45 years of passion for Argyll arts and crafts

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It has been a focal point for Argyll artists and craftspeople for more than four decades, and now there is a changing of the guard at the Tarbert institution.

Anyone visiting the village will no doubt have noticed the small, unassuming building right on the Tarbert harbour front, occupied by Earra Gael.

Its name is closer to the true Gaelic spelling of ‘the coast of the Gael’ than the modern anglicised ‘Argyll’ and very much reflects the organisation’s purpose – to promote a closer association between craftspeople and artists in southern Argyll, and to provide a retail outlet for them.

Since the very beginning, one of the driving forces behind Earra Gael has been Sarah Coats.

It was at the end of last year that her family suggested that she might think about slowing down – just a little.

She took a little persuasion but, at the age of 81, she reluctantly agreed, but Mrs Coats has a fascinating tale to tell.

The Earra Gael Association began at a meeting of arts and crafts enthusiasts in the Tarbert Hotel in January 1973.

In her records from the time, Mrs Coats records: ‘It was the drive and enthusiasm of Tony Newberry of Skipness Woodcraft that actually got it going.

‘It was decided to advertise an open meeting on February 17, and it was there that the association was formally launched under the chairmanship of Tony Newberry.

‘A list of names was suggested and the majority voted for Earra Gael.’

Around 30 members were involved from the beginning, and retail premises were found at the Tarbert weighbridge building, leased from Tarbert Harbour Authority.

Mrs Coats records: ‘The shop opened in 1973 with overall sales of £4,457. Wages were 45p/hour and the telephone bill was £32.’

Mrs Coats reflected on those early days: ‘I  could type, so I was asked to be the association secretary,’ she recalled modestly.

The truth is, though, that her passion held Earra Gael together for decades with the help of many different volunteers in the shop.

She continued: ‘Earra Gael is really a community. We have always had a good team. It was a lot of hard work, but very enjoyable.’

One of the tasks shop staff were required to perform was to operate the weighbridge – and this continued until 1987.

There was more to running the association that selling pottery and weighing lorries, as Mrs Coats’ daughter Amanda remembers. ‘There was very little storage in the shop, so mum stored the stock at home.

‘Mum travelled all over to visit suppliers and she would set off on the bus in the morning and we never knew what she would come back with.’

After running the shop for 20 years, Mrs Coats is taking a well-earned rest as Tarbert artist Wilma MacKenzie takes over the reins.

Mrs Coats said: ‘It’s nice to feel it is going to continue, slightly differently perhaps, but it’s going to continue.’


Sarah Coats pictured outside the shop in the 1970s. no_a31EarraGael02

Mrs Coats with her friend, Tarbert artist Ann Thomas who was one of the original members of the association in 1973. 08_a30GiftShopSarah02

Members and volunteers at Earra Gael today. From left: Ann Thomas, Heather Brownlie, Flora Shaw, Sarah Coats, Isobel Gray and Wilma MacKenzie. 08_a30GiftShopSarah11