By Mary Irvine
‘Don Roberto’ conjures up an exotic picture of a swashbuckling adventurer, but that was just a part of the name.
So, who was the man behind this romantic name?
He was Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, born in London in 1852, but a Scot through and through, with strong connections to West Dunbartonshire.
Our local area, as well as the rest of Scotland, should be proud of, and laud, him much more than is already done.
Adventurer, accomplished swordsman, prolific and gifted writer, a consummate orator, Liberal MP, co-founder (with Keir Hardie) of the Scottish Labour party, first President (jointly with the Duke of Montrose) of the SNP, he was also a life-long supporter of independence for Scotland.
Writing in many genres, much of his work was based on his own experiences, and highly regarded by the literati of the day, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, and Oscar Wilde.
The film ‘The Mission’ was based, in part, on his book ‘A Vanished Arcadia’ which is available free on the internet, as are many of his works.
He died in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 20, 1936.
The funeral procession, led by two of his favourite horses, wended its way through a vast crowd of mourners, to the ship that would return him to Scotland for burial beside his wife in the ruins of Inchmaholme Priory on the island of that name in the Lake of Monteith.
Anyone wishing to pay respects to this extraordinary man, and have a great day out, can visit his grave.
There is an atmosphere of calm amongst the ruins and the walk round the island allows a connection with unspoiled nature.
A fitting place of rest for one of Scotland’s greatest men.
The Monument, a cairn of stones erected to his memory was once in Dumbarton but removed due to vandalism.
It is now placed in the village of Gartmore, in a small field near to Gartmore House where the family once resided.
Some of the stones were from South American countries, much loved by Cunninghame Graham.
The last reminder that Cunninghame Graham’s family home where he spent some of his youth, was at Ardoch, once part of the county of Dunbartonshire, lies in Castlehill.
Head towards Cardross, turn right up Castlehill Road.
A little way, on the left, is a small stone with the inscription ‘Cunninghame Graham Memorial Park – the Mony’.
Behind that is a little knoll.
The ‘park’ of the stone is surely a misnomer and an insult to such a Scottish icon.
There have been several biographies of this remarkable man, often referred to as the uncrowned King of Scotland.
The latest is ‘Don Roberto – The Adventure of Being Cunninghame Graham’, authored by James Jauncey, Don Roberto’s great-great nephew.
Mr Jauncey recently gave a talk at Dumbarton Library, explaining his family connections and how he came to write the biography.
The talk was accompanied by a presentation conveying a flavour of Don Roberto’s life.
The talk was well received, and a lively Q & A session followed.
Having read the book I did, at times, feel the title could have been ‘In the Steps of RBCG’ as the author interspaces the ‘Don Roberto’ story with his own.
For me the flow of the story of Don Roberto was interrupted and I skipped the ‘interruptions’ so I could read Don Roberto’s story.
There are obvious connections between the author and the great man himself, but I would have liked the two journeys separated.
The book is very well researched and clarifies much of the myth that has grown up around Cunninghame Graham, including the true origins of his wife!
Using Don Roberto’s own writings to illustrate parts of his varied life worked well and should encourage people to delve into Cunninghame Graham’s own writing.
The book is available on Amazon but ask your local library if they have a copy.
If they haven’t then put in an official request – all libraries in Scotland should possess one!