Grandfather Bobby

Bobby Carswell

Bobby Carswell

Some music!  Not mine - yet - but some with a family and island connection.  A song from my grandfather Bobby Carswell.

The connection with Jura is on my father's side.  My great great grandfather Alexander (Sandy) McDougall lived and worked on Jura's Ardfin Estate as a stalker, with his wife Jessie.  One of their sons, also Alexander, apparently excelled at school here and, having sea legs as well, was offered an apprenticeship to train as a ship's captain.  He served in the 1st World War, including the Dardanelles Campaign, and spent twenty years or so of his career captaining a ship out of Port Glasgow – maintaining all the lighthouses around the west coast of Scotland (what a job!).  His siblings Hugh and Mary stayed on the island until their deaths, never marrying.

Alexander the Ship Captain had a daughter named Muriel who was brought up in Port Glasgow with very regular trips and long holidays spent on Jura with her Aunt Mary and Uncle Hugh.  She married a Carswell named Robert (Bobby) who was a Caulker at the Lithgow shipyard on the Clyde. His main passion however, was his music, playing many instruments, leading the Royal Artillery Band (see picture) and writing songs and hymns all his life.  He was my grandfather.

I didn't know him but I have memories as a child of the old crofters around Knockrome fondly singing his songs – songs about Jura.  When I came to live here a few years ago, these had almost been forgotten, until one evening at a Jura gathering when a lovely woman named Mary Keith got up and sang 'From Feolin Ferry to Far Glengarrisdale' one of Bobby's best tunes – written about my Grandmother Muriel (Moira).  Mary sang the verses unaccompanied and then to my amazement, everyone in the hall joined in the choruses!

To my knowledge the music or words have never been written down.  It has just been sung and enjoyed and passed on by successive generations on the island.  So I went up to Mary's house in Keils and recorded her singing.  She'll be the first to tell you that her voice struggles with the asthma – but it's a lovely record.

People speak well of Bobby – apparently very warm hearted, health conscious (fitness & breathing exercises every morning),  softly spoken (never got a word in edgeways with Muriel...) and quietly enjoying his music – always tinkering around on a piano.  He undoubtedly loved Jura, and I have often been aware during my renovations of The Cottage that his will have been the last hands to have worked on the fabric of the building.  He'd probably be amazed that several generations later his music is still being sung, played and enjoyed.

You can hear the recording of 'From Feolin Ferry to Far Glengarrisdale' here:

Happy listening and thank you Mary.


Hugh Carswell