The area that is now Tiroran Community Forest had a long history before being brought under community ownership. These photographs, stories, and pieces of history – kindly shared by the Pennyghael in the Past Historical Archive (PPHA) – show how things have changed in and around the forest over the years.
The Glen and its Forestry
Tiroran Community Forest lies in Glen Seilisdeir – meaning “Glen of the Yellow Iris”- which forms the eastern end of the Ardmeanach peninsula.
On an island where much of the native woodland disappeared many centuries ago, trees were always highly valued. Even before the Forestry Commission moved into the Glen Seilisdeir, trees were being planted here either as shelter belts or for sale.
The Forestry Commission then purchased the land in 1955 and began planting almost immediately. They continued to plant large areas of commercial Sitka Spruce and Lodgepole pine for 60 years, before SWMID purchased 789 hectares of the land on behalf of the local community.
Townships and Houses
Knockroy (or Cnoc Ruadh meaning “Red Hill”) is a ruined township located just off the main track in Tiroran Community Forest. Although it was probably in existence for hundreds of years before, Knockroy was granted to “Maclaine of Lochbuy” in 1494 and it stayed in their possession until the 19th century.
Knockroy was a joint township, farmed by 5 or 6 tenants. They kept sheep, cattle, and horses and grew oats, barley, bere, or potatoes under the runrig system. The township was abandoned after 1803, when the rental was given to a single tenant.
Around 27 structures are still visible today, including houses, byres, animal enclosures, a winnowing barn, and a corn-drying kiln. For most of the year Knockroy is inaccessible and invisible due to thick bracken growth, but during the winter you are able to wander around the remains.
Achonnaill was another township, abandoned earlier than Knockroy, located close to SWMID’s proposed sites for 6 new woodland crofts.
The Reeds’ House
Long after the Knockroy was abandoned, one house continued to be used in summer during the first half of the twentieth century. The Reeds, a family of travellers or tinsmiths, used to return to Tiroran year after year, doing fencing and seasonal work for the Cheapes.
They put a corrugated iron roof on the walls of one of the houses in Knockroy, and camped out all summer. Sadly, half of this old house was demolished in 1991, when the track was re-routed, before the area was felled.
The witch’s house
The cottage in the foreground was somewhere in the present garden of Tigh na Con at Balevulin. It was dubbed either “The Witch’s Cottage” or “The Fairy Cottage” by the children at Killiemore House. The photographer, Flora McVean, was one of these children. She took the first photo sometime after 1890, which is when Balevulin Cottage (the house at the back) was built.
The second photograph was taken over half a century later and looks down on Balevulin to show a glimpse of these two houses. The old black-house or “Witch’s House” in front is now in ruins while Balevulin Cottage at the back is still standing. This photograph must have been taken shortly before 1953, as Balevulin Cottage burnt down that year. It was rebuilt during 2007-8 and is now being used as a Cottage Museum.
The McLeans of Balevulin
In the early years of the 20th century, there were still a few inhabited houses near Balevulin, part of the old township of Camus.
Hector and Betsy McLean, who worked for the tenants of Killiemore House and Farm, the McVean family, lived in one of them. Betsy seemed to be a great favourite of Flora McVean, who took many photos of her at her numerous tasks. This may have been because of her patience in allowing herself to be photographed so often – a much slower process than today.
Below Betsy is seen milking a cow in the middle of the road beside the newly built Balevulin Cottage, then sitting outside her own house with a spinning wheel.
This photo of “Willie Post” was also taken by Flora McVean of Killiemore House at Balevulin in March 1900
Willie MacDonald of Pennyghael, brought the post in from Salen on this horse-drawn cart. He stayed at the Post Office in Pennyghael where the horses were kept in the adjoining building, the Smithy.
Roads, Dykes and Bridges
Drochaid na Cnaimh – Bridge of the Bones
This is the name given to the bridge near the Northern end of the present Forestry plantation due to some unusual goings on.
When the road through Glen Seilisdeir was being constructed, the foundations for the bridge were excavated and a bundle of tartan clothes containing the bones of a child was found. No-one knew whose bones they were, but the find did not seem to surprise some of the residents.
From time to time people had reported hearing a woman wailing near this bridge. On one occasion during the winter, a horse-drawn mail van – like the one driven by Willie Post – was taking the mail from Salen through to Bunessan. When he reached Drochaid na Cnaimh, the driver suddenly realised there was a woman sitting next to him. She stayed with him for some distance down the road, then, just as suddenly, she disappeared. Not a word was spoken between them.
Local people asserted that this was not the only time such a thing had happened…
Road from Balevulin to knock – Mam na Croise
The hill road to Salen and the north of the island started at Balevulin, the mill house of the township of Camus. It crossed Mam na Croise, the ‘Pass of the Cross’, returning to sea level beyond Dhiseig.
Before the road was forced around the Gribun Rocks, this was the main route for those from the Ross and Brolas who didn’t want to risk the dangerous route through Glenmore. Glenmore was often dangerous due to the streams, which easily turned into torrents, washing away culverts and fording places.
The Mam was also the route used to bring bodies from the Scridain area to be buried at Kilmartin (the Knock burial ground) – one of the old prestigious burial grounds of the MacLeans. This maybe the reason for the name, the ‘Pass of the Cross’.
The track was easily followed until the Forestry activities of the 1950s, which obliterated the lower reaches.
Dykes – Drystone walls
By the 1850s the combined farms of Tiroran and Knockroy had become a sheep walk, and dyke-builders were employed to construct the miles of drystone dykes and sheep fanks required for the new style farming.
This dyke borders the old route from Tiroran to Knockroy, and is one of the finest examples of a Galloway dyke in Mull. This style of building was introduced by the dyke-builders who came on to Mull at this time. They were constructed of large boulders and are only one boulder deep; the balance is maintained by the careful placing of boulders lengthways and widthways. Gaps are left between boulders as this seems to be off-putting for cattle, preventing them from rubbing against the wall and damaging it.
If you would like to find out more about the history of this area, you can contact the Pennyghael in the Past Historical Archive by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Archive and Cottage Museum at Balevulin.
You can find more historic maps of the area at from the National Library of Scotland website.