Not only carved in stone

Iain L. MacLeod started his talk to the Lit on January 22, ‘Not Only Carved In Stone’, by explaining that public memorials to people and events can be of metal, wood or glass as well as stone, and take many diverse forms.

His interest in the topic arose from a casual observation of a metal wall plaque commemorating the 22 who died in the Clarkston gas explosion in 1971.

Illustrating with beautiful slides, Iain took us on a whirlwind tour of Scotland, touching on history, people and events, battles, inventions and, inevitably, many disasters.

The earliest event in his talk was the 1263 Battle of Largs, commemorated by a 70ft high obelisk, and the most recent was the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, depicted by the statues of oil workers in Hazelhead Park, Aberdeen.

There are many monuments recording battles and other incidents in Scottish history – the Glencoe massacre (1692), Killiecrankie (1689), Sherrifmuir (1715), Culloden (1746) and the Glenfinnan monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The Scottish connections and contributions to the rest of the world were represented too. On Vatersay there is a memorial to the Annie Jane, a ship in transit from Liverpool to Montreal in 1853 which was reduced to matchwood in a gale, and from which 350 bodies were washed onto the beach.

This can be contrasted with the David Livingstone (1813–1873) memorial at Blantyre – a tableau depicting Livingstone being mauled by fearsome lions.

Ian was able to mention only a few of the First and Second World War monuments he has visited. At Stornoway, the Lewis War Memorial includes reference to the 205 naval reservists who perished when the Iolaire sank at the harbour entrance in 1919.

The names carved in stone only hint at the devastation caused in the local communities. Closer by, in Dalnottar Cemetery, is the Clydebank Mass Grave Memorial, recording the 528 people - mostly civilians - who died in the blitz of March 13/14, 1941.

We finished our virtual tour on Rothesay Esplanade, with the imposing figure of Alexander Bannatyne Stewart, who was born here in 1836.

Iain suggested that if we pass a monument or plaque we reflect on the story behind the engraved facts, not forgetting the gravestones immortalising ordinary individuals and families in the graveyards of Bute.

More ‘stones’ may appear at the next Lit meeting on Tuesday, February 5, when Paul Duffy will talk on ‘Aspects of the Archeology and Heritage of Bute’. (Isabel Sharp)