The life and times of ‘Jinty’ – Bute’s infamous cave lady

Janet 'Jinty' Bell. The infamous cave lady  from Rothesay, Bute.
Janet 'Jinty' Bell. The infamous cave lady from Rothesay, Bute.

One of the men commemorated on the North Bute War Memorial at Port Bannatyne is Malcolm Muldoon (Bell).

He was born in Rothesay on the 26 February 1884 and was brought up in the local Catholic orphanage.

Janet 'Jinty' Bell was born in Rothesay in 1846,

Janet 'Jinty' Bell was born in Rothesay in 1846,

When he left there he went into lodgings and worked as a mason’s labourer. He was conscripted into the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders when in his 30s.

Malcolm was part of a carrying party in one of the trenches at Arras when they came under a sudden barrage and two members of the party were killed, one being Malcolm. Four were wounded and their lieutenant was hospitalised with shell shock. Malcolm is also commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Malcolm Muldoon may not be a name that people know, but his mother will be recognised by more people as she was ‘Jinty Bell’, a well-known Bute worthy.

Janet Bell was born in Rothesay in 1846, her parents being Archibald Bell, a general labourer and Douglas Hyndman Bell (mother as listed on Janet’s birth certificate).

She died in 1923.

She died in 1923.

By the age of 13 she was working in one of the local cotton mills.

And in 1879 she gave birth to a daughter, Janet, in the Greenock Poorhouse. There is no father recorded on the birth certificate.

She was still living in Rothesay and working in the cotton mills but shortly after this she became a hawker.

She gave birth to Malcolm in High Street in 1884, again with no father being recorded on the birth certificate.

There is some debate as to whether he was actually born in the street as no street number is given on the birth certificate but this is only conjecture.

She married John Muldoon, a fisherman, in December 1885, and gave birth to another daughter, Jeanie, in January 1886.

It is possible that John Muldoon was also Malcolm’s father as he certainly took the name of Muldoon.

Janet never learned to read or write and all official documents are marked with a cross.

She continued to work as a hawker round the doors, also selling cockles near the pier and then turned to farm work.

She left Rothesay around 1891 and took up residence in a cave near Upper Ardroscodale Farm. This is actually given as her residence in the 1901 census.

The cave is little more than a cleft in the rock and had a tarpaulin erected in front of it to give extra shelter.

It held a bed, a wood fire and a few fish boxes. And in a Buteman article in 1914 it mentioned that the only home comfort Janet had was an alarm clock.

She was quite well known and many people visited her to see her cave, with many bringing her gifts including drink.

During the First World War she was evicted from the cave and moved back to Rothesay where she lived until she died in 1923 in Mill Street.

Sadly it seems as if she was all alone when she died. As on her death certificate it states that her death was recorded by a police constable and only later amended to record the cause of death as “probably heart disease”.

Janet ‘Jinty’ Bell had a sad and hard life and yet her name lives on in local folklore here on the island.