Lismore Public hall – our vital hub

Lismore Public hall – our vital hub

30 April 2022

Lismore Public Hall is the most important hub of the island and, before the Heritage Centre, the only place, along with the church, where islanders met as a community. Obviously COVID-19 locked it down, but before that it was the home of ceilidhs, country dancing, concerts, parties, sales of work, keep fit, Burns suppers, exhibitions of all sorts, charity teas, Lismore Voices, evening meals, films, a twice-weekly surgery, weddings, funeral wakes, summer cafes, and more.

Happily, all this has now resumed.

Bob Hay first published the Hall’s story in 2014 as an Object of the Month on the Comann Eachdraidh website. It was subsequently published in the book The Story of Lismore in Fifty Objects, now available at the Heritage Centre shop. Well worth a look/purchase.

This is the story as told by Bob and retold by me.

In the years following World War I, there was a drive to build village halls for community activities. Many of these were memorials to the men who had not returned. On Lismore, a Public Hall committee was formed, chaired by Alastair MacCormick of Daisybank, the owner of Lismore Stores. When Daisybank was sold in 2009, Alastair’s descendants gave many documents to the Comann Eachdraidh archive including 35 documents, mostly letters, from 1928, describing the struggles to build the first stage of the Hall. Sound familiar?

The transfer of the land from the Duke of Argyll was completed by March 1928, and a specification for the building was drawn up by R W Campbell, an Oban architect. Estimates were obtained and, by early May, the contract was awarded to John MacLachlan, Oban, and William MacLeod, Kinlochleven, for £501. This was the equivalent to over £30,000 today and it is likely that the island, like many communities, was supported by the Carnegie Trust – more research is needed on this.

Initially, things proceeded briskly, but the project soon met obstacles: delivering supplies (a familiar theme?), disagreements about the specification, and technical difficulties with the foundations and soft subsoil. 

The roofing subcontractors, having delivered slates promptly, were frustrated.

By late 1928, the committee, the architect and the contractor were consulting various solicitors to resolve the issues. Frustratingly, the series of letters stops at this point, but we know that work stopped.

However, the following report appeared in the Oban Times of 25 May 1929: “Lismore. Tradesmen have been engaged during the last few weeks in finishing the work on the new Public Hall. The building work came to a standstill some time ago.”

The Oban Times archive for this period has now been closed to researchers, so it has not yet been possible to find out when the Hall was finally opened but, Bob says, it was probably in early 1930. If anyone knows anything different please advise.

The Comann Eachdraidh archive does not have an image of the first phase of the Hall but, again, if anyone has such a treasure, please advise.

The Hall is now and always has been run by volunteers, generous, capable people who make sure it is well maintained, well operated, and financially viable. It is a demanding job. There is water to be checked, all sorts of regulations to be obeyed, endless massive maintenance jobs, funds to be raised, bookings to organise. None of this happens in five minutes and it all needs expertise. Fortunately, this is not something the island has ever lacked.

The current volunteers or, more accurately, board members are Jane Hough, Laura Savill, Sean McDonald, Michael Hanley, Katy Crossan, Kirsty Wright, Shona Wright and Rachel Crossan. I could write a great deal about the many who have run it before them, but time and space and your concentration does not allow for covering everyone. I will just mention the Dixon-Spains. And a special mention for Anna Stewart who served on the committee for decades, has always taken a keen interest in the hall and its activities and must have booked innumerable bands for the many dances which were the hall’s most popular fun raising event. The late Alison MacLean (Anna’s sister) was also a hall stalwart.

The 2014 Hall committee arranged for the roof to be insulated having acquired a grant from the Climate Challenge fund who were so helpful they also arranged for the windows to be double glazed, new firedoors, and added a screen for Lumiere, and the bike rack. Thanks to Bob and Dot Hay for the following images.

No event has ever happened in the hall without the promise of tea and cakes and they did not appear without a lot of organising, baking and serving by a lot of women, and it was considered a female role. “Do you bake?” was maybe the first question I was ever asked 32 years ago and I certainly didn’t understand the significance of the question then.

The most amazing catering was done by Beth Campbell and Tony McLarney who, before we had a cafe, served up to 60 people both Burns Suppers and other delicious dinners to raise money for the youth club. How they did it from the hall kitchen I will never know. These evenings were popular as thee minute they announced a hall dinner the tickets sold out.

During WW2 troops were stationed at Balimackillichan and Achnacroish but, before their barracks were ready, they were billeted in the hall and Archie MacColl recalls (despite being very young at the time) that a temporary chimney was created in the roof as they needed a generator for warmth.

Below are images and some info about past events. You may see yourself!

The school children very often performed their Mòd entries for the island and were always well received.

On 22 June 2005, The Right Reverend David Lacy became the first Moderator to visit Lismore for 25 years, and he and Joan Lacy received a rock-star welcome. The Hall was packed for lunch, to see the children dancing Scottish country dances with great enthusiasm, having been so well taught by Anne Livingstone, and to hear Katy Wright’s group playing the recorder and the children singing. As the island of St Moluag, one of the founders of Christianity in Scotland, it was hoped it would not be another 25 years.

Before Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre opened in 2007, a huge number of artefacts were displayed in the Hall. As the archive is considerable, this was a real opportunity to see things that may not always be on display.

Valentine teas and Hall produce days are always necessary to raise funds, but the opening of the Fire Station in October 2005 (story to come) was funded by Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, and a great celebration of the men and women who do this vital voluntary work.

The Red Reel Band from Sutherland have been coming to the island for many years, but on this occasion they played for the wedding party of Jenny Wormleighton’s Lismore celebration, They also played at Duncan Livingstone’s surprise 70th birthday party, and on the Saturday morning held a workshop for musicians and dancers of all ages.

The art and photography exhibition was a large part of the summer events for quite a few years and was always just that, an event. A chance for the artists and photographers to show and sell their work.

Pix in the Stix are a lively group from East Lothian who visited from 1-3 June 2012 and helped get Lismore Lumiere started, running a workshop on how to run your own cinema, as well as showing a variety of films and, with the help of the hall committee, put on a music, food and a dance evening.

Teaching large crowds to do complicated country dances in the Hall is something Anne Livingstone has always made appear easy. Don’t know the occasion for this one but Rachel will tell us the year.

The Hall has always been the home of the Lismore Community Website Group which was established in January 2001 as a subgroup of the Hall committee. The initial group’s aim was to provide free public internet access and to encourage, support and train islanders. There was no broadband, and we had dial-up speeds of 56k if we were lucky. Once a week, one of us went to the Hall and used the computer in the small meeting room and answered emails and put things on the new website. If you find some of my images small, I was never encouraged to make them large at that speed. At the time of writing, we are promised – but do not yet have – superfast broadband, but the infrastructure, or some of it, is there.

The Hall, the small meeting room and limited catering facility can be hired for most events, although some events may need a licence. For all Hall bookings please email or call (01631) 760135.

For more information about the current setup, click here.

I am looking for information about the hall extension and when plumbing arrived to replace the the chemical toilet in a leanto, as well as renovations done more recently.

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