There are four slate islands; Easdale, Seil, Luing and Belnahau. Around 3,000 people lived on the islands when the quarries were working. All the islands [and their quarries] belonged to the huge Breadalbane estate, owned by the Campbells of Glen Orchy. The Campbells made a lot of money from the slate quarries but not much of it went to the quarry workers. The Campbells used some of the money to build the huge Taymouth Castle.
The Great Storm
One terrible night in 1881 a storm and a high tide sent water over the island. Livestock was washed away, gardens destroyed, 40 boats lost and the quarries filled with water. All the machinery and the workmen's tools had been in the pits and were now underwater. Quarrying stopped and the islanders were destitute.
|Two flooded quarries|
|Easdale island in the foreground. The village of Ellanabeich [on Seil] in the background.|
The workers cottages were built of slate. You can see one below. The ships that came to take away the slates brought soil in as ballast. This was spread on the island to create gardens where vegetables could be grown to supplement the islanders oats and fish diet.
Some mining continued after the great storm, particularly on the other islands. The photograph below shows some of the slate miners from that period.
By 1930 the demand for slate had shrunk, the Breadalbane estate was bankrupt, people moved away to better paid jobs and slate mining ended. For many years Easdale was almost deserted but now the population has increased to over 60 and new houses are being built. It was a lovely summer day when I visited and the island looked beautiful. From the top of the island's hill there were outstanding views of the Firth of Lorn, the other slate islands and Mull. I would imagine it can be pretty bleak in winter.
|The old and new houses of Easdale|
Easdale's main claim to fame now is that it is the home of the World Stone Skimming Championships. The contest is held in one of the quarries. The next world championship is on the 25th September 2011.
There used to be an island called Ellanabeich but the entire centre of the island was dug out [Ellanabeich slates were particularly fine] and the spoil from the workings used to connect the island of Ellanabeich to the island of Seil.
The village of Ellanabeich now stands on that landfill.