Sunday, 4 August 2013

Auchindrain Township Museum. Will it become a victim of the economic turndown or be seen as an opportunity for Scottish family history tourism?

Auchindrain Township Museum offers a living insight to Scottish Highland life.

Auchindrain Museum: A financial crisis may mean closure of this important Highland Scottish resource.

by Tom Thorne

I must admit a strong bias concerning the fiscal fate of Auchindrain Museum. I descend from Mary Munro the daughter of Martin Munro and Janet McVicar. In 1779 they lived in this township farm with several other families. In 1789 she married John Munro from Drimfern another similar township in the Glenaray. Their first child Duncan Munro (1790-1882) is my fourth great grandfather.

Perhaps you say, so what? 

Well if you are a Scot and your family originates in Argyllshire then you may very well value this important historical resource if you knew more about it. However, if you are simply of Scottish origins then this open air museum is an important place to preserve the way of life of Highlanders from the earliest times through to the 20th Century.

I finally visited Auchindrain in April 2013. It was a moving experience for me to tread between the houses and barns on this site and finally enter the house of Martin Munro where my ancestors lived in the 18th Century recorded as they were in a Census done by the Duke of Argyll in 1779.

No amount of family history research done on line or through books could replace the experience of walking from room to small room in the house of Martin Munro and Janet McVicar. 

Admittedly, not everyone will connect this deeply with this museum. Many will see it preserving the way of life of Highlanders in a very general way. They will appreciate, even without a strong family connection like mine, seeing a way of life that has disappeared as the multiple family townships that Auchindrain preserves and celebrates fell into ruin as more larger general farms expanded sheep, and beef farming and in that process replaced the old ways.

These days most people are engaged in the present state of Scottish life. The past is submerged as the old ways as Scotland figures out whether it wants its independence. Europe, Scotland and the rest of Great Britain are reeling from economic problems with no quick fix in sight. So when it comes time for the past, budgets are cut back or even eliminated.

Museums and other cultural institutions take a fiscal hit first. They are defenseless easy targets unless they are defended by public outcry and action. Auchindrain is one of many Scottish institutions where funding is now reduced or perhaps even drying up completely. Faced with stretching every Pound, even a Scottish nationalist party in power believes it must get out the red pencil for culture and heritage funding. Local governments are equally strapped for funds.

So what is to be done to save important institutions like Auchindrain? First the politicians have to see that without its culture in place and its Highland heritage properly supported any notions of a Scottish state with any ambition to be independent and unique from other parts of Britain, is a fleeting prospect. On the other hand many Scottish politicians of all stripes know this as they pass budgets that force government funding departments to make difficult decisions.

Auchindrain is a major part of the core of how Scotland developed. In the worst excesses of the Jacobite period culminating in the horrific Battle of Culloden in 1746 and its subsequent pillage of the countryside, the townships survived in some form preserving Scotland when all things Highland were forbidden. Tartans could not be worn, bagpipes could not be played. The clan system was dismantled and clan chiefs such as Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat were beheaded at the Tower of London in 1747. The Scottish culture was stressed by external forces that they had difficulty to control in some ways just like today. 

Without some kind of structure in place rural Scotland would have died out completely. And even this social structure was stressed further by later clearances of the people from the land creating Scotland’s biggest export, its people. The townships like Auchindrain enabled people to survive not only as farmers but in trades such as shoemakers, carpenters, stone masons and fishermen. 

My Argyll ancestors did all of these new jobs while living in townships like Auchindrain and further down Loch Fyne at Minard. People torn from the land tried new ways of making a living.  These multiple family townships were like small villages and the fabric that held the countryside together with strong family units often closely related through marriage.

Auchindrain managed to survive as an active farm until the 1960’s. As a result its buildings are in good shape and can be used to set up a model of how Highlanders lived in these places from the 17th Century to our recent times. Scots need to know their history in a living, breathing museum that presents Highland rural life.  Auchindrain provides that service to schools, citizens and many of the Scots diaspora that come to seek their roots as tourists.

Cutbacks and constant funding crises are short sighted. It’s time to breakout and bring more tourism dollars to Scotland.

Most of Europe is still reeling from the economic downturn. Jobs are scarce. Government revenues are down, years of profligate deficit financing are still being dealt with, and each Pound or Euro of revenue brought in by governments has to be assigned carefully to aid the recovery.

Cutbacks in funding for places like Auchindrain are not the way to aid the recovery. In fact, cutbacks of this kind are counter productive to the recovery gaining hold and continuing. What is needed is a rethink of cultural institutions and how they fit into education, and how they link to money earners like tourism and family history research.

One of the best ways to begin the promotion of the Highlands as an attractive visitor destination is to completely examine the business of family and cultural history and how it is presented on the internet. Auchindrain should have this connection to existing family history resources at Scotland’s People. 

Right now we have many good websites each promoting their own activity. However, few of these websites recognize the power of cross promotion offered by the World Wide Web.

If we examine Auchindrain’s website we see an organization set on providing information only. It needs to be motivational, educational and transactional.  A simple change could be that it sells its own tickets on line and for a fee electronic books and materials about the people who lived at Auchindrain. Properly cross promoted with its sister site  Auchindrain’s People, the combined site could become a major Scottish resource about the townships, how they were organized and how visitors connect to family history.

Now cross promote this improved resource to Scotland’s People and you have a major online resource that enables users to search find and connect to the Highlands. Each search purchased on Scotland’s People could provide promotions at the bottom of the page for places such as Auchindrain. The traffic on this important site needs to be used to promote the history of the Scottish people to its users. 

Another cross promotion should be to Scotlands DNA website and other resources of this kind that are connected to the Auchindrain experience. There needs to be a new multi-organizational website created designed to build vital cross promotional activities for Scottish genealogical, historical and cultural institutions. Not only does it promote the individual activities such as Auchindrain but it also shows how to build a tour of the Highlands by walking, bus, car rental, train or ferry.

In Argyll and Bute, the Archive at Lochgilphead needs to be more focused into family history tourism with a presence at Auchindrain through cross promotions online and physically on site. The visitor centre at Auchindrain should maintain its books and materials but expand with packaged materials from the Argyll and Bute Archives done simply with iBooks software. Both of these organizations live hand to mouth for funding they simply need to help each other. There also has to be a strong on line cross promotion to the Scottish National Library.

Inveraray Castle needs to cross promote Auchindrain with a major permanent exhibit of the 1779 Duke of Argyll Census cross linked to Auchindrain and the other townships. This exhibit would enhance the Castle and Auchindrain. My recent visit to the Castle found it a very old fashioned museum with static displays. It should be a focus to promote Argyll history and family history study. This book The Census of the Inhabitants of the Duke of Argyll's Lands in 1779, by Eric Cregeen, was published by the Scottish Records Society, 1963 and needs to be re-published on CD, online as an iBook and in print. It is a major resource to Argyll township life in the late 18th Century.

Governments need to provide funding either from taxes or from Lottery funds. The activities suggested in this brief article need a proper business plan done. BBC Scotland needs to plan for a major 12 part series covering Scotland’s People activity, sites like Auchindrain, DNA family history work and many more related topics. 

This series could be a co-production with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation  (CBC), TVOntario, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), New Zealand and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States.  

The Scottish diaspora made a huge impact on these countries and a television series would heighten awareness of Scottish family history resources and most importantly, build tourism of the best kind where the tourists link strongly to Scotland because they belong.

Here are some websites you can explore about Auchindrain Township and Scottish family history.

Auchindrain Township Museum Website:
Auchindrain’s People:
Scotland’s People:

© 2013 Tom Thorne, All rights waved. Please use this article to help the Auchindrain Township Museum.

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