Museum of Islay Life

The Museum has built up a collection of nearly 3000 objects and several thousand photographs.

About the Museum of Islay Life

Photograph donated by John Rucklidge

The Museum of Islay Life is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. It is managed by a board of trustees who meet on a regular basis.

The museum opened in 1977 with the principal aim of conserving and displaying items representative of life in Islay over the past 12,000 years. It is housed in the former Kilchoman Free Church in Port Charlotte.

“The Kilchoman Free Church was built after the disruption in 1843. The Manse was built shortly afterwards. The Church was built by free labour, farmers, crofters, local builders, slaters and joiners gave their services free. Even the women had a small part in it, for when they saw a large stone lying anywhere, they lifted it up into their aprons and carried it to the site. With such combined effort the church was built quickly. It was built on raised ground at the entrance to the village of Port Charlotte, overlooking Lochindaal. Besides the main building there was a vestry at one end and a large porch at the other. On each side of the aisle were the pews, where as was the custom of the Free Church the congregation sat to sing and stood to pray. They sang without any musical accompaniment, but followed the Presenter who always led the praise.

Mr James Macmillan held the charge when I was age to attend church. There were three services every Sunday, Gaelic from 12 noon to 2pm, English from 2pm to 3pm, and at 6.30pm was the evening service. The Congregation was not a large one but services were well attended. The Presenter for the Gaelic Services was Mr Dugald Ferguson, who walked over the hill from Tormisdale, carrying his Sunday boots, one in each jacket pocket, until he reached the main road where the working boots were deposited into a convenient hole in the dyke, safe until his return. Would they be as safe today I wonder? The Presenter for English was Mr Donald McFadyen whose family was a tower of strength to the Free Church. Mr McFadyen (senior) was Superintentent of the Sunday School which met in the Church at 5pm. He was assisted by the Misses Mactaggart (Jessie, Marion and Lily) from Octomore and by Mr Alan Gillies, one of the Elders. The children had to memorise four lines of a psalm, or a text, or one of the Commandments. No wonder the Sunday School children shone on the day of the Bible Examination in Primary School. At this time the Beadle was Mr Archibald McLean (Daspie) as he was affectionately called. Besides his usual duties of carrying the books from the vestry and conducting the Minister to the pulpit, he rang the bell at the services. He was succeeded by his son Donald and later by his son in law Angus Johnston. In those days all these duties were labours of love. How we miss the bells today. They always were rung on New Years Eve, winging out the old and ringing in the new. During the week the Vestry was a hive of industry- Choir practices, Gaelic Class, Prayer Meeting and Dorcas Society. The Dorcas Society of the Free Church was the equivalent of the Women’s Guild of the Church of Scotland but the finished garments were sent to Headquarters in Edinburgh from whence they were later sent to foreign lands.

Port Charlotte in the Old Days

The Free Church was self supporting, so the Congregation had to be generous and cheerful givers. The Elders took up the collection at the end of the Sermon. The collection was put into a Ladle, which was a wooden box at the end of a long wooden pole and very clumsy. Besides this church collection every Sunday the Congregation paid what was called The Sustentation Fund. Every quarter an Elder came round to the house to collect the Sustentation Fund. The Lord’s Supper or Communion was celebrated once a year, usually the first Sunday in July. The previous Friday was held as a Fast Day, schools and shops closed on that day. I well remember how rigidly the Sabbath was kept, no work of any kind was allowed that day. When Mr McMillan whose first charge it was, retired, he was succeeded by Rev Mr McInnes. During this time (1900-1904) there was a Union between the Free Church of Scotland and the Free Presbyterian Church. The Free Church was now called the United Free Church of Scotland. Most of the Congregation joined the Union. The Minister was given the buildings-the Church, the Manse, and the Money. A small number did not join and so left the Church but a large majority followed the Minister.

Strange to say, at this time word came from Headquarters that a young man from the village of Port Charlotte who had emigrated to America to seek his fortune had passed away and in his will he left a Legacy to the Free Church of Kilchoman. By now there was no Free Church as after the Union it had become the United Free. The minority who had left the Church claimed the Legacy and built a Free Church of their own. The site chosen was between the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland. There was no Manse and no resident Minister. Supply came from Portnahaven and from the mainland. As time passed funds became low and in the end this church was sold as a dwelling house. Meanwhile the United Free had a new Minister in succession to Mr McInnes, a Mr McDairmid and he was followed by Mr C. M. Robertson. In 1929 there was another Union. The majority accepted it and this brought them all back to the establishment of the Church of Scotland. The United Free Church was closed and the congregation worshipped in St. Kiarans. After a number of years rather than see the United Free Church fall into ruins, a caring lot of gentlemen had it turned into a Museum of Islay Life.”

Impressions of Museum of Islay Life