My first blog of the New Year, Last year was epic and very busy for me, so I have not had the chance to write a blog in a while. At the end of last year I took ownership of a nifty and beautiful wee Fuji XT10, something of a reward for all my hardwork. I frustratingly didn’t have much time to play with it due to commitments, . I needed to blow the cobwebs off and really get familiar with my new toy. I had to find somewhere were there was no pressure or need for speed. It was October 2016 and we were experiencing what I can only describe as a majestic Autumn, one I had not experienced for many years. The colours and climate were magical to say the least. I grabbed my camera bag with my Fuji XT10 and decided today was the day we became better acquainted. Driving along Kirkshaws road I spotted one of Coatbridges finest sights, Old Monkland Cemetery Church and the fabulous Kirkstyle cottages.
I was catapulted back to my youth in an instant, even though I live literally 5 minutes from this really special place, and I have many family and friends buried here, I hadn’t explored it it the way I used to when I was a youngling. Today it looked extra magical with the autumn sun and falling leafs to compliment it’s beauty. A few months previously I had an amazing photo walk in another amazing cemetery in Falkirk and vowed to visit Old Monkland Cemetery once the opportunity presented itself. Today was that very opportunity. You can read my other cemetery blog HERE.
Graveyards have never spooked me
Graveyards have never spooked me, I find them wonderfully peaceful and tranquil, I really enjoy walking around them, especially if I have a lot on my mind, for some reason they are the perfect back drop for a right good think. Old Monkland cemetery played an important role in my life, this was were I literally grew up, this was were I hung about from a curious boy to a gallous teenager, it was mine and my friends patch, we used attract people from all corners of Lanarkshire and beyond to enjoy our company. Now I know reading this it might sound bizarre or wrong that we used this place as a playground or place to hang around, after all it’s a graveyard. But I can assure those who are shocked and horrified by this revelation that me and my wonderful friends treated this place with huge respect, we were NEVER vandals, we never EVER made a mess, nor did we disrespect any gravestone within the grounds, we mainly hung around the council bothy building or sat at the steps of the church. For a number of years one of our friends lived in the house at the gates, his father was the caretaker.
I suppose looking back we were the gatekeepers, the protectors of this wonderful place, we frowned upon any disrespect or any newbie who brought us unwelcome attention, in the form of unhappy residents outwith the gravey, or by attracting the Police. All of which was a complete waste of time as we knew every nook and cranny of this place, every escape route and every sanctuary. We felt safe here away from the street wars taking place just outside the gates, this was a daunting period of time to be a youth, with Kirkshaws and kirkwood young teams baying for blood of any foreign neighbour, it was so bad and so unsafe around these parts, that vigilantes would use their body’s as shields to keep the testosterone fulled youths apart (it even made the news), who had zero fear when it came to plunging a knife or bottle through you.
Vigilante park as it became known as, used to be between Lismore Drive and Kintyre Crescent in Old Monkland, before the park , it was an empty spooky space surrounded by flats, a no mans land where your heart beat could get you lynched if you bumped into the wrong young team. I was born in the old Kelloch area of Old Monkland (where all legends and cool people came from in Coatbridge 😉 ), all my friends were from Old Monkland, Kelloch or Kirkwood as I went to St James primary in Old Monkland. We moved to Kirkshaws when I was young, however my heart stayed in Kelloch, so trust me, the walk home through vigilante park was some of the most frightening terrifying violent experiences of my life. At one point the local authority and the vigilantes thought that building a play park and football park would stop the never ending cycle of violence, and I suppose in theory it should have worked, a wonderful big enclosed caged football park would maybe let the young teams take out their territorial-ism over a game of football instead of violence, however what actually happend was the worlds first competitive cage fight, ha-ha.
Even though I had Kirkshaws friends and my actual family were one of the first people to grace Kirkshaws I was seen as a Kirkwood one, however the Kirkwood ones saw me as a Kirkshaws one, so it was a constant battle of not being either, this is probably what drove me and my friends deep into the graveyard for good, we were safe and after a time people saw us as the graveyard ones, not Kirkshaws or Kirkwood, people accepted this was our territory. So I can say I grew up in a grave yard, I did everything in this place from stopping someone committing suicide to breaking my leg, I also saw everything as well, some terrifying spooky experiences also, or that was just the cheap cider 🙂 . Regardless we always looked after the place. We knew it was old, but it was well kept and looked like it would last for eternity.
I must admit to being shocked and stunned walking down the street that used to house the old Forsyths fruit and veg factory, drawing my eyes along the ancient walls that enclose this wonderful Graveyard, it certainly hasn’t aged well in the past 20 odd years, it looks like it has aged 50 years for every one of mine, the wall looked fragile, the bottom road leading to the bottom gate was a waste ground, full of leaves, broken trees and again the wall is clearly on it’s last legs, this wall is where I broke my leg, but no sense of joy or getting even for my leg break filled me, instead I looked in sadness at how vulnerable and neglected this wall had become. This short walk hurt me inside, a place of magical wonder and safety for me was crumbling and fading away like a much loved family member. When I finally arrived at the bottom entrance I was stopped sharp, a mixture of nostalgia and deep sorrow filled me, flash backs to my teenage years remembers this part of the graveyard well, the standing strong gravestones all collapsed and derelict, the old spooks to my right (the original Old Monkland church graveyeard) looked like a recently discovered archaeological sight, nothing looked the way it used to, nothing felt right, nothing felt familiar. Maybe me and my friends should never have left this place, because when we were here it looked amazing, not even the glorious sun could disguise how this place was daily becoming nothing more than a distant memory. I felt like I had let the place down.
I quickly ran over to the far wall in the spooks and wanted to touch it, but it looked like it would break into powder and be forever forgotten if I did. Grass had grown over the old built in ground gravestones, ones that had once sat strongly on stone pillars had cracked and broken inwards, it looked like a massive hurricane had swept through my beloved spooks, it was devastated. I had to go and inspect the church, when I arrived at least it felt familiar and this time I noticed something, the names on the graves that surround this church, Dundyvans, Whitelaw, Buchanan, Bairds….wow, I never noticed before, but the graves that surround this church are of the very people who built Coatbridge, I snapped out of my feeling of sorrow and began snapping away, soaking in every inch of history and magic my lens would allow. Ironically the Whitelaw grave, a man who did so much for metal, Iron and steel in Coatbridge, a grave that was once enclosed by a 7ft steel fence, had been grave robbed, all the steel from his fence had been stolen and now this once protected almost hidden grave was on display for the world to see. Nothing is safe, how can you pinch steel or Iron from someones graveside, some messed up people in the world.
The Thinking Stairs
I sat on the old stairs leading to the graveyard house and enjoyed the trip back to my youth, I must have sat here for an hour just looking and smirking, what a fabulous part of the world, and the magic of it all is that sitting here is totally timeless, as all you can see is this old church and the roof tops of the glorious Kirkstyle cottages, it was like sitting in a time machine. If you imagined, you could experience what it was like hundreds of years into the past, easily the best seat I have had in years.
Time was getting on, I had plenty of photos I wanted, I was determined to find a grave I had sought before with no joy, the grave of the amazing Janet Hamilton, Married at thirteen, mother of ten, self-taught in reading and writing (the latter in her 50s), by the time she died Janet Hamilton was the author of several books of poetry and essays. Never travelling farther than a few miles from her birthplace, her poems vividly bring to life the village of Langloan as it changed from being two rows of weavers’ cottages to a place dominated by iron works, absorbed into the industrialised sprawl of Coatbridge. She illustrates the hard lives of the workers with great sympathy but without sentimentality, not sparing those who had succumbed to the evils of drink and slatternly behaviour. For me her story, her words mean more than Rabbie Burns, if he wasn’t about, Mrs Hamilton would enjoy far bigger fame than she currently has. What a wonderful Poet, what a wonderful story.
I got star struck finding her grave, deep down in my favourite place at the bottom of the spooks, her grave needs immediate protection, this isn’t just some woman who wrote a wee poem or two, this is a A Literary Legend, a superstar. Someone of significant importance to not only Coatbridge, or Scotland, but the world.
My emotional visit and photo walk around Old Monkland Cemetery was now over, please enjoy my blog and photos, I am glad I captured this fading relic, as in another 20 odd years I dread to think what will have happend to it. I am also extremely grateful for the tireless North Lanarkshire workers who do an amazing job trying to keep this place spotless clean and maintained, it clearly is a thankless job, I am sure they love and cherish this place as much as us, the place is old and needs protecting, these guys do the best they can, without them it wouldn’t even be here anymore, so if any of them read this, my sadness is not a reflection on your hard work and expertise, like i say if it wasn’t for you then Old Monkland Cemetery would not be around, thanks for your work. Thanks for watching and reading.
Mark Mutch O’Hare