Glen Albyn Stillman Calum Munro


Researching a lost distillery can be a fascinating and rewarding experience, particularly when identifying workers in images and discussing their history with surviving relatives. These moments are unexpected, as much has been lost to history, but it is remarkable what we can unearth even today.

In a previous post, an image from the 'Old Inverness In Pictures' publication from the late 1970s was discussed. Recently, while querying a Glen Mhor staff image from the 1930s, I had a delightful conversation with Marcelle Ross regarding her father, Calum Munro, stillman and the distillery worker in the above photograph.

Marcelle recalled her father's reaction when he found this snapshot, 'my dad was so chuffed when he found the book', and her own memories of visiting Glen Albyn, 'I loved being there with my dad, the copper stills were always gleaming.'

I do have some photographs of the still area to work on for the site, the stills are rarely seen. Also, quite tall from memory, and I think the room wasn't the most accessible with stairs and ladders. As we've seen with this prior news story about a worker injuring himself in the still area. It is great that he took you to his workplace.

'Yes, the stairs were difficult and the still room was tall these stills were massive, kids wouldn’t be allowed there nowadays, with health and safety, one of my friends and I used to play in the malt barns tossing the grain about, dust everywhere.'

That's a similar story to kids I've heard visiting Glen Mhor distillery, there seemed to be quite a relaxed policy around visits at both distilleries. For how long did your dad work at Glen Albyn?

'He worked there from the early 1950s till It closed in the 1980s. When the Wyvis Place prefabs were being demolished in 1968, mum and dad moved into a Distillery Cottage in Telford Street, as you will probably know Mackinlay and Birnie had some houses for the workers some were at the Glen Mhor side, two are still there, what memories this brings back, the burn below the Canal was where the waste from the distillery went, we all called it the smelly burn, it had some strange shapes growing in it, I believe it was from the yeast, the burn was full of 🐀 , my dad and his work mates hated cleaning it out when it was the close season.'

That's great, and it helps us date the image, so did he work up to the position of stillman over the years?

'Yes, he was always a Stillman, but they also helped shovel the mash when the liquid was drained from it, Robertson's lorries took it away, I think it was used for cattle feed, you can maybe find out about that, I know my uncle worked for Robertson's Haulage and he delivered cattle to farms as I was often with him, yes cleaning the burn during the close season was horrible, I think it was 6 weeks, and both Distilleries closed for maintenance.'

'I meant to say, the Glen Mhor houses at the Caley football field, were like flats the were painted green I’m sure the were like corrugated iron 🤷🏼‍♀️ they were there till the early 1960s, the two stone built were up near the canal bridge, beside what was a shop/post office, I’m not sure what it is now. My Dad was made redundant when the distillery closed, to think the town had three distilleries sad they are all gone, when the Americans had the distillery in WW1 they also used The Dalmore Distillery in Alness.'

It is very sad and you wouldn’t really know what was once there if you visited the Muirtown area today. At least we’re giving a virtual online presence now. Did your dad work at another distillery prior to joining Glen Albyn?

'No, my dad actually worked with his father in a farm over in Kiltarlity, when grandad died, granny and my dad had to leave the farm. They moved into a cottage in Clachnaharry, I must add, mum met my dad when she worked in MacLeods wee shop there, mum was widowed when I was 8, though I remember my birth father, but Calum was my dad I adored him, he was my best friend and still miss him and mum. She passed away in the Hospice in 1993, and he 4 years later, when he was diagnosed with cancer he gave up his and mums home and spent his last months with us in Invergordon.'

Was your dad of retirement age when the distillery closed, or did he have to look for work elsewhere?

'No, he wasn’t retirement age, early 60s and tried for jobs, but age was against him and others that worked with him. Nowadays work places can’t discriminate older people.'

I can sympathise, distilleries were a job for life almost. How was he when the distilleries closed? Did the team go out for the evening or keep in contact? I must have been very difficult for him.

'Now, I’m not sure if they did go out together, but I’m sure some of them went to the The Thistle Bar in Celt Street, (pictured above, source: a favourite watering hole for a few of them. I went there a few times with my dad when I was home with the bairns, mum would babysit. There was always some of his work mates present, the craic was always great and they remembered the wee lassie that was my dad’s shadow at the distillery ☺️ they are all gone now.'

You must have been at the distillery on a regular basis back then?

'I used to go at weekends, and most days in the school holidays, the last time I was there was 1967, I came home from Berlin to proudly show off my mum and dads 3 months old grandson, (my ex was in the Army), so I thought I’d surprise them and came home a day earlier than I told them. Not the best idea, as both were at work, I came off the 6am train and had to walk from the station lugging a suitcase and pushing a carrycot on wheels, so it was a walk to Glen Albyn to get the keys. Dad was so proud of the baby and Stephen had his Grandad's middle name.'

Did the teams at Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn mix socially, i.e. the Thistle Bar was very much an Albyn watering hole and off limits?

'That I don’t know, but I know with the both distilleries being Mackinlay & Birnie, they all knew each other and I’m sure in the close season they worked as one.'

Did you dad mention anything about changes when DCL bought both distilleries in 1972?

'He didn’t mind it at all, it was sad to see Mackinlay & Birnie go, but they all still had jobs, and perks, they all got bottles of whisky at the end of the year. The Christmas after the first Gulf War, all the drink was for Middle East export, the men got the drink labels were in Arabic, by this time dad was well retired (as my middle son was in the first Gulf War). These bottles they received were for their lifetime, the last case of 6 bottles he accepted were in December 1997, just the week he passed away.'

That's interesting, I'll have to keep an eye out for those bottles. Good the men had a Christmas bonus to look forward to each year and that they kept in touch. Do you remember William Birnie on site with his hat and dog?

'The bottles of drink were assorted whisky, we still have one, it’s a Haigs Dimple. Yes, I remember Mr Birnie and his dog, I was with my dad when he was talking to him at the distillery. Mr Birnie stayed out at Braerannoch just past the Islands on the Dores Road.'

My sincere thanks to Marcelle for taking the time to answer my questions and relive some important memories. Our discussion provided a wonderful insight into Glen Albyn during these years and the sense of community amongst the workforce during its existence and the difficult times beyond. 


  1. The Glen Mhor flats at the Caley end was infact a stone built building comprising of 1 large ground floor dwelling with a further 2 dwellings above. My father worked in Glen Mhor up until it closed, when he 1st started at the Glen Mhor we stayed at no 77 Telford street which was one of the upper dwellings, Kenny and Sadie Mackenzie were our upstairs neighbours with the Simsons living below. After a few years we moved from no 77 along the road to no 85 Telford Street which was a 3 bed distillery house (it's currently still standing and now a take away) with Ian Macdonald and his brother Jimmy living next door at no 87.


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