History of smuggling comes alive

The recent set up in the smugglers exhibition at the McKechnie Institute.
The recent set up in the smugglers exhibition at the McKechnie Institute.

A recent smugglers exhibition held in Girvan’s McKechnie Institute provided the perfect warm up for the upcoming Ballantrae Smugglers Festival.

The festival kicks off on Sunday and you can read more about the week’s events on page 11 of this week’s Gazette.

A nine-day exhibition allowed people the chance to explore the history of smuggling in Ballantrae and all for free.

The exhibition was held from July 22-August 1 and it was fortunate enough to be visited by 346 people from across the world.

Yours truly didn’t get to visit the exhibition until its final day on the morning of Saturday August 1.

It was well worth the wait though as I headed to the upstairs of the McKechnie Institute to view the exhibition.

As I entered the room, I was met with a whole host of characters from the bygone days of smuggling.

The year is 1814 and Alexander Coulter senior of Ballantrae is sitting at a table with a map of Ballantrae and the surrounding coastline set out in front of him. Also on the table were a small bottle of brandy (half empty) and a pistol – both within easy reach. Around the table were his sons. Together they wereplanning the next delivery of salt, tobacco, tea, brandy and fine wines from France. In the middle of the table is a replica of the kind of ship that he is hoping will bring his next shipment of contraband. In the background are a number of the villagers ready to help unload the cargo when it arrives on Ballantrae beach. But who’s that in the corner? It seems his eyes follow your every movement ...

On the walls were posters and storyboards providing a terrific insight into Ballantrae’s Smuggling Story and I also found books that told that story – one of them written by the children of Ballantrae and Colmonell Primary Schools. A short video loop plays the highlights of last year’s Ballantrae Smugglers’ Festival.

One of the highlights was an artistic board which showed how the process of ‘smuggling’ goods in was undertaken when ‘Ballantrae Billy’ didn’t have enough money to pay for goods.

‘Sam the Smuggler’ went to the Isle of Man to bring back the contraband goods for Billy and makes it back to Ballantrae in the night.

Exciseman Jim Bob Joe was meant to be on the lookout but he’s fallen asleep. Once he wakes up he tries to chase Sam but he is run out of town by the villagers who want their goods.

My final trip was to have a look at the brilliant smugglers scarecrows which were produced by the talented children of Ballantrae and Colmonell Primary Schools.

I soon realised how much work and time must have gone into these designs and the pupils involved should certainly be very proud of their work.

The exhibition was enjoyed by visitors from Australia, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Chile, Hungary, England and Northern Ireland.

Like me I’m sure our well travelled visitors from all over the world didn’t go home disappointed!