The Drovers Inn
In 1799 Alexander Maclean, laird of Quinish began the building of a new village to improve the prosperity of his Mull estate for the new century. This village was to be Dervaig. Prior to this a small settlement existed called Kilmore or Kilcolumkill with a church situated in the old burial ground just above the present village. The Bellachroy Inn, built in 1608 thus pre-dates the village of Dervaig by nearly 200 years. In 1603 James the Sixth of Scotland ascended the throne of England as James the First unifying the two countries. This resulted in reduced lawlessness (significantly the theft of cattle) and by 1607 free trade had been agreed between the two countries. The Bellachroy was built at this time of increased optimism and trading possibilities.
The trade in cattle between Scotland and England can be traced back to the 14th century and by the 16th century was well established and the principal economic activity in much of Western Scotland and the islands. The Scottish Kyloe or Black cattle, a stocky and hardy breed were prized for their stamina and quality of meat. Cattle from the islands of Coll and Tiree with their fertile soils and temperate climate (thanks to the Gulf Stream) were particularly valued and sold at a premium price (as they still are). These cattle were shipped to piers at Quinish, Croig and elsewhere on Mull. Many were sold at the Mull fair or driven to other fairs such as at Falkirk in the Scottish Lowlands, and then onwards, often to England. The men who drove the cattle were called “Drovers”
The Mull Fair took place on three separate weeks during the year on a wide expanse of open moorland in Glen Bellart between Dervaig and Salen. This was one of the largest fairs in the West Highlands and had existed since Medieval times. Lairds, tenants, merchants, cattle dealers, fishermen, pedlars, pipers, jugglers and ballad singers travelled from the Scottish mainland, the Western Isles and Ireland to meet old friends, exchange news, for entertainment but most of all to trade. Great herds of cattle were gathered at the fair. The Bellachroy and other drover’s inns provided accommodation and food for these men and pasture for their cattle. Cattle continued to be transported in this way until the end of the 19th century, long after steamships and railways offered a quicker alternative.