Local Hero ... Calum MacPherson

Calum (Malcolm) was a member of a family who lived at Mill Cottage and worked Bunessan Mill. Like many millers he mastered the skills of carpentry. Later this was very relevant. He was also well known for his gifts as a piper. At the outbreak of the First World War, he and his brother enlisted in the Scots Guards. Piping the troops ‘over the top’ from the trenches took great courage. Amazingly, both brothers survived and returned to the Ross, where, for various reasons, the Mill was no longer working.

A few years later Calum was one of the local craftsmen who joined the team restoring the cloister buildings in Iona, under the leadership of George MacLeod. The craftsmen: builders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters – from Mull, Iona and the Govan shipyards – worked with young trainee ministers on a demanding common task, which, beginning in 1938, became the Iona Community, and re-created living quarters alongside the Abbey Church – used over the years by thousands of local worshippers, pilgrims and guests and still in full use today.

In the film Sermon in Stone ‘Dr George’ praised his piping, adding: “Calum MacPherson really built the Abbey.”

Calum’s kilt suit (shown in the photo below) was found this July, in a suitcase in the loft of a house where his sister once lived in the Village, Bunessan. As part of a display about several ‘Local Heroes’, it attracted great interest at Bunessan Show.

Well-known for his piping (another reason for calling him a ‘local hero’) Calum, who never married, left no children to inherit his bagpipes. When he died in 1984, they were bought by the MacCallum family also pipers on the Ross, and Neil MacCallum later played them when he was the Lone Piper at the Edinburgh Tattoo. His four sons all learned to play on these pipes. This year, when the family joined the Mull and Iona Pipe Band on the showground, the youngest, Noraidh aged 11, was playing in public for the first time – on Calum’s pipes!

The folk who paused, within hearing of the band, at the Historical Centre’s stand at the Show to admire the kilt suit (worn by a tailor’s dummy loaned by the Weaving Mill at Ardalanish) enjoyed the account of its discovery and in turn told their own stories about Calum. It was a memorable experience of history coming together.

The story doesn’t quite end here. Two folk who were not at the Show heard the story and got in touch, both great nieces of Calum, from different parts of a scattered family. Alex came from south of the border, and was very moved, particularly to hold his bunnet and decipher the badge ‘Touch not the cat bot glove’ – the motto of the MacPherson clan. Lyn, from Oban, came to the Centre the following week, and brought with her a very special book on long-term loan.

With plans of the whole site and cloister buildings with dates completed, it is a high quality set of pictures of what the Abbey looked like in 1967. This is one of a limited edition of just four books: one presented to the MacLeod family, one to the Lord Lieutenant of Argyll, one to the Royal Family, and this copy to Calum MacPherson. On the flyleaf is a label:

To Calum MacPherson B.E.M.
from the members of the “Iona Community”
in grateful recognition
of his work as
in charge of the restoration of
the Abbey IONA
from April 1948 until Sept. 1967

The Trustees of the Ross of Mull Historical Centre are very grateful to Calum’s extended family for entrusting us with the care of this book, a reminder of a true ‘Local Hero’.

Jan SP

Photos below: Calum's kilt and the suitcase it was found in; and Neil and Noraidh MacCallum with their pipes

The Ross of Mull is an extraordinary microcosm of all that draws visitors to the Hebridean Islands. The scenery, as you travel along the single-track road from the ferry at Craignure is breath-taking. You experience in the many walks in the area a true sense of wilderness; the secret bays with their beaches of silvery sand, the abundance of wildlife and the innumerable marks on the landscape of the lives of past generations and communities long gone. The Ross of Mull is a compelling place for anyone fascinated by history and the ancient way of life of the Gaelic people.

Contact Us

Ross of Mull Historical Centre
Millbrae Cottage
Isle of Mull
Argyll PA67 6DG

By Phone: 01681 700659
By Email: enquiries@romhc.org.uk

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Reopening 1st April 2024

Monday - Friday 10am - 4pm


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