The McWh*rter Gathering - June 2003
The Prologue and Day One
(reprinted from the McWh*rter
Volume 7 - Issue 3 (August 2003)
It started out as a rather simple notion in the leisure room of my fourth cousin, Douglas McWhirter, in
Toronto, Canada. Imagine a gathering of
interested McWh*rter researchers somewhere in Ayrshire.
We thought perhaps 20 might come. We
should have heeded the warning lights in the eyes of Dougs wife, Roberta, and my
wife, Barbara, as our ideas for the gathering began to unfurl themselves. But it was just too late to put the genie back in
the bottle. By the time the McWh*rter
Gathering 2003 finally rolled around in June of this year it was clear we had only
underestimated worldwide interest by a factor of ten!
The simple gathering had become complex.
The small group we anticipated would fit around a single dinner table had
expanded to a gathering of the Clan that required banquet halls for dinner, three sittings
to accommodate lunch and three buses to transport the group from one place to another. It is probably just as well that back then in
Toronto we couldnt foresee the consequences. We
might have heeded the rolling of the eyes from our wives!
Despite the air travel concerns generated by the war in Iraq and the spread
of the SARS vivus, more than 160 McWh*rters from all over the world converged on
unsuspecting Ayrshire, Scotland in June 2003. Although
the McWh*rters of Scotland were well represented at the Gathering, the vast majority of
the attendees traveled thousands of miles to join the event.
More than 50 came from the United States, more than 40 from Canada, more
than a dozen from Australia. Others came from
New Zealand, England, Northern Ireland and even Germany.
Most of the attendees had never met, or even heard of, most of the others in
attendance. But we all came on faith that the
surname would bind us all even after the centuries of history and fate had scattered us to
the far corners of the globe.
It all seemed too improbable to work. BUT
The Gathering lasted only three days, but the memories will linger for the
lifetimes of many. No one attendee can tell
the whole tale for there was far too much going on too quickly to grasp every nuance. Each of us experienced the Gathering in our own
personal way, and I have encouraged those who attended to share their experiences and
thoughts for the Newsletter so that those who were not present can gain a real sense of
what it all meant. Some of those thoughts are
included in this issue of the Newsletter. Others
will follow in future issues. I will share my
own thoughts as well. But please remember,
they are but 1/160 of the tale.
The weeks leading up to the Gathering were quite chaotic in my McWhirter household
(Barbara & Alan in Cheshire, CT, to be more precise).
Barbara was finishing up the school year as a teacher at Cheshire Academy, a
private secondary school. In fact, the school
year ended on Friday, June 6 and by Monday June 9 Icelandair was carrying us from New York to Glasgow.
At the same time, I was busy making arrangements for the Public Defenders
Office in Waterbury to continue functioning in my absence.
I had to put the finishing touches on my Powerpoint presentation for the
Gathering, test a new digital camera and copy the presentation, database and other files
to my new laptop so it could all come along. Just
when I thought all this might be manageable, I also found myself frantically burning midnight candles as I tried to input into
the McWh*rter Database the THOUSAND OR SO NEW NAMES received three weeks earlier from
Bryan McWhirter of
Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia via Doug McWhirter in
top of all this Barbara and I had to finish running two annual
youth soccer tournaments on Saturday and Sunday before departing on Monday. When we finally reached JFK and the plane for
Scotland, it almost seemed too good to be true.
landed in Glasgow Tuesday morning, Scotland time, and were taken in by some of our Paisley cousins on
my McKellar side. They have always spoken of us as those daft
Americans every time we show up to churn church records and haunt graveyards. This time was no different as they watched us haul
all our luggage to the Gilmour Street Station early Wednesday afternoon, lug it up the
stairs to the train platform (the lift wasnt working) and stow it all on
the train for Ayr. For us, the real adventure
was about to begin.
Barbara and I were thinking wed arrived early enough to help in the day or so
preceeding the arrival of most of the attendees. But
thanks to the organizational wizardry and tireless efforts of Ronald and Cathy McWhirter of Alloway,
Scotland, Doug and Roberta McWhirter of Toronto, Canada, and Bill and Jessie Ramsay of
Wishaw, Lanarkshire, Scotland, almost everything was already in order. We were left with the pleasant duty of meeting in
person Ronald and Cathy and Bill and Jessie, with whom we had exchanged e-mails but had
never met before.
Wednesday evening six of us had dinner together on the coast
south of Ayr, to get to know each other and to make plans for the final touches before the
official Gathering commenced. Primarily we
shared ways of stifling the panic we all felt
at the enormity of that which we had wrought and which was about to burst forth less than
48 hours later!
Thursday was spent visiting Ronald
and Cathys lovely house in nearby Alloway, checking out the facilities at the church
hall in Alloway for Saturdays genealogy Powerpoint presentation,
transporting the registration packages from Ronalds home to the Savoy Park Hotel in
Ayr (which served as headquarters for the Gathering), finding a place in the hotel kitchen
to store it all until the next day and figuring out how to raise the McWh*rter banner
above the entrance to the hotel. [See photos
on pages 1 & 2.]
By Thursday evening everything
seemed to be ready. Our keynote speaker, Norris
McWhirter, of Wiltshire, England and his wife, Tessa, joined our group of 8 for dinner at
the Savoy Park. The ten of us already
accounted for roughly half of what Doug and I had
initially expected to be the whole Gathering when it was first envisioned! [See photo on
[L to R] Ronald McWhirter
of Alloway, Scotland (Joint-Coordinator); Bill Ramsay of
(Assistant Coordinator); Alan McWhirter of Cheshire,
Connecticut, USA (Newsletter Editor); Norris McWhirter of
Wiltshire, England (Keynote Speaker); Douglas McWhirter of
Toronto, Canada (Joint-Coordinator).
During the course of the evening a
few other couples and families wandered into the Savoy dining room for dinner. It turns out that most of them were
McWh*rters that none of us had ever met except by way of the internet. Ian & Phyllis Macwhirter from Cheshire, England
[see photo on page 11] and Chris
& Bernice Gustafson from Texas, USA were among them.
Never mind 48 hours reprieve. THE
GATHERING HAD ALREADY BEGUN!
Friday June 13
The Savoy Park Hotel has only 17 rooms. It would have been big
enough to host all the McWh*rters if the gathering had encompassed only the 20 or so
persons initially envisioned. But now with more than 160 McWh*rters descending on Ayr we
found ourselves in numerous hotels and bed & breakfasts throughout the city.
Welcome to the Savoy Park!
By early Friday morning all the
McWh*rters coverged on the Savoy Park for registration. Cathy McWhirter of Alloway,
Scotland, Roberta McWhirter of Toronto, Canada, Lisa
Hotchkiss of the USA and Sarah McWhirter Keenan of the UK, handled the registration duties
while I got a chance to actually meet
the many people with
whom I had communicated by email over the years, as well as others whom I did not know at all.
[See photos on page 4]
Handling the Registration at the Savoy
[L to R] Roberta McWhirter of Canada; Elizabeth "Lisa" Hotchkiss of USA; Cathy
McWhirter of Scotland; Sarah McWhirter Keenan of UK
Rich Petit of
Florida, USA is welcomed by Cathy McWhirter of Alloway,
[Rich is also the webmaster for the award winning
website of Maybole, Scotland.]
One of the first NEW McWh*rters I met was Irene Hudson of Hamilton, Scotland. Thanks to the large name tags
everyone was issued at the registration table it was easy to introduce oneself and to
learn the names of all the other attendees. I introduced myself to Irene and she showed me
a genealogy printout she had brought, in hopes of finding a connection to
other McWhirters at the Gathering. I took a quick glance at the printout and knew exactly
where she belonged. The day before, when Ronald and I had been
transporting registration packages from his home to the hotel, he had been telling me about his
McWhirter line and some of the places where the trail had gone cold. Irene, as it turns out, was one of those missing
Ronald was no more than ten feet away from me at that moment so I suggested to Irene that we go
over and meet one of her cousins. The look on
Irenes face was priceless and matched only by the look on Ronalds face when I
introduced him to Irene. Fifteen minutes into the Gathering and already we had scored big!
In all honesty, much of the registration process is like a blur to me. After years
of writing and emailing hundreds of McWh*rter researchers I was standing face to face with
many of them. Although I knew where in the grand scheme of McWh*rters almost all the attendees belonged, I was still overwhelmed by meeting
and greeting so many of them all at once and finally putting faces to the names. When it finally came time for all
of us to head south through the Ayrshire countryside for lunch, all the pre-planning and
efforts of Doug and Ronald really began to pay off. On
the back of everyones name tag was a number indicating which of three buses we were to take. With a minimum of confusion and a
great deal of encouragement Ronald and Doug got us all on the buses and
headed off right on time.
Doug served as bus captain on the bus that Barbara and I were assigned
to. He did an admirable job of describing Ayrshire as we
headed for lunch. Ayrshire wasnt ready for an invasion the size of the McWh*rter
Gathering so one bus went to Culzean Castle for lunch while the other two took diverse routes to
Restaurant so the rest
of us could eat in two shifts. The lunch was
lovely; salmon and salad and luscious home-made pies. Barbara and I sat with Bryan and June McWhirter
of Australia, his neice Kristan Walbran from New Zealand (now working in Edinburgh) and Helen Colquhoun, also from Australia, but born in
Ayrshire. [See photo on page 6.] It was the wealth of new McWhirter
information that I had received from Bryan three weeks earlier that had
kept me up late nights getting it all entered in the McWh*rter Database before the trip
began. Bryan was
appropriately delighted to have contributed so much and caused me so much
Luncheon at Crosshill.
[L to R] Bryan McWhirter of Coonabarabran, New South
Alan McWhirter of Cheshire, Connecticut, USA;
Helen Colquhoun of Mortdale, New South Wales, Australia.
After lunch we headed for Blairquhan Castle, just outside of Straiton. Although the
original castle was long gone, and the McWh*rters had not been in
residence there for well over 600 years, it marked an appropriate place to
begin our Gathering. [See The McWhirter
Family of Blairquhan
Castle Volume 4,
(Fall 2000) of the Newsletter]. According to Mr. James
current owner of the estate, the present castle
was built about 1842 but pieces of the old
McQuirter Tower had been incorporated into the new construction. So, camera in hand, I set off looking for the
pieces. Whether I found them or not remains to be determined.
A curious stone "plaque" bove the
exit to the courtyard at Blairquhan
In the open courtyard exiting the
present castle there are located above the doorways several stone carvings that seem to
have been rescued from elsewhere long ago. Along the sides of the courtyard are pieces of
stone ropework seemingly more ancient than the other construction. At either end of the
courtyard, above the doorways, are two stone plaques. The one
closest to the present castle seems clearly to show the emblem of the Kennedys, who acquired the old estate from
the McWhirters in the late 1300s. At the other end is a curious stone plaque
containing a coat of arms, Roman numerals
and Latin lettering that is barely discernable without the closest of
inspections. [See photo on page 7] It is this plaque which intrigues
me, for clearly visible in the center
of the plaque is an M. Whether or not this stone plaque was rescued from the
old McQuirter Tower, and whether it has any actual
connection to the McWh*rters, is yet to be determined.
A "troubadour" along one side of the
Equally as curious is a carved troubadour, playing a stringed
instrument, carefully placed within the stone
ropework along one side of the courtyard. [See photo on page 8.] Given the origins of the McWh*rter
surname, pesumed to
come from he who played a stringed instrument called a chruit, I am quite curious as to why this
particular piece of carved stone was retained.
Blairquhan is a jewel of the Ayrshire countryside.
For those who have never seen it, southern Ayrshire is beautifully green and rural. Its
rolling hills are cut by several narrow river valleys that open to the Firth of Clyde. The
rivers meander, they do not run forcefully enough to generate steam-power or electricity.
This has never been a wealthy industrial mecca.
The McWh*rters farmed and labored in those valleys
and on those hills. Some of their cottages still exist. Some of their farms can still be
found using old maps. Unfortunately, our massive tour buses could not negotiate the tiny
roads that would take us there. Meeting our ghosts will have to wait for
another summer sojourn when traveling can be done on foot across the hills.
Somehow the Gathering managed to stay on schedule
for the first day. We departed Blairquhan in time to return to Ayr so that we might all
change for dinner and catch the buses once again, this time for the Brig ODoon
Restaurant in Alloway. We were met at the door by piper Billy Kenny. Dinner on Day One was
preceded by time in the restaurant garden, literally in the shadow of the Old Brig
ODoon of Robert Burns fame [See photo on page 8] and its more modern counterpart
[See photo on page 10].
A gathering of the "clan" before
dinner Day 1 along the shore of the River Doon
The hour or so before the dinner finally provided
some time to meet many of the attendees that had so far eluded us. Though the 160+ had
journeyed from the far corners of the globe there was little doubt that bonds were being
formed that would tie us all together for a long time to come.
The brothers McWhirter from Canada - Clayton, Grant & Ross.
Craig and Bryan McDonald, two very talented young
local lads, provided musical entertainment both in the garden and afterwards during the
dinner. The local pastor, the Rev. Neil McNaught, honored us with grace. A professional
photographer was present to take pictures for attendees to purchase later on, and to take
a group photo of the entire Clan gathered in the garden of the hotel.
There was an eye opening experience for us all when
it came time to be seated for dinner. A seating chart for dinner this first night was
posted at the door. But there was a problem. Most of us were used to simply looking down a
seating plan for the name McWh*rter. But the usual didnt apply this
evening. It wasnt so simple. There were McWh*rters everywhere! There was much
laughter as everyone tried to figure out which McWh*rter table they were at. We filled the
banquet hall! From wall to wall, nothing but McWh*rters! It was amazing!
Ian & Phyllis Macwhirter of Cheshire, England
Distant cousins meeting for the first time.
[L to R] Bill Ramsay of Scotland; Alan McWhirter of USA
& Ross McWhirter of Canada
Norris McWhirter of England, co-author with his
deceased brother, Ross, of The
Guiness Book of World Records, was our
keynote speaker. He brought us all closer as a Clan with his thoughts concerning
McWh*rters through the ages, including other McWh*rter authors of note. The
Guiness Book of World Records is the 2nd
most published book in the history of the world and the most copyrighted volume of them
As dinner came to an end on Day One of the Gathering
there was a sense that this was an evening that should not end. We had begun the day a
throng of strangers with few exceptions and yet we were ending the day a Clana
family, perhaps scattered to the far reaches of the earth, but a family nonetheless.
The reluctance to end the day was noticeable as many
lingered to catch the last bus back to the Savoy Park. But Day Two was coming. It was time
for Barbara and I to return as well. The new digital camera had to have its pictures
downloaded to the computer and have its batteries recharged so that it would be ready for
the next day.
So many email friends now had faces to go with the
namesso many NEW friends and family had been met. It was a day that far exceeded any
expectations that Doug and I might have had a few years before when the notion of The
Gathering was first
Joint-Coordinators - Ronald
McWhirter of Scotland and Douglas McWhirter of Canada
in the McWhirter Tartan!
It all fell together like clockwork, much to the
credit of Ronald McWhirter of Alloway, Scotland and Douglas McWhirter of Toronto, Canada
[See photo on page 9] who had spent countless hours preceding the Gathering attending to
all the details. Because of Ronalds and Douglas efforts, the rest of us were
treated to a wonderfully smooth and successful three days. ***
McWh*rter Gathering - June 2003
(reprinted from the McWh*rter
Volume 7 - Issue 4 (November 2003)
Saturday, June 14, [Day 2 of the Gathering] turned
out to be another glorious day in Ayrshire. Despite all the planning and preparations that
Ronald McWhirter of Alloway, Scotland and Doug McWhirter of Toronto, Canada had put into
the Gathering beforehand, the one thing they couldnt control was the weather. And
the weather can be quite fickle in Scotland in June. It turned out to be marvelous for all
the days of the Gathering. I told Ronald that as Joint Coordinator and Local
Organizer of the event he should take full credit for the beautiful day as he would
surely have gotten the blame if it had been dreadful.
I had been preparing for Saturday morning in Ayrshire for over a year it was
the time slot allotted for the Genealogy Workshop component of the Gathering.
Originally, ALL of Saturday morning had been envisioned as a time to sit down and exchange
family information, share charts and register reports and find common ground for further McWh*rter research. But as the
size of the Gathering grew, the time allotted for the workshop began to
The variety of housing requirements necessary to accommodate over 160 of us coupled
with the ever changing transportation requirements began to limit the time allotted for
the workshop - while at the same time increasing the attendance and the
expectations. What Doug and I first thought could be accommodated in a cozy place with lots of
tables for charts and whatnot now required a hall for well over a hundred. Within a few
months of the Gathering I had settled on a PowerPoint presentation of about an hour and a
half as being the best use of the time now allotted.
Since the 160+ attendees that were now anticipated represented almost two dozen
as yet unconnected branches of the
McWh*rter Clan, getting my arms around all of us in 90 minutes was not going
to be easy. But I was determined to try. Doug McWhirter of Toronto, Canada [Joint
Coordinator of the Gathering and fellow conspirator in instigating the event] was able to
provide me with a list of expected attendees and with Dougs help I was
able to figure out where most of us belonged in the greater McWh*rter scheme of things.
With a new laptop, a new projector, converter plugs for the UK power grid and some
help in learning PowerPoint [this was my first attempt]
I thought I was as ready as possible. Then about a week before leaving for Scotland
came a note from Ronald. Transportation issues and luncheon requirements were squeezing us
even more as far as time was concerned. Could it all be fit into an hour!
The subtitle of the presentation was 700 years in 90 Minutes. I thought
THAT was doing pretty well for someone who was NOT a history major. I assured Ronald that,
as a lawyer, I could talk that fast, but I wasnt sure the attendees could listen
that fast. Thanks to Ronalds help, arrangements were made to have 90 minutes
allotted and his church hall graciously available to accommodate us all.
Alan McWhirter of
Cheshire, Connecticut, USA
Preparing the Genealogy Workshop Presentation.
I divided the presentation into three parts addressing first the history of
the origins of the surname and the many spelling variations that developed over the
centuries. I then spoke briefly concerning three McWh*rter families of Ayrshire about
which I had substantial information and which were the most heavily represented families
at the Gathering. Lastly I tried to trace the diaspora which since 1600 had
carried the McWh*rter surname to the far reaches of the globe. In the process I tried to
place in perspective most, if not all, of us who had chosen to travel back from the far
reaches of the globe to attend the Gathering.
The presentation got started on time Saturday morning, ended on time [much to
Ronalds relief] and I hope brought us all to a greater understanding of the larger
McWh*rter world in which we belong. [The PowerPoint presentation delivered at the
Gathering is available to anyone who wishes a copy. It can be sent on CD or even sent as
an email attachment. Since it consists of just the slides presented, it may
not make complete sense to those not in attendance and able to hear the oral part
of the presentation. But, it is available free of charge for those who wish a copy. Please
be aware that you will need Microsoft PowerPoint on your computer in order to view the
I was much relieved when the presentation was completed. I had kept my fingers
crossed that the laptop and projector would make the journey across the Atlantic and still
work. They did without a single problem and I would recommend Dell on both counts without
hesitation. The only moment of heavy breathing [I hesitate to use the word
panic] came after all the equipment was connected in the church hall Saturday
morning and I turned everything on and
NOTHING happened! It took a moment or two and some helpful advice to remember that in the
UK there is an on/off switch as part of every electrical outlet. Electricity does help and a simple flick of
the wall switch solved all the woes.
Although Saturday morning at the Alloway church hall I was preoccupied with the
presentation, there were other things going on as well. The
had a booth set up at
the back of the hall with pamphlets and historical texts for sale. Fortunately while I was
busy my wife, Barbara,
was able to spend a few minutes checking out what was available and she came away with
one of each for me read later on. In the hallway of the building the
professional photographer who had taken both individual and group photos at the Brig
ODoon Inn the night before had them on display for purchase or order. Meanwhile
Ronalds wife, Cathy, and Dougs wife, Roberta, had been in the church kitchen
making sure that coffee and tea were available. This was no easy task given the number of
us and the fact that china teacups
rather than paper
cups were part of plan. [See photo on page 4]
Our Ladies in Waiting
Roberta McWhirter of Toronto, Canada and
Cathy McWhirter of Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland
With the presentation behind me I enthusiastically embraced the luncheon hosted by Gordon
McKenzie,the Provost of
South Ayrshire, at the town hall in Ayr. It was a
bit strange having the dignitaries of the area treat us like we
were the dignitaries. The Provost of South Ayrshire seemed to be genuinely delighted to
have so many of us invading from abroad but I doubt if he was half as pleased as we
all were to be there. Pictures were taken by and for the local press and some of us took
pictures of the local press taking pictures of us.
The Provost of South Ayrshire, and our host for
on the second day - Gordon McKensie.
After lunch Barbara and I made a quick exit and caught a ride back to the Savoy
Park Hotel. Although Saturday afternoon was scheduled as free time for the
attendees to visit the shops in Ayr or catch up on a nap etc., I had made arrangements
with the hotel to have a room available on the second floor along with a screen so that I
could project the McWh*rter Database large enough for others to see. I wanted to field
questions about McWh*rter family research that there was no time to address during the
presentation Saturday morning. About twenty of us eventually gathered at the Savoy Park
for a few hours and I tried my best to help with the questions researchers had. When I
purchased the new laptop I had added an interchangeable floppy drive and CD burner so I
was able to pass out appropriate register reports to others for future review. By 4 pm we
had to evacuate the room as the hotel had to prepare for a school prom. Barbara and I
finally had a chance to sit down for a moment before catching a bus for the evenings
Dinner at the Tam-O-Shanter alongside the Auld
Dinner on Day 2 was at the Tam-O-Shanter Restaurant attached to the Robert Burns
Gift Shop back at the Auld Brig ODoon. This time it was a
traditional Robert Burns Dinner complete with entertainment and HAGGIS! Tom Raffel , his grandson and Isobel Miller
enchanted us with
Robert Burns stories and music and even got a few of our own braver souls to
participate in the entertainment. [See photos page 7] Meanwhile we piped
in the Haggis and dealt appropriately with a seemingly unlimited supply of wine.
[See photo page 6]
Piping in the Haggis!
The seating for dinner on the second night was not assigned, giving us all an opportunity to
dine with and make new friends. Barbara and I finally got some time to spend with Marge
Frewin of Australia. Marge was another of my many email
correspondents that I finally met for the first time in Ayrshire. Marge had been
thoughtful enough to send me condolences a year earlier when the USA soccer team was
finally beaten by Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Tom Raffel - Our
entertainment "Chairman" for the evening at the Tam-O-Shanter.
Once again, at the end of dinner, everyone seemed to tary a while as if we
didnt want to let go of the moment. But, it had been a long two days and another
busy day was yet to follow.
Everard McWhirter [left]
of England and Ron Bennett [right]
of Cornwall, England.
When Barbara and I
finally returned to the Savoy Park we spent some time with Bill Ramsay of Lanarkshire,
Scotland and his wife, Jessie, who had the room across the hall. Bill is a third cousin
once removed with whom I had corresponded in the last few years. But we had never met
until the Gathering.
It was Bills grandfather, David McWhirter, who earned the King Georges
cross for bravery by climbing a 300 foot chimney to rescue an unconscious victim of fumes
in 1909 in Lanarkshire, Scotland. [See complete story, The
Mid Air Rescue of a Steeplejack, in
Volume 4 Issue 2 of
the Newsletter (Spring 2000)]. Bill brought the medal along
with several others presented to his grandfather for his heroism so that some of us might
take a look at them. [See photos pages 11 and 13]. Bill also
produced a poetic account of the rescue first written almost 100 years ago. Lines
On A Brave Deed can be found at
page 11 of the current issue of the newsletter.
The next day, Sunday, Day 3 of the Gathering, promised to be even busier than the
first two had been. It would require an early start to keep the buses on schedule.
Accordingly we had asked the hotel to open breakfast a bit earlier on Sunday than normal.
It was time to get some sleep or at least to try! ***
Canadian Branch of the Clanfrom Andrew McWhirter (1831-1915)
who was born in Colmonell, Ayrshire, Scotland and removed with his wife,
Elizabeth Rowan, to Ontario, Canada in 1855.
The two children in the front are
Katherine Ollerhead on the left
and Andrew Ollerhead on the right.
Behind them in the front row, left to right, are Douglas
McWhirter, Marnie McWhirter and Ross
McWhirter. Behind me
[Douglas] is Betty
McWhirter, Barry McWhirter behind her
and Dr. Jeffrey Ollerhead behind Barry.
Between and behind Roberta and me is Karen
Oreto, Ann Dales behind her
and Barrie Dales behind Ann.
Directly behind Roberta is Matthew
Oreto, then Jean
Towers, Joanne Dales and finally
behind Joanne is Steven
behind Matthew Oreto is Herb Towers and Christopher Dales is somewhat
hidden behind Herb. Behind and slightly to the left of Marnie McWhirter is Carol
Topp, slightly to
the right of her is Betty
Carol and Betty is Linda
Payne and behind
Linda is Grant McWhirter. On the right
behind Ross McWhirter is Clayton
McWhirter. To the left
of him is Jocelyn
Jocelyn is Ivan Gilkes and finally
in the very back right is Ray
photo and identifications courtesy of Douglas McWhirter of Toronto, Canada.
The McWh*rter Gathering - June 2003
(reprinted from the McWh*rter
Volume 8 - Issue 1 (February 2004)
Sunday, June 15th [Day 3 of the Gathering] outshone
even the previous two days. For the third day in a row the Ayrshire weather blessed us
with its best and with new friends and relations in tow we all set our sights south from
Ayr into the valley of the River Stinchar from where many of our ancestors left to
populate the far reaches of the globe.
Our Piper at the Kirkyard at
Our first destination was the Parish Church at
Colmonell. Colmonell is but a small village situated a few hundred feet above the River
Stinchar and about 4 miles inland from where
the river flows into the sea at Ballantrae. It is from this village, and the surrounding
parish, that my own ancestors came, and with my wife, Barbara, we had visited twice before
(in 1976 and 1993). [See Journey Back to Colmonell, Volume 1, Issue 1 of the
Newsletter (Winter 1997)].
Entrance to the Kirkyard at Colmonell
This time, however, we were accompanied by an entire
army of McWh*rters! Three bus loads of McWh*rters no doubt more McWh*rters than the
village had ever seen at one time rolled into town. Well actually, we didnt
roll into town. The buses would have had a hard time finding a place to park
if they had actually taken us to the center of the village, so we were dropped off a few
hundred yards from the church which made for quite an event as we all strolled through the
village on our way to a Sunday service at the parish church.
[L to R] Barbara
McWhirter of Cheshire, Connecticut, USA; Norris McWhirter of Wiltshire, England; Mina
Oundjian; and Ronald McWhirter of Alloway, ScotlandThe kirkyard at Colmonell before
The congregation of the parish had diminished a
great deal from the days when our ancestors lived there. In fact the church at nearby Barr
Hill had closed and the congregation been combined with the one from the village. Even so,
our three bus loads probably multiplied the usual attendance about ten fold. It was a good
thing they knew we were coming.
We arrived some time prior to the scheduled service
which gave the McWh*rter army a chance to walk through the village and glance through the
gravestones surrounding the church.
majority of the McWh*rters making the visit had no direct connection to Colmonell, a
substantial number did, and their enthusiasm was shared even by those whose ancestral
search is focused elsewhere in Ayrshire.
Inside the Parish Kirk at Colmonell. The three
boys in the front row are from the local congregation.
The church service was a unifying experience for all
of us. There were but three youngsters among the usual Colmonell congregation [see front
row of photo on page 4] who went out of their way to welcome our own young contingent [see
photo page 5].
McWhirter of Toronto, Canada holds the plaque presented to the congregation in
appreciation for the hospitality offered the Gathering. Dougs granddaughter,
Katherine Ollerhead, of New Brunswick, Canada is holding a card of welcome created by the
boys of the local congregation. To her right is Meghan Colburn of Lethbridge, Alberta,
When the service was over most of the Gathering
spread throughout the kirkyard, in search of McWh*rter tombstones or other familiar names.
[See The Kiryard at Colmonell, Volume 1, Issue 2 of the Newsletter (Spring
Bennett of Cornwall, England photographs the oldest McWh*rter tombstone in the kirkyard
(the inscriptions run across the top of the stone).
Much of the attention was focused on the oldest
McWh*rter tombstone to be found in the kirkyard, that of William
McWhirtor & Janet McGill who both died
in 1682. [See photos on pages 5 & 6] On the back of the same stone is recorded the
death of Andrew
McWhirter of Cheshire, Connecticut, USA and a look at the front of the oldest McWh*rter
gravestone in Colmonell clearly showing the spelling McWhirtor and the date
Attendance at the Kirk services was followed by a
walk through the village (a parade actually, accompanied by a piper). [See
photo on page 1] We ventured to the village hall for lunch and an opportunity to examine the Colmonell kirk records. Lunch was
provided by the ladies of the kirk and we cant thank them enough for undertaking
such an enormous task.
lunch at the village hall there was a chance to review the records of the parish kirk.
to R] Agnes Nan McWhirter Geddes of Scotland; Helen Green and Margaret McGillivray, both of whom are formerly of
Ayrshire, Scotland but now reside in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
front of the village hall a local resident shares photos of Colmonell in the past with
Douglas McWhirter of Toronto, Canada including pictures of a few McWhirters who lived in
the village at the time.
After lunch we re-boarded the buses for the short,
but winding trip, to Ballantrae just a few miles down river. The coastal town of
Ballantrae is the ancestral home of many other McWh*rters who made the trip back for the
Gathering. It was from Ballantrae that two MacWhirter brothers, John & Gilbert,
emigrated to New Richmond, Quebec, Canada in the early 1800s and gave rise to a large
portion of the current Canadian MacWhirters. [See photo page 8] [See also McWh*rter
Genealogy Newletter, Volume 4, Issue 1, Winter 2000, From
Ballantrae, Scotland to Quebec, Canada].
the kirkyard at Ballantrae, descendants of of William McWhirter & AnnCaldwell
pay a first time visit to the grave of their ancestors.
to R] Heather
Colburn & daughter Meghan of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada; Ann MacWhirter of Halifax,
Nova Scotia, Canada; Bruce MacWhirter Jr. of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Stephanie
MacWhirter of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Bruce MacWhirter Sr. of Halifax, Nova Scotia,
and Lorna Colburn of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
the buses carried us up the coast about 10 miles to the fishing village of Girvan.
Although I have been to Girvan several times before, it always has a special place in my
thoughts. It was in Girvan in 1886 that my own grandfather was born. It was in pursuit of
his parents and their ancestors that I first made the journey to Girvan in 1976. It was
then that much of what is now the McWh*rter Database & Newsletter was first conceived.
The third day of the Gathering was full of traveling
and much of southern Ayrshire became familiar to all who ventured. Colmonell, Ballantrae,
Girvan and many smaller signposts along the way became real for many no longer mere
mysterious place names on a map or mere mentions in the public or parish records. But the
best was yet to come!
the afternoon of Day Three the instigatorsand organizers of the Gathering were
in a much more relaxed state of mind.
to R] Bill Ramsay of Wishaw, Lanarkshire, Scotland;
Alan McWhirter of Cheshire, Connecticut, USA;
Ronald McWhirter of Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland;
and, Douglas McWhirter of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The final evening concluded with a farewell dinner
at the Savoy Park Hotel in Ayr [See photos on page 10]. We filled the dining area to
capacity, barely able to squeeze us all into what had seemed like more than an adequate
facility when the organizers first began planning for the Gathering. But this was no
longer a Gathering of strangers. It was now a Family Affair. In a short 72
hours we had forged bonds to last a lifetime. And it was time to celebrate the successes.
And the successes were many! The efforts of Doug and
Ronald and Bill had provided all with lasting memories of a once in a lifetime adventure.
The Gathering had run without any of the problems that could have been anticipated and
without those that could not. With the hard work behind them and success assured the
organizers could finally relax and truly enjoy the fruits of their labors along with all
those who had benefited from their hard work.
Dinner on Day 3 at the Savoy Park
Hotel in Ayr.
During the final nights dinner at the Savoy we
were entertained once again by Isobel Miller, but two of are own provided the highlights
of the evening. Representatives from each of the countries from which we had all traveled
to attend the Gathering took turns with a vote of thanks. John McWhirter of Tampa, Florida
accepted the offer on behalf of those from the United States and his two-minute remarks
turned into an hilarious half-hour comedic roasting of all of us, but especially the
Gatherings organizers. It was a wonder that we all survived the laughter!
At the conclusion of the evening we were
appropriately treated to the bagpipes played by Ross McWhirter of Canada. [See photo on
Our own Ross McWhirter of Canada.
The Gathering took years to conceive and plan. The
Gathering took hours upon hours of effort and
devotion by Doug and Ronald and Bill and their better halves, Roberta, Cathy and Jessie.
And then in a short 72 hours it was over.
But it didnt feel like someone had let the air
out of the balloon. The end of the evenings festivities and the realization that we
were all headed out in our separate directions in the morning didnt leave any hollow
feelings at all. Too much had happened. Too many friendships and been made and cemented.
Too many new kinfolk had been connected.
Barbara and I left the next day part of a far
greater family than when we arrived. Knowing how lifes demands make it so difficult
to retrace the steps of lifes journeys, we wondered whether we would ever meet again
under such wonderful circumstances. But, at least for three short days the McWh*rters
returned from all over the world and ruled the roost in Ayrshire. And the memories will
last a lifetime! ***
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