Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Old Greenock Characters - Wee Erchie

Princes Pier, Scotland's Places

Another of John Donald's Old Greenock Characters. As ever, we make no presumption to edit the pieces, presenting them as they were originally intended by the author.

Wee Erchie the Cripple Whistler was to be seen every day about West Burn Square. He would be from ten to twelve years of age some forty-five years ago, and was a really fine performer upon the tin whistle, with an inexhaustible repertory of reel, strathspey, jig, march and song music. Not over three feet high, supported by two crutches, with large head and eyes, pale, intellectual features, square shoulders, small arms terminating in thin hands with long delicate fingers, and short legs, which, often crossed, seemed to dangle between the wooden props. Erchie’s aspect was interesting and apthetic. His skill as a performer brought him such showers of coppers from sympathetic and admiring auditors that he extended his sphere of operations to river steamers and special gatherings, such as cattle shows and sports meetings. A boy himself, it is no wonder that he was often accompanied by a swarm of youthful sycophants, who tumbled over each other in eagerness to do him service, sing his praises, and, incidentally, collar a big share of the good things Erchie bought with his cash, if not of the cash itself. “The child is the father of the man.” How true!

On returning to my native town after a long absence, I was informed that as he grew older Erchie developed an undue partiality for strong drink, which brought him to a tragic end. On an occasion when the late Duke of Argyll (then Marquis of Lorne) passed over from Princes Pier to his castle at Rosneath, wee Erchie stationed himself as near as possible to the gangway leading on board the steamer and played up “The Campbells are comin’” with great vim. He “tuned his pipe” and blew with such “birr” as to attract the notice of the Marquis, who conferred a handsome douceur on the musical oddity. Fatal generosity! Poor Erchie, got tipsy, fell over the quay, and was drowned that night.

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