Sunday, 31 July 2011


Fisherrow Fish Market, Shona McMillan ©

Considering the many photos I've shared in exhibitions and online, (within the last 24 hours) I had joked to friends on Facebook that Karma must be due me a BIG payout. Well, if there is such a thing as Karma - it just came my way "BIG TIME" in the shape of a very special photo I have been fortunate enough to have taken today. A photo connected to the above postcard showing a scene at Fisherrow around 1890... This old postcard, when I bought in 2005, it marked the start of a journey for me which would also touch many others to create RIPPLES  FROM EAST LOTHIAN out AROUND THE WORLD. But first, let me cover the events which brought me full circle back again to Fisherrow, East Lothian and the harbour there today.

I have not written for a while as, since I last wrote, life seems to have been just one big event after another. Working fulltime in project management, of late my personal time for my freelance photo-journalism has been somewhat curtailed. Nevertheless, working in a voluntary, unpaid capacity in my own time, I have managed to maintain my photo and film interests, (if not my writing) and in the last weeks, I have posted a great body of my photographic work (across all my projects) to my Facebook Page: SHONA MCMILLAN CELTIC REFLECTIONS

Recently, my Page reflects my travels in Scotland, Out and About in JUNE and JULY.  My much awaited return trip to IRELAND seeing the WATERBOYS at Waterford's Tall Ships Festival. Playing music in Spiddal and Galway and finally in Ireland, catching up with the exceptional fiddler MARTIN HAYES and the TULLA CEILIDH BAND in during Miltown Malbay's Willie Clancy Week.

Then, after Ireland I had a trip up north to the Tall Ships Festival in Ulapool and there, enoyed the music of Irish band the Sawdoctors. So yes, recently I've had a very strong Celtic influence in my postings and today, I had expected to be back enroute to Ireland, to Co Clare for a week's holiday taking in the Feakle Festival. Yet, IF travelling today, I would have missed the last day of the Musselburgh Festival. However, attending so many COMMUNITY EVENTS in Musselburgh this week, I had thought I'd make the trade off - missing the last day to be in Ireland for a week's music festival but - life is not always as we plan and today, instead, saw me back in Fisherrow on a more important personal journey...

My mum's folks were from Fisherrow, PEOPLE OF THE SEA from the fishing family the Thorburns. My granda' Billy and my great-grandfather Auld Arch' were fisherman and then Fisherrow Harbour Masters, my great-granny Jeannie Ritchie was a fishwife who carried the creel (selling fish from the harbour), my granny Crissie sung in Fisherrow Fishwives Choir, a fine singer like my mum Jean who encouraged me in my own music (as a singer and fiddle player). Indeed, it was the strength of the Fisherrow family connections that set me off on my PEOPLE AND SONGS OF THE SEA journey. And, within that project, the first postcard I ever bought was the old postcard I opened this blog with - the picture showing the women all dressed in their fishwives costumes at the open air fishmarket at Fisherrow harbour (where the crowds gathered today at the end of the Musselburgh Festival Week).

My project to 'celebrate the fishing community' - it gathered momentum in 2006 as my mum fell ill with cancer and after, (for me) it became a sort of legacy project for mum AND the fishing community. Continuing to work on this, I first built up my collection of other people's photographs. But finally, I began to take photos of fisher folk myself and more and more the body of my own work grew. Over time, I also learnt pieces of information which I would try to pull together (as best as I could) to build up a sort of jigsaw picture which I could share with others. One of the things most important to me was the discovery of the names of those people in the old photograph postcard. And through these names - many very happy family connections were rebuilt around the world through Facebook (through sharing my work online, the children descended from the original women in the old photograph, now re-connecting to lost family and friends through the internet, 100+ years on).

In the old postcard, the names of those photographed being L - R:

1 (Christine) Teenie Hamilton Craig
2 Robert Brown
3 Kirsty Pate Hamilton
4 Margaret Thorburn
5 Auld Hooker
6 (Isabella) Bella Ritchie
7 Margaret Williamson
8 (Isabella) Bella Walker
9 Marion Thorburn
10 (Margaret) Maggie Boyle
11 (Margaret) Maggie Elgin
12 (Isabella) Bella Gray
13 Annie Halley
14 (Elizabeth) Betty Watson
15 Nan Christie
16 Jean Walker
17 Kirstie Cunningham
18 Marion Langlands
19 Ailie Gibson
20 (Elizabeth) Lizzie Gibson
21 Ailie Gibson Brown
22 Helen Ritchie

.... and JUST OUT OF THE (CROPPED) POSTCARD SHOT, but on the original photograph, my great granny Jeannie Ritchie who had married my great grandfather Archie Thorburn.

Yes, a photograph of GREAT SIGNIFICANCE to me (and many others). Something I have admired over the years, a photo communicating social history and what a privillege for that photographer to have taken this picture. All the time, me in my own photo efforts, myself constantly pushing and pushing myself to try and improve my own skills so I could respectfully capture the photos of the fisher people as I wanted to - capturing them just as they are/were... And then at today's event - suddenly I saw an opportunity in 2011 for me to bring together in the same place the woman there today in all their beautiful costumes (passed down through Fisherrow's fisher families from generation to generation). History breathing new life today.

There was NOTHING organised about any photo being taken and the women in costume were scattered around the area but as the idea took hold I ran through the crowd to ask people to gather together for a photo. For twenty minutes I coaxed people towards a photo, firstly taking the hands of friends and asking them to follow me through the crowds to the harbour wall (and there I had to make space for a photo to be taken!). The women began to move and then others joined, and then more, and then more - the fishwives coming together through the crowds to make this beautiful photo. Finally together (shouting to everyone to try and look at me at the one time) with only seconds to grab the moment "I DID MY BEST!" Then, back home, I sat this evening and very quietly looked back through the lovely photos of the smiling faces (a moment for posterity).

My photo in 2011, something similar to the postcard I first saw SIX YEARS AGO, the photo which had helped to inspire me in my journey but a photo which I thought I would never ever be able to recreate (as the fishing community numbers grow small and smaller each year...). But here it is in 2011, a wonderful photo at Fisherrow harbour more than a hundred years on. However, my journey is not at an end yet... Now I have the photo taken, my research (detective work) begins to obtain the full name of EVERY single woman captured in the photo today. (My contact details across my photo to try and prompt people to get in touch with others, to get people talking and to get the information back to me so I can give an exact name to EVERY SINGLE one of the women I photographed today).

- this photos means everything to me and
I hope it is special for all of you!

And for 'you' reading my blog, I leave a clip of me singing "Fisherrow"
on a track from my PEOPLE & SONGS OF THE SEA ALBUM
 together with my video of my Thorburn family's Fisherrow photos


Collecting for the RNLI at Fisherrow Harbour (1930s)

Photograph shows: Second from the right, my mum Jean,
sister Wilma far right & sister Chris with the flag. And other friends


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