Colonsay (Scottish Gaelic: Colbhasa) is an island in the Inner
Hebrides of Scotland, located north of
Islay and south of Mull. The
ancestral home of
Clan Macfie and the
Colonsay branch of Clan MacNeil,
it is in the council area of
Argyll and Bute
Argyll and Bute and has an area of 4,074
hectares (15.7 sq mi). Aligned on a south-west to north-east
axis, it measures 8 miles (13 km) in length and reaches 3 miles
(4.8 km) at its widest point.
1 Geography and geology
Mesolithic food industry
2.2 Early history
3 Present day
5 The arts
8 Notable residents
10 See also
13 External links
Geography and geology
Colonsay appears bare and somewhat forbidding on approach
from the sea, its landscape is varied, with several beautiful sandy
beaches, and a sheltered and fertile interior, unusually well-wooded
for a Hebridean island. It is linked by a tidal causeway (called The
Strand) to Oronsay. The highest point on the island is Carnan Eoin,
143 metres above sea level.
An Tràigh Bhàn, Kiloran Bay
Colonsay Group, which takes its name from the island, is an
estimated 5,000 m thick sequence of mildly metamorphosed
Neoproterozoic sedimentary rocks that also outcrop on the islands of
Islay and Oronsay and the surrounding seabed. The sequence has been
correlated with the Grampian Group, the oldest part of the Dalradian
Mesolithic food industry
In 1995 evidence of large-scale
Mesolithic nut shelling, some 9000
years ago, was found in a midden pit at Staosnaig on the island's
sheltered east coast, in a large, shallow pit full of the remains of
hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells. Hazelnuts have been
found on other
Mesolithic sites, but rarely in such quantities or
concentrated in one pit. The nuts were radiocarbon dated to
7720+/-110BP, which calibrates to circa 7000 BC. Similar sites in
Britain and its dependencies are known only at
Cass ny Hawin on the Isle of Man.
This discovery gives an insight into communal activity and forward
planning of the period. The nuts were harvested in a single year and
pollen analysis suggests that the hazel trees were all cut down at the
same time. The scale of the activity, unparalleled elsewhere in
Scotland, and the lack of large game on the island, suggests that
Colonsay's inhabitants were largely vegetarian. The pit was originally
on a beach close to the shore, and there were two smaller stone-lined
pits, whose function remains obscure, a hearth, and a second cluster
The Riasg Buidhe Cross
There are a variety of ruined hill forts on the island such as Dùn
Cholla and Dùn Meadhonach. The eighth century
Riasg Buidhe Cross
Riasg Buidhe Cross has
been re-erected in the gardens of
Colonsay House. St Cathan's Chapel
may date from the 14th century. The ruins of the Chapel of St. Mary
are little more than foundations and may date to an even earlier
period. in 1549 Dean Monro wrote that
Colonsay was "seven myle lange
from the northeist to the southwest, with twa myle bredthe, ane
fertile ile guid for quhit fishing. It hath ane paroch kirke. This ile
is bruikit be ane gentle capitane, callit M’Duffyhe, and pertened of
auld to Clandonald of Kyntyre.
During the 18th century the lairds of the island were Macneils, and
included Archibald Macneil.
Colonsay House was first built by the
Mcneil family in 1722. Since 1904 the house has been the property of
the island's later owners, the Barons Strathcona.
Colonsay is owned by
Donald Howard, 4th
Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal and
is currently occupied by his eldest son, Alexander Howard and his
In 2013 the
Argyll and Bute
Argyll and Bute Council threatened legal action against
Alexander Howard over the state of the Rubh' Aird Alanais beach
following the significant removal of gravel leading to large holes.
Howard infuriated island residents, by accusing them of removing
gravel from a beach without permission. Locals said that innocent
people had been labelled "thieves" and "peasants". It was later
discovered that the gravel had been removed by a builder working on
behalf of one of the crofters.
The island's population was 124 as recorded by the 2011 census an
increase of nearly 15% since 2001 when there were 108 usual
residents. During the same period Scottish island populations as a
whole grew by 4% to 103,702. Colonsay's main settlement is
Scalasaig (Gaelic: Sgalasaig) on the east coast.
Recently there has been a growth of tourism as the mainstay of the
island's economy, with numerous holiday cottages, many of them owned
and managed by the Isle of
Colonsay Estate. The
Colonsay Hotel, the
only hotel on the island, is also estate owned.
Colonsay Hotel, the island's only pub and hotel.
The island has a tiny bookshop specialising in books of local
interest; it is also the home of the House of Lochar publishing
company specialising in Scottish history. There is a hotel
overlooking the harbour, a cafe and bakery, and a shop and post
office. Colonsay's best known beach, Kiloran Bay, is a vast stretch of
golden sands and draws locals and tourists alike while maintaining an
isolated and peaceful atmosphere.
Colonsay Community Development Company, the local development trust is
“engaged in a range of work which reflects a sustainable approach to
the regeneration of our island”. Current projects include running
the islands coal supply and only petrol pump, a major Rhododendron
ponticum eradication programme and a feasibility study into the
possibility of improving the harbour and surrounding area.
Scalasaig from the
Port Askaig ferry
2007 saw the opening of the
Colonsay Brewery, a micro-brewery that
employs two people and offers three different products. Colonsay
is the smallest island in the world with its own brewery.
Colonsay Brewery launched a gin, called Wild Island Botanic
Gin, distilled with hand gathered wild botanicals from the island. It
is distilled at Langley Distillery in a cooperation with master
distiller Robb Dorsett.
Then in February 2017 a company called Wild Thyme Spirits Ltd brought
out a product called
Colonsay Gin which is believed to be distilled at
Strathearn Distillery in Perthshire and sold, unusually, in 50 cl
The nature of island life was exemplified by a story reported in 1993
that, at that time, the last recorded crime was treachery against the
King in 1623. In November 2006 a construction worker from Glasgow
was arrested and confessed to theft by housebreaking having entered an
unlocked house and stolen £60 in cash. Media interest was stirred
when it was reported that this was the first recorded crime since 2004
and the "first ever theft from a house". The next reported crime
was in 2013 involving vandalism to a car.
Colonsay may be the smallest island ever to host a rugby festival, all
the more remarkable as there is no permanent rugby pitch.
Caledonian MacBrayne ferries sail to
Oban and, between April and
Port Askaig on Islay.
In 2006 the former grass airstrip was upgraded and provided with a
hard surface in readiness for the introduction of a scheduled air
Hebridean Air Services
Hebridean Air Services operates from
Oban Airport and Islay
The 1945 film
I Know Where I'm Going!
I Know Where I'm Going! directed by Michael Powell and
Emeric Pressburger was principally shot on
Mull and references the
fictional "Isle of Kiloran", which was based on Colonsay. The
American author John McPhee, descended from a
Colonsay emigrant, spent
a summer on Colonsay, out of which was published The Crofter and the
Laird in 1969.
Colonsay hosted the first ever Ceòl Cholasa, the island's
own folk festival. This has now become an annual event and has seen
performances by numerous well-known artists including Phil Cunningham
& Aly Bain, Karen Matheson, and
Karine Polwart as well as
performances from local island musicians.
Since 2011 the island has held a three-week "Festival of Spring"
annually in May. Its aim is to encourage tourism onto the island, with
events and activities led by both local inhabitants and visiting guest
A similar event occurs every autumn, called "Connect with Colonsay",
which runs over a three-week period in October.
In 2012 the island staged its first book festival which featured,
amongst others, Alexander McCall Smith, James Robertson, and Scots
Makar Liz Lochhead. The line up for 2013 was headed by crime writer
The island is home to a herd of wild goats, and is known for its bird
life including black-legged kittiwakes, cormorants, guillemots,
corncrakes and golden eagles.
Colonsay and Oronsay are home to about 50 colonies of the only native
species of honeybee in Britain–Apis mellifera mellifera. The
Scottish Government introduced the Bee Keeping (
Colonsay and Oronsay)
Order 2013 to protect the species from cross-breeding and disease.
This bee has suffered serious declines on the mainland and from 1
January 2014 it has been an offence to keep any other species of
honeybee on either island.
Paul Wheelhouse MSP said: "The order is a
targeted measure to protect an important population of black bees on
Colonsay from hybridisation with non-native bees. We are working in
close collaboration with the Scottish Beekeepers Association and Bee
Farmers Association to deliver the ten-year Honeybee Health Strategy,
which aims to achieve a sustainable and healthy population of
honeybees for pollination and honey production in Scotland."
Colonsay's name derives from
Old Norse and means "Kolbein's
island" (although Haswell-Smith offers "Columba's island").
In the 14th century the name was recorded as Coluynsay and by Dean
Monro in the 16th century as Colvansay. The modern Gaelic is
Scalasaig also has a Norse derivation and means "Skali's
Donald MacKinnon was born in Kilchattan on Colonsay, in 1839. In 1882,
he became the first person appointed to the Chair of Celtic Studies at
Edinburgh University. Professor MacKinnon was born on
Colonsay in 1839
and held the Celtic Chair from 1882 until his death at Balnahard,
Colonsay, in 1914.
John McNeill, recipient of the Victoria Cross.
Danny Alexander the ex-Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey grew up on Colonsay.
Colonsay and Oronsay to the right, the Paps of Jura in the
Between Cable Bay and Sir John's Pool on the south east coast with
Islay in the distance.
Macfie Standing Stone
List of lighthouses in Scotland
List of Northern
Lighthouse Board lighthouses
^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over
20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in
the 2011 census.
^ a b c d National Records of
Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf)
Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and
Household Estimates for
Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2:
Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands".
Retrieved 17 August 2013.
^ a b c Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 52-53
Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. Retrieved 24 May 2016
^ a b "
Mesolithic food industry on Colonsay" (June 1995) British
Archaeology. No. 5. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
^ a b Moffat, Alistair (2005) Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland
Before History. London. Thames & Hudson. p. 91–2.
^ Monro (1549) "Colnansay" no. 84
^ "The Estate". Archived 6 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
colonsayestate.co.uk. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
^ Watson, Rachel (4 October 2013) "Anger as laird blames crofters in
gravel dispute". Glasgow. The Herald. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
^ General Register Office for
Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's
Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited
Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
^ "Scotland's 2011 census: Island living on the rise". BBC News.
Retrieved 18 August 2013.
Colonsay Hotel" Archived 31 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
colonsayestate.co.uk. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
^ House of Lochar Publisher. "Mission Statement". Retrieved 2 August
Colonsay Hotel". Retrieved 2 August 2007.
Colonsay Brewery". Retrieved 24 April 2007.
^ "Hebridean beer pioneers win battle of the tiny islands". Retrieved
24 February 2013.
^ "Hebridean policeman's lot is a happy one". Herald Scotland. 21 June
^ Paterson. S. (10 November 2006). "Colonsay's first house thief is
fined £400". The Herald newspaper. Glasgow. Retrieved 29 November
^ "First crime recorded on
Colonsay for seven years". The Scotsman. 28
^ "Home" and "History".
Colonsay Rugby Festival. Retrieved 9 December
^ "Mull: I Know Where I'm Going" powell-pressburger.org. Retrieved 29
December 2009. Extract from Bruce, David (1996)
Scotland the Movie.
^ The Crofter and the Laird amazon.com Retrieved 7 February 2011.
^ "Ceol Chòlasa" Archived 1 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
ceolcholasa.co.uk. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
^ "SpringFest Annually". http://www.colonsayspringfest.co.uk/
Retrieved 7 February 2017.
Colonsay Book Festival. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
Colonsay and Oronsay to become honeybee havens". Edinburgh.
Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
^ Mac Taillier (2003) p. 31
^ a b Watson (1926) p. 84
^ Mac Taillier (2003) p. 103
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 July 2013.
Retrieved 5 May 2013.
^ "Grave Location For Holders of the
Victoria Cross in Strathclyde".
Prestel. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
^ Dinwoodie, Robin (31 May 2010) "The boy from
Colonsay takes on
critical job at Treasury". Glasgow; The Herald.
Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh:
Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Ainmean-àite/Placenames. (pdf)
Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
Monro, Sir Donald (1549) Description of the Western Isles of Scotland.
William Auld. Edinburgh - 1774 edition.
Watson, W. J. (1994). The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland. Edinburgh;
Birlinn. ISBN 1841583235. First published 1926.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Colonsay.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Colonsay.
Island at the Edge
Colonsay produce website
Colonsay Brewery Website
Island web site
Colonsay "Festival of Spring"
Colonsay House and gardens
The Corncrake, Colonsay's newsletter
Colonsay Estate Website and Holiday Cottages
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Coordinates: 56°4′N 6°13′W / 56.067°N 6.217°W /