime.
T. and I walked forward. The road for two or three miles winds along the side of Loch Leven. The water is beautifully transparent; and as we stopt and looked over a high parapet to enjoy the fine view of mountains all around, we saw one of the globular jelly fish just below, making more way in the water than we should have thought it capable of making, had we judged only from yesterday’s observation. Past some slate quarries, and a small poor village close by. A boy about four years old was standing at one of the doors, with no other clothing than half a shirt. A sloop was lying off shore, to load, I suppose, with slate; sometimes they take wool for their lading, and slate for ballast.
Robert Southey: Journals of a Tour in Scotland in 1819. London, Murray,
More harsh reality behind the idyll when it comes to the consecrated chapel next to St. John’s church. This used to be a hearse house and is considerably older than the church, and is also the likely but not confirmed spot where Bishop Forbes preached here in 1770, a time when the Catholics were forced into hiding, prosecuted by a Protestant government that would not allow the old faith to be practised any longer.
After the Rising of 1745, the Enlish army built forts throughout Scotland, military roads connected them. They kept the Highlands “at peace” with brutal force and power. Catholics, and therefore likely Jacobites, were prosecuted, killed, imprisoned and harassed. They had to hide their faith at all costs.
This shed like building was once a place of strong believe, courage and determination; a quiet rebellion against fate and crown.