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Gatherings & Reunions

Updated 7-Aug-2004


In June 2003 the first GATHERING of the many parts of the McWh*rter Clan took place in Ayr, Scotland. Below are stories and photos from the Gathering.

The Gathering 2003
The Prologue & Day One

The Gathering 2003
Day Two


The Gathering 2003
Day Three

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The Banner Outside the Savoy Park Hotel in Ayr
Headquarters for the Gathering

The McWh*rter Gathering - June 2003
The Prologue and Day One
(reprinted from the McWh*rter Genealogy Newsletter)
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 Doug’s 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 couldn’t 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 IT DID!!

    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 Prologue

  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 Defender’s 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 Toronto, Canada.

 On 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.

 We 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” wasn’t working) and stow it all on the train for Ayr.  For us, the real adventure was about to begin.

  Barbara and I were thinking we’d 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 Cathy’s lovely house in nearby Alloway, checking out the facilities at the church hall in Alloway for Saturday’s genealogy Powerpoint presentation, transporting the registration packages from Ronald’s 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 page 3.]

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[L to R] Ronald McWhirter of Alloway, Scotland (Joint-Coordinator); Bill Ramsay of Wishaw, Scotland
(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… 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!

 

Day One – 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.

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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]

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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, Scotland
[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 persons”.

  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 Irene’s face was priceless and matched only by the look on Ronald’s 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 everyone’s 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 wasn’t 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 the Crosshill 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 “grief”.

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Luncheon at Crosshill.
[L to R] Bryan McWhirter of Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia;
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, Issue 4 (Fall 2000)  of the Newsletter]. According to Mr. James Hunter-Blair, the 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.

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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.

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A "troubadour" along one side of the courtyard.

  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 O’Doon 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 O’Doon of Robert Burns fame [See photo on page 8] and its more modern counterpart [See photo on page 10].

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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.

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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 didn’t apply this evening. It wasn’t 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!

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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 all.

  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 Clan—a 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 names—so 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 being hatched.

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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 Ronald’s and Douglas’ efforts, the rest of us were treated to a wonderfully smooth and successful three days. ***


The McWh*rter Gathering - June 2003
Day Two
(reprinted from the McWh*rter Genealogy Newsletter)
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 couldn’t 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 shrink!

  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 Doug’s 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 wasn’t sure the attendees could listen that fast. Thanks to Ronald’s help, arrangements were made to have 90 minutes allotted and his church hall graciously available to accommodate us all.

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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 Ronald’s 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 presentation.]

  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 Alloway & Southern Ayrshire Family History Society 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 O’Doon Inn the night before had them on display for purchase or order. Meanwhile Ronald’s wife, Cathy, and Doug’s 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]

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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.

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The Provost of South Ayrshire, and our host for luncheon
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 evening’s activities.

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Dinner at the Tam-O-Shanter alongside the Auld Brig O'Doon

  Dinner on Day 2 was at the Tam-O-Shanter Restaurant attached to the Robert Burns Gift Shop back at the Auld Brig O’Doon. 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]

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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.

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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 didn’t want to let go of the moment. But, it had been a long two days and another busy day was yet to follow.

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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 Bill’s grandfather, David McWhirter, who earned the King George’s 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!   ***

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A Canadian Branch of the Clan—from 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, Roberta 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 Leo. Directly 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 Gilkes. Behind 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 Ollerhead. Behind Jocelyn is Ivan Gilkes and finally in the very back right is Ray Hooker.”
                       photo and identifications courtesy of Douglas McWhirter of Toronto, Canada.


The McWh*rter Gathering - June 2003
Day Three
(reprinted from the McWh*rter Genealogy Newsletter)
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.

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Our Piper at the Kirkyard at Colmonell

  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)].

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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 didn’t “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.

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[L to R] Barbara McWhirter of Cheshire, Connecticut, USA; Norris McWhirter of Wiltshire, England; Mina Oundjian; and Ronald McWhirter of Alloway, Scotland—The kirkyard at Colmonell before services.

  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.

Although the 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.

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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].

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Douglas McWhirter of Toronto, Canada holds the plaque presented to the congregation in appreciation for the hospitality offered the Gathering. Doug’s 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, Canada.

  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 1997)]

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Yvonne 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 McUhir” 2-Aug-1675.

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Alan 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 1682.

  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 can’t thank them enough for undertaking such an enormous task.

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Before lunch at the village hall there was a chance to review the records of the parish kirk.

[L 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.

In 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”].

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In the kirkyard at Ballantrae, descendants of of William McWhirter & AnnCaldwell
pay a first time visit to the grave of their ancestors.

[L 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, Canada
and Lorna Colburn of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

  From Ballantrae 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!

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“By the afternoon of Day Three the ‘instigators’and organizers of the Gathering were in a much more relaxed state of mind.”

[L 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.

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Dinner on Day 3 at the Savoy Park Hotel in Ayr.

  During the final night’s 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 Gathering’s 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 page 10]

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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 didn’t feel like someone had let the air out of the balloon. The end of the evening’s festivities and the realization that we were all headed out in our separate directions in the morning didn’t 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 life’s demands make it so difficult to retrace the steps of life’s 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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