[Ireland][Scotland][England][ Canadian Yeildings][America][India][Migration]


Recent view of Campbelltown, Co. Argyll, Scotland, home of at least 5 generations of  Greenlees prior to their moving to Larne, Co. Antrim, Ireland about 1801.


    "On behalf of the Glens of Antrim Historical Society I would like to congratulate the Kintyre Antiquarian and Natural History Society on the publication last April of the initial number of its Magazine. This is no mere formality. We in the Glens feel doubly beholden to your Society by bonds of close neighbourliness and by filial affection. The ties between our adjacent shores are multitudinous and manifest. And it was one of your members, the late Father Webb, who in 1966 set alight our Society by delivering such a stimulating inaugural lecture that we have never since looked back.

    "His theme on that occasion was the development of the Antrim-Kintyre connection, and it is in pursuit of this that the following article is proferred. It concerns the Campbeltown family of Greenlees, and has been derived from the auto-biographical memoir of John Greenlees of Magheramorne, Co. Antrim, and a handful of letters sent to him by his cousins in Campbeltown. This source material is the property of Mr. Nicholas Semple of Belfast, by whose kind permission we are here able to quote.

    "Apparently the Greenlees came from Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire, and the first member of the family to take up residence in Kintyre was a miller who settled at Southend about 1640. His grandson, or more probably his great grandson, had three children - Matthew, a merchant who, with his family lived over the shop in Campbeltown; a daughter who married a Ralston; and Robert (1761-1838) who, with his wife, Ellen, and their ten children migrated to Magheramorne in 1801.

    "Tradition in Co. Antrim claims that the first member of the family to come here from Scotland did so in the eighteenth century, and was a certain Andrew Greenlees, who worked as ploughman to Squire Agnew of Kilwaughter, and later purchased a farm in the townland of Ballyedward. There is no mention of him in Mr. Semple's papers. Of Robert's children, two died young, four emigrated to America, three daughters married locally, leaving John at home to assist his ageing father with the farm. In his youth he aspired to become a minister, but with the departure for Quebec in 1818 of his elder brother, William, he had to give up that hope.

    "John's memoir reflects upon many contemporary circumstances of the period. For example, in 1816 he was taken from school for the last time, it being customary for farmers to remove their children annually each harvest. In 1822 his brother Andrew, who at nineteen years of age had returned to Scotland, emigrated to the West Indies. There after on several occasions, "a remittance from the West Indies" saved the family at home from the unhappy consequences of a poor harvest. In 1824 John's sister, Ellen, married their neighbour, John Brown, thereby making it possible for John to bring a wife into the family home, and in the following year he married Miss Nance Semple. He was brought up within the pale of the Seceders' Church, and eventually became an elder. In 1831 John, in addition to being in more straitened financial circumstances than ever before had his position rendered the more difficult by a difference he had with a female member of the congregation who, in his capacity of elder, he had privately reproved for cursing. She held him up to public ridicule and "made it a town talk." A remittance from Andrew relieved his financial worries, but the other continued to smart for some time. In 1833 John's mother died, and he wrote "This winter that dreadful scourge of cholera made its appearance amongst us and many were carried away to an untimely grave. Our market town of Larne was almost forsaken of inhabitants and business was suspended." The following year his father died, leaving him the farm and all his stock, by which he inherited a total balance of 13."


In 1871 the brothers Greenlees, James and Samuel, set themselves up as whisky distillers, blenders and merchants. They had considerable success with their Old Parr brand. This deluxe Scotch whisky was named after Thomas Parr, who allegedly lived for 152 years, dying in 1635 and buried in Westminster Abbey. Initially Old Parr was very successful in London, but it later became more of an export brand.

Greenlees and the firm of Alexander and Macdonald were acquired at about the same time by Sir James Calder, a prominent Scottish businessman, and became Macdonald Greenlees Ltd when his company was acquired by the United Distillers Company in 1925.  The label still reads "Macdonald Greenlees Ltd."  For a more comprehensive history of the Whisky Baron Greenlees Brother's open this article from the Scotch Whisky Review, Edition 8, Autumn 1997.