Islay (/ˈaɪlə/ ( listen) EYE-lə; Scottish Gaelic: Ìle,
pronounced [ˈiːlə]) is the southernmost island of the Inner
Hebrides of Scotland. Known as "The Queen of the Hebrides", it lies
Argyll just south west of Jura and around 40 kilometres
(25 mi) north of the Irish coast. The island's capital is Bowmore
where the distinctive round
Kilarrow Parish Church
Kilarrow Parish Church and a distillery
Port Ellen is the main port.
Islay is the fifth-largest Scottish island and the seventh-largest
island surrounding Great Britain, with a total area of almost 620
square kilometres (239 sq mi).[Note 1] There is ample
evidence of the prehistoric settlement of
Islay and the first written
reference may have come in the 1st century AD. The island had become
part of the Gaelic Kingdom of
Dál Riata during the Early Middle Ages
before being absorbed into the Norse Kingdom of the Isles. The later
medieval period marked a "cultural high point" with the transfer of
Hebrides to the Kingdom of
Scotland and the emergence of the Clan
Donald Lordship of the Isles, originally centred at Finlaggan.
During the 17th century the
Clan Donald star waned, but improvements
to agriculture and transport led to a rising population, which peaked
in the mid-19th century. This was followed by substantial forced
displacements and declining resident numbers.
Today, it has over 3,000 inhabitants and the main commercial
activities are agriculture, malt whisky distillation and tourism. The
island has a long history of religious observance and Scottish Gaelic
is spoken by about a quarter of the population. Its landscapes
have been celebrated through various art forms and there is a growing
interest in renewable energy.
Islay is home to many bird species such
as the wintering populations of Greenland white-fronted and barnacle
goose, and is a popular destination throughout the year for
birdwatchers. The climate is mild and ameliorated by the Gulf Stream.
2.1 Geology and geomorphology
4.1 Dál Riata
4.2 Norse influence and the Kingdom of the Isles
4.3 Scottish rule
4.3.1 Lords of the Isles
4.3.2 16th and 17th centuries
4.4 British era
4.4.1 18th and 19th centuries
4.4.2 World wars
5.1 Agriculture and fishing
5.4 Renewable energy
5.6 Other activities
6 Gaelic language
8 Media and the arts
10 Notable natives
11 See also
12.3 General references
13 External links
Islay was probably recorded by
Ptolemy as Epidion, the use of the
"p" suggesting a Brittonic or Pictish tribal name. In the seventh
Adomnán referred to the island as Ilea and the name
occurs in early Irish records as Ile and as Íl in Old Norse. The root
is not Gaelic and of unknown origin.[Note 2] In seventeenth century
maps the spelling appears as "Yla" or "Ila", a form still used in the
name of the whisky Caol Ila. In poetic language
Islay is known
as Banrìgh Innse Gall, or Banrìgh nan Eilean usually
translated as "Queen of the Hebrides"[Note 3] and Eilean uaine Ìle
– the "green isle of Islay" A native of
Islay is called an
Ìleach, pronounced [ˈiːləx].
Port Charlotte, founded in 1828
The obliteration of pre-Norse names is almost total and place names on
the island are a mixture of Norse and later Gaelic and English
Port Askaig is from the Norse ask-vík, meaning
"ash tree bay" and the common suffix -bus is from the Norse
bólstaðr, meaning "farm". Gaelic names, or their anglicised
versions such as Ardnave Point, from Àird an Naoimh, "height of the
saint" are very common. Several of the villages were developed in
the 18th and 19th centuries and English is a stronger influence in
their names as a result. Port Charlotte for example, was named after
Lady Charlotte Campbell, daughter of the island's then owner, Daniel
Campbell of Shawfield.
Islay is 40 kilometres (25 mi) long from north to south and 24
kilometres (15 mi) broad. The east coast is rugged and
mountainous, rising steeply from the Sound of Islay, the highest peak
being Beinn Bheigier, which is a Marilyn at 1,612 feet (491 m). The
western peninsulas are separated from the main bulk of the island by
the waters of
Loch Indaal to the south and
Loch Gruinart to the
north. The fertile and windswept southwestern arm is called The
Ardnave Point is a conspicuous promontory on the northwest
coast. The south coast is sheltered from the prevailing winds and, as
a result, relatively wooded. The fractal coast has
numerous bays and sea lochs, including
Loch an t-Sailein,
Aros Bay and
Claggain Bay. In the far southwest is a rocky and now largely
uninhabited peninsula called The Oa, the closest point in the Hebrides
The island's population is mainly centred around the villages of
Bowmore and Port Ellen. Other smaller villages include Bridgend,
Ballygrant, Port Charlotte,
Portnahaven and Port Askaig. The rest of
the island is sparsely populated and mainly agricultural. There
are several small freshwater lochs in the interior including Loch
Loch Lossit and
Loch Gorm, and numerous
burns throughout the island, many of which bear the name "river"
despite their small size. The most significant of these are the River
Laggan which discharges into the sea at the north end of Laggan Bay,
River Sorn which, draining
Loch Finlaggan, enters the head of
Loch Indaal at Bridgend.
There are numerous small uninhabited islands around the coasts, the
largest of which are
Eilean Mhic Coinnich
Eilean Mhic Coinnich and Orsay off the Rinns,
Nave Island on the northwest coast, Am Fraoch Eilean in the Sound of
Texa off the south coast.
Geology and geomorphology
Geological map of Islay
The underlying geology of
Islay is intricate for such a small area.
Palaeoproterozoic igneous rock of the
Rhinns complex is
dominated by a coarse-grained gneiss cut by large intrusions of
deformed gabbro. Once thought to be part of the Lewisian complex, it
lies beneath the
Colonsay Group of metasedimentary rocks that
forms the bedrock at the northern end of the Rinns. It is a
quartz-rich metamorphic marine sandstone that may be unique to
Scotland and which is nearly 5,000 metres thick. South of Rubh' a'
Mhail there are outcrops of quartzite, and a strip of mica schist and
limestone cuts across the centre of the island from
The Oa to Port
Askaig. Further south is a band of metamorphic quartzite and granites,
a continuation of the beds that underlie Jura. The geomorphology of
these last two zones is dominated by a fold known as the Islay
Anticline. To the south is a "shattered coastline" formed from mica
schist and hornblende. The older
Bowmore Group sandstones
in the west centre of the island are rich in feldspar and may be of
Dalradian origin.[Note 4]
Rocks of the
Rhinns complex at Claddach Bay on the southernmost tip of
Loch Indaal was formed along a branch of the
Great Glen Fault
Great Glen Fault called
Loch Gruinart Fault; its main line passes just to the north of
Colonsay. This separates the limestone, igneous intrusions and Bowmore
sandstones from the
Colonsay Group rocks of the Rhinns. The result
is occasional minor earth tremors.
There is a tillite bed near
Port Askaig that provides evidence of an
ice age in the Precambrian. In comparatively recent times the
island was ice-covered during the
Pleistocene glaciations save for
Beinn Tart a' Mhill on the Rinns, which was a nunatak on the edge of
the ice sheet. The complex changes of sea level due to melting ice
caps and isostasy since then have left a series of raised beaches
around the coast. Throughout much of late prehistory the low-lying
land between the Rinns and the rest of the island was flooded,
creating two islands.
The influence of the
Gulf Stream keeps the climate mild compared to
mainland Scotland. Snow is rarely seen at sea level and frosts are
light and short-lived. However, wind speeds average 19 to 28
kilometres per hour (10 to 15 kn) annually and winter gales
sweep in off the Atlantic, gusting up to 185 kilometres per hour
(115 mph). This can make travelling and living on the island
during the winter difficult, while ferry and air links to the
mainland can suffer delays. The driest months are April to July and
the warmest are May to September, which as a result are the busiest
times for tourism. Sunshine hours are typically highest around
the coasts, especially to the west.
Climate data for Islay
Average high °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Average precipitation mm (inches)
Dun Nosebridge from the south
The earliest settlers on
Islay were nomadic hunter-gatherers who may
have first arrived during the
Mesolithic period after the retreat of
Pleistocene ice caps. A flint arrowhead, which was found in a
field near Bridgend in 1993 and dates from 10,800 BC, is amongst the
earliest evidence of a human presence found so far in
Scotland.[Note 5] Stone implements of the Ahrensburgian culture
found at Rubha Port an t-Seilich near
Port Askaig by foraging pigs in
2015 probably came from a summer camp used by hunters travelling round
the coast in boats.
Mesolithic finds have been dated to 7000
BC using radiocarbon dating of shells and debris from kitchen
middens. By the Neolithic, settlements had become more
permanent, allowing for the construction of several communal
The most spectacular prehistoric structure on the island is Dun
Nosebridge. This 375 square metres (4,040 sq ft) Iron Age
fort occupies a prominent crag and has commanding views of the
surrounding landscape. The name's origin is probably a mixture of
Gaelic and Old Norse: Dun in the former language means "fort" and
knaus-borg in the latter means "fort on the crag". There is no
Islay was ever subject to Roman military control
although small numbers of finds such as a coin and a brooch from the
third century AD suggest links of some kind with the intermittent
Roman presence on the mainland. The ruins of a broch at Dùn
Bhoraraic south east of
Ballygrant and the remains of numerous
Atlantic roundhouses indicate the influences of northern Scotland,
where these forms of building originate. There are also
various crannogs on Islay, including sites in
Loch Ardnave, Loch
Loch Allallaidh in the south east where a stone
causeway leading out to two adjacent islands is visible beneath the
surface of the water.
Port nan Gallan, The Oa, with the shadowy outline of
Scotland) in the far distance
By the 6th century AD Islay, along with much of the nearby mainland
and adjacent islands lay within the Gaelic kingdom of
Dál Riata with
strong links to Ireland. The widely accepted view is that Dál Riata
was established by Gaelic migrants from Ulster, displacing a former
Brythionic culture (such as the Picts). Nevertheless, it has been
claimed that the
Gaels in this part of
Scotland were indigenous to the
Dál Riata was divided into a small number of regions, each
controlled by a particular kin group; according to the Senchus fer
n-Alban ("The History of the Men of Scotland"), it was the Cenél
Islay and Jura.
In 627 the son of a king of the Irish Uí Chóelbad, a branch of the
Dál nAraidi kingdom of Ulster (not to be confused with Dál Riata),
was killed on
Islay at the unidentified location of Ard-Corann by a
warrior in an army led by King
Connad Cerr of the
Corcu Réti (the
collective term for the
Cenél nGabráin and Cenél Comgaill, before
they split), based at Dunadd. The Senchus also lists what is
believed to be the oldest reference to a naval battle in the British
Isles—a brief record of an engagement between rival Dál Riatan
groups in 719.
There is evidence of another kin group on
Islay - the Cenél
Conchride, supposedly descended from a brother of the legendary
founder of Dál Riata, king Fergus Mór, but the existence of the
Cenél Conchride seems to have been brief and the 430 households of
the island are later said to have been comprised from the families of
just three great-grandsons of the eponymous founder of Cenél
nÓengus: Lugaid, Connal and Galán.
Norse influence and the Kingdom of the Isles
Standing stone at Carragh Bhan, said to mark the grave of Godred
Crovan, King of the Isles
The 9th century arrival of Scandinavian settlers on the western
seaboard of the mainland had a long-lasting effect, beginning with the
destruction of Dál Riata. As is the case in the Northern Isles, the
derivation of place names suggests a complete break from the past.
Jennings and Kruse conclude that although there were settlements prior
to the Norse arrival "there is no evidence from the onomasticon that
the inhabitants of these settlements ever existed". Gaelic
continued to exist as a spoken language in the southern Hebrides
throughout the Norse period, but the place name evidence suggests it
had a lowly status, possibly indicating an enslaved population.
Consolidating their gains, the Norse settlers established the Kingdom
of the Isles, which became part of the crown of
Norwegian unification. To Norway, the islands became known as
Suðreyjar (Old Norse, traditionally anglicised as Sodor, or Sudreys),
meaning southern isles. For the next four centuries and more this
Kingdom was under the control of rulers of mostly Norse origin.
Godred Crovan was one of the most significant of the rulers of this
sea kingdom. Though his origins are obscure, it is known that Godred
was a Norse-Gael, with a connection to Islay. The Chronicles of Mann
call Godred the son of Harald the Black of Ysland, (his place or
origin variously interpreted as Islay,
Ireland or Iceland) and state
he "so tamed the Scots that no one who built a ship or boat dared use
more than three iron bolts".
Godred also became King of Dublin at an unknown date, although in 1094
he was driven out of the city by Muircheartach Ua Briain, later known
as High King of Ireland, according to the Annals of the Four Masters.
He died on
Islay "of pestilence", during the following
year. A local tradition suggests that a standing stone at
Carragh Bhan near Kintra marks Godred Crovan's grave. A
genuine 11th century Norse grave-slab was found at Dóid Mhàiri in
1838, although it was not associated with a burial. The slab is
decorated with foliage in the style of Ringerike Viking art and an
Irish-style cross, the former being unique in Scandinavian
Following Godred's death, the local population resisted Norway's
choice of replacement, causing Magnus, the Norwegian king, to launch a
military campaign to assert his authority. In 1098, under pressure
from Magnus, the king of
Scotland quitclaimed to Magnus all sovereign
authority over the isles.
The remains of Claig Castle, a vital stronghold of Somerled
In the mid 12th century, a granddaughter of Godred Crovan's married
the ambitious Somerled, a
Norse-Gael Argyle nobleman. Godred Olafsson,
grandson of Crovan, was an increasingly unpopular King of the Isles at
the time, spurring
Somerled into action. The two fought the Battle of
Epiphany in the seas off
Islay in January 1156.[Note 6] The result was
a bloody stalemate, and the island kingdom was temporarily divided,
Somerled taking control of the southern Hebrides. Two years later
Somerled completely ousted Godred and re-united the kingdom.
Somerled built the sea fortress of
Claig Castle on an island between
Islay and Jura, to establish control of the Sound of Islay. On account
of the Corryvreckan whirlpool to the north of Jura, the Sound was the
main safe sea route between the mainland and the rest of the Hebrides;
Claig Castle essentially gave
Somerled control of sea traffic.
Following Somerled's 1164 death, the realm was divided between
Godred's heirs, and Somerled's sons, whose descendants
continued to describe themselves as King of the Sudreys until the 13th
century. Somerled's grandson, Donald received Islay, along with Claig
Castle, and the adjacent part of Jura as far north as
Nominal Norwegian authority had been re-established after Somerled's
death, but by the mid 13th century, increased tension between Norway
Scotland led to a series of battles, culminating in the Battle of
Largs, shortly after which the Norwegian king died. In 1266, his more
peaceable successor ceded his nominal authority over Suðreyjar to the
Scottish king (Alexander III) by the Treaty of Perth, in return for a
very large sum of money. Alexander generally acknowledged the
semi-independent authority of Somerled's heirs; the former Suðreyjar
had become a Scottish crown dependency, rather than part of Scotland.
Lords of the Isles
The descent of Amie Macruari and John of
Islay from Somerled
By this point, Somerled's descendants had formed into three families -
the heirs of Donald (the MacDonalds, led by Aonghas Óg MacDonald),
those of Donald's brother (the Macruari, led by Ruaidhri mac Ailein),
and those of Donald's uncle (the MacDougalls, led by Alexander
MacDougall). At the end of the 13th century, when king John Balliol
was challenged for the throne by Robert the Bruce, the MacDougalls
backed Balliol, while the Macruari and MacDonalds backed Robert. When
Robert won, he declared the MacDougall lands forfeit, and distributed
them between the MacDonalds and Macruari (the latter already owning
much of Lorne, Uist, parts of Lochaber, and Garmoran).
The Macruari territories were eventually inherited by Amy of
Garmoran., who married her MacDonald cousin John of Islay
in the 1330s; having succeeded Aonghus Óg as head of the
MacDonalds, he now controlled significant stretches of the western
Loch Hourn, and the whole of the
Hebrides save for
Skye (which Robert had given to Hugh of Ross
instead). From 1336 onwards John began to style himself Dominus
Insularum—"Lord of the Isles", a title that implied a connection to
the earlier Kings of the Isles and by extension a degree of
independence from the Scottish crown; this honorific was
claimed by his heirs for several generations. The MacDonalds had
thus achieved command of a strong semi-independent maritime kingdom,
and considered themselves equals of the kings of Scotland, Norway, and
The ruins of
Finlaggan castle, traditional capital of the Lordship of
Initially, their power base was on the shores of
northeastern Islay, near the present-day village of Caol Ila.
Successive chiefs of
Clan Donald were proclaimed Lord of the Isles
there, upon an ancient seven-foot-square coronation stone bearing
footprint impressions in which the new ruler stood barefoot and was
anointed by the Bishop of
Argyll and seven priests. The Lord's
advisory "Council of the Isles" met on Eilean na Comhairle[Note 7]
(Council Island), in
Finlaggan on Islay, within a timber framed
crannog that had originally been constructed in the 1st century BC.
Islay Charter, a record of lands granted to an
Islay resident in
1408, Brian Vicar MacKay, by Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles, is
one of the earliest records of Gaelic in public use, and is a
significant historical document. In 1437, the Lordship was
substantially expanded when Alexander, the Lord of the Isles,
inherited the rule of Ross maternally; this included Skye. The
expansion of MacDonald control caused the "heart of the Lordship" to
move to the twin castles of Aros and Ardtornish, in the Sound of
The ruins of Dunnyvaig Castle, a MacDonald stronghold in the 16th
In 1462, the last and most ambitious of the Lords, John MacDonald II,
struck an alliance with Edward IV of
England under terms of the Treaty
of Ardtornish-Westminster with the goal of conquering Scotland. The
onset of the
Wars of the Roses
Wars of the Roses prevented the treaty from being
discovered by Scottish agents, and Edward from fulfilling his
obligations as an ally. A decade later, in 1475, it had come to the
attention of the Scottish court, but calls for forfeiture of the
Lordship were calmed when John quitclaimed his mainland territories,
and Skye. However, ambition wasn't given up so easily, and John's
nephew launched a severe raid on Ross, but it ultimately failed.
Within 2 years of the raid, in 1493, MacDonald was compelled to
forfeit his estates and titles to James IV of Scotland; by this
forfeiture, the lands became part of Scotland, rather than a crown
Finlaggan demolished, its buildings razed, and the
coronation stone destroyed, to discourage any attempts at restoration
of the Lordship.[Note 8] When
Martin Martin visited
the late 17th century he recorded a description of the coronations
Finlaggan had once seen.[Note 9]. John was exiled from his former
lands, and his former subjects now considered themselves to have no
superior except the king. A charter was soon sent from the Scottish
King confirming this state of affairs; it declares that
Skye and the
Hebrides are to be considered independent from the rest of the
former Lordship, leaving only
Islay and Jura remaining in the comital
16th and 17th centuries
Initially dispossessed in the wake of royal opposition to the
Lordship, Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg's holdings in
Islay were restored
in 1545. The MacLean family had been granted land in Jura in 1390,
by the MacDonalds, and in 1493 had thus been seen as the natural
replacement for them, leading to a branch of the MacLeans being
Dunyvaig Castle by king James, and expanding into Islay.
Naturally, the restoration of the MacDonalds created some hostility
with the MacLeans; in 1549, after observing that
Islay was fertile,
fruitful, and full of natural pastures, with good hunting and
plentiful salmon and seals, Dean Monro describes Dunyvaig, and Loch
Gorm Castle "now usurped be M’Gillayne of Doward".[Note 10]. The
dispute continued for decades, and in 1578 the Macleans were expelled
Loch Gorm by force, and in 1598 their branch was finally defeated
at the Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart.
Sorley Boy MacDonnell (of the
Islay MacDonalds) had a
clash with the Irish branch of the Macleans, and the unpopularity of
the MacDonalds in
Edinburgh (where their use of Gaelic was regarded as
barbaric), weakened their grip on their southern Hebridean
possessions. In 1608, Coupled with MacDonald hostility to the Scottish
reformation, this led the Scottish-English crown to mount an
expedition to subdue them. In 1614 the crown handed
Islay to Sir John
Campbell of Cawdor, in return for an undertaking to pacify it;
this the Campbells eventually achieved. Under Campbell influence,
shrieval authority was established under the sheriff of Argyll. With
inherited Campbell control of the sheriffdom, comital authority was
relatively superfluous, and the provincial identity (medieval
Latin:provincia) of Islay-Jura faded away.
The situation was soon complicated by the Civil War, when Archibald,
the head of the most powerful branch of the Campbells, was the de
facto head of
Covenanter government, while other branches (and even
Archibald's son) were committed Royalists. A
Covenanter army under Sir
David Leslie arrived on
Islay in 1647, and besieged the royalist
garrison at Dunnyvaig, laying waste to the island. It was not
until 1677 that the Campbells felt sufficiently at ease to construct
Islay House at Bridgend to be their principal, and unfortified, island
18th and 19th centuries
A cottage on
Islay from Thomas Pennant's A Tour in
Scotland and Voyage
to the Hebrides, published in 1774.
At the beginning of the 18th century much of the population of Argyll
was to be found dispersed in small clachans of farming families
and only two villages of any size—Killarow near Bridgend and
Islay at the time. (Killarow had a church
and tolbooth and houses for merchants and craft workers but was razed
in the 1760s to "improve" the grounds of
Islay House.) The
agricultural economy was dependent on arable farming including staples
such as barley and oats supplemented with stock-rearing. The carrying
capacity of the island was recorded at over 6,600 cows and 2,200
horses in a 1722 rental listing.
Islay was purchased by Daniel Campbell of Shawfield.
Following Jacobite insurrections, the Heritable Jurisdictions Act
abolished comital authority, and Campbell control of the sheriffdom;
they could now only assert influence as Landlords.
A defining aspect of 19th century
Argyll was the gradual improvement
of transport infrastructure. Roads were built, the Crinan canal
shortened the sea distance to
Glasgow and the numerous traditional
ferry crossings were augmented by new quays. Rubble piers were built
at several locations on
Islay and a new harbour was constructed at
Port Askaig. Initially, a sense of optimism in the fishing and
cattle trades prevailed and the population expanded, partly as a
result of the 18th century kelp boom and the introduction of the
potato as a staple. The population of the island had been
estimated at 5,344 in 1755 and grew to over 15,000 by 1841.
Islay remained with the Campbells of
Shawfield until 1853 when it was
sold to James Morrison of Berkshire, ancestor of the third Baron
Margadale, who still owns a substantial portion of the island.
The sundering of the relationship between the landowners and the
island's residents proved consequential. When the estate owners
realised they could make more money from sheep farming than from the
indigenous small farmers, wholesale Clearances became commonplace.
Four hundred people emigrated from
Islay in 1863 alone, some for
purely economic reasons, but many others having been forced off the
land their predecessors had farmed for centuries. In 1891 the census
recorded only 7,375 citizens, with many evictees making new homes in
Canada, the United States and elsewhere. The population continued to
decline for much of the 20th century and today is about
In 1899, counties were formally created, on shrieval boundaries, by a
Scottish Local Government Act;
Islay therefore became part of the
County of Argyll.
The American Monument on the
Mull of Oa commemorates the sinking of
two troop ships during World War I
World War I
World War I two troop ships foundered off
Islay within a few
months of each other in 1918. The American vessel SS Tuscania was
torpedoed by UB-77 on 5 February with the loss of over 160 lives and
now lies in deep water 6.4 kilometres (4 mi) west of the
Oa. On 6 October
HMS Otranto was involved in a collision with HMS
Kashmir in heavy seas while convoying troops from New York. Otranto
lost steering and drifted towards the west coast of the Rinns.
Answering her SOS the destroyer HMS Mounsey attempted to come
alongside and managed to rescue over 350 men. Nonetheless, the Otranto
was wrecked on the shore near
Machir Bay with a total loss of 431
lives. A monument was erected on the coast of
The Oa by the
American Red Cross
American Red Cross to commemorate the sinking of these two ships.
A military cemetery was created at Kilchoman where the dead from both
nations in the latter disaster were buried (the American bodies later
During World War II, the RAF built an airfield at Glenegedale which
later became the civil airport for Islay. There was also an RAF
Coastal Command flying boat base at
Bowmore from 13 March 1941 using
Loch Indaal. In 1944 an RCAF 422 Squadron Sunderland flying
boat's crew were rescued after their aircraft landed off
broke from her moorings in a gale and sank. There was an RAF
Chain Home radar station at Saligo Bay and RAF
Chain Home Low station
Following late 20th century reforms,
Islay is now within the wider
Argyll and Bute.
The mainstays of the modern
Islay economy are agriculture and fishing,
distilling and tourism.
Agriculture and fishing
Looking over to the
Paps of Jura
Paps of Jura from Port Askaig
Islay remains owned by a few non-resident estate owners and
sheep farming and the few dairy cattle herds are run by tenant
Islay has some fine wild brown trout and salmon
fishing and in September 2003 the European Fishing Competition
was held on five of the island's numerous lochs; this was "the biggest
fishing event ever to be held in Scotland". Sea angling is also
popular, especially off the west coast and over the many shipwrecks
around the coast. There are about 20 commercial boats with crab,
lobster and scallop fishing undertaken from Port Askaig, Port Ellen
Islay is one of five whisky distilling localities and regions in
Scotland whose identity is protected by law. There are eight
active distilleries and the industry is the island's second largest
employer after agriculture. Those on the south of the island
produce malts with a very strong peaty flavour, considered to be the
most intensely flavoured of all whiskies. From east to west they are
Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. On the north of the island Bowmore,
Caol Ila and
Bunnahabhain are produced, which are
substantially lighter in taste. Kilchoman is a
microdistillery opened in 2005 toward the west coast of the
The oldest record of a legal distillery on the island refers to
Bowmore in 1779 and at one time there were up to 23 distilleries in
operation. For example, Port Charlotte distillery operated from
1829 to 1929 and
Port Ellen is also closed although it remains in
business as a malting. In March 2007
Bruichladdich announced that
they would reopen Port Charlotte distillery using equipment from the
Some 45,000 summer visitors arrive each year by ferry and a further
11,000 by air. The main attractions are the scenery, history,
bird watching and the world-famous whiskies. The distilleries
operate various shops, tours, and visitor centres, and the
Finlaggan Trust has a visitor centre which is open daily during the
The location of Islay, exposed to the full force of the North
Atlantic, has led to it being the site of a pioneering, and Scotland's
first, wave power station near Portnahaven. The
Islay LIMPET (Land
Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) wave power generator was
designed and built by Wavegen and researchers from the Queen's
University of Belfast, and was financially backed by the European
Union. Known as Limpet 500, due to cabling constraints its capacity is
limited to providing up to 150 kW of electricity into the
island's grid. In 2000 it became the world's first commercial
wave power station. In March 2011 the largest tidal array in the world
was approved by the Scottish Government with 10 planned turbines
predicted to generate enough power for over 5,000 homes. The project
will be located in the
Sound of Islay
Sound of Islay which offers both strong
currents and shelter from storms.
Caledonian MacBrayne's MV Finlaggan
Many of the roads on the island are single-track with passing places.
The two main roads are the A846 from
Port Askaig via Port
Ellen and Bowmore, and the A847 which runs down the east coast of the
Rhinns. The island has its own bus service provided by Islay
Coaches and Glenegedale Airport offers flights to and from Glasgow
International Airport and on a less regular basis to
Caledonian MacBrayne operate regular ferry services to
Port Ellen and
Port Askaig from Kennacraig, taking about two hours. Ferries to Port
Askaig also run on to
Colonsay and, on summer Wednesdays,
to Oban. The purpose-built vessel, MV
Finlaggan entered service
in 2011. ASP Ship Management Ltd operate a small car ferry on
Argyll & Bute Council from
Port Askaig to
Kintyre Express will begin operating passenger only
Port Ellen and Ballycastle in Northern
Fridays to Mondays through June, July and August.
The lighthouse at Carraig Fhada, Port Ellen
There are various lighthouses on and around
Islay as an aid to
navigation. These include the
Rinns of Islay
Rinns of Islay light built on Orsay in
1825 by Robert Stevenson, Ruvaal at the north eastern tip of
Islay constructed in 1859, Carraig Fhada at Port Ellen, which has
an unusual design, and Dubh Artach, an isolated rock tower some
35 kilometres (22 mi) to the north west of Ruvaal.
Since 1973 the Ileach has been delivering news to the people of Islay
every fortnight and was named community newspaper of the year in
Islay Ales Brewery brews various real ales at its
premises near Bridgend. In the early 21st century a campus of
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was set up on Islay, Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle,
which teaches Gaelic language, culture and heritage. The Port
Mòr community centre at Port Charlotte, which is equipped with a
micro-wind turbine and a ground-source heating system, is the creation
of local development trust Iomairt Chille Chomain.
Islay has historically been a very strong Gaelic-speaking area. In
both the 1901 and 1921 censuses, all parishes in
Islay were reported
to be over 75 percent Gaelic-speaking. By 1971, the Rhinns had dropped
to 50-74 percent Gaelic speakers and the rest of
Islay to 25-49
percent Gaelic speaker overall. By 1991 about a third of the
island's population were Gaelic speakers. In the 2001 census this
had dropped to 24 percent, which, while a low figure overall,
nonetheless made it the most strongly Gaelic-speaking island in Argyll
and Bute after Tiree, with the highest percentage recorded in
Portnahaven (32 percent) and the lowest in Gortontaoid (17 percent),
with the far north and south of the island being the weakest areas in
Islay dialect is distinctive. It patterns strongly with other
Argyll dialects, especially those of Jura,
Colonsay and Kintyre.
Amongst its distinctive phonological features are the shift from long
/aː/ to /ɛː/, a high degree of retention of long /eː/, the shift
of dark /l̪ˠ/ to /t̪/, the lack of intrusive /t̪/ in sr groups
(for example /s̪ɾoːn/ "nose" rather than /s̪t̪ɾoːn/) and
the retention of the unlenited past-tense particle d' (for example,
d'èirich "rose" instead of dh'èirich). It sits within a group
of lexical isoglosses (i.e. words distinctive to a certain area) with
strong similarities to southern Gaelic and northern Irish dialects.
Examples are dhuit "to you" (instead of the more common dhut),
the formula gun robh math agad "thank you" (instead of the more common
mòran taing or tapadh leat but compare Irish go raibh maith
agat), mand "able to" (instead of the more common urrainn)
or deifir "hurry" (instead of the more common cabhag, Irish
Associated with various
Islay churches are cupstones of uncertain age;
these can be seen at Kilchoman Church, where the carved cross there is
erected on one, and at Kilchiaran Church on the Rhinns. In historic
times some may have been associated with pre-Christian wishing
ceremonies or pagan beliefs in the "wee folk".
The early pioneers of Christianity in
Dál Riata were
Columba of Iona
and Moluag of Lismore. The legacy of this period includes the 8th
century Kildalton Cross, Islay's "most famous treasure", carved
out of local epidiorite. A carved cross of similar age, but much
more heavily weathered can be found at Kilnave, which may have
served as a site of lay worship. Although the first Norse
settlers were pagan,
Islay has a substantial number of sites of
drystone or clay-mortared chapels with small burial grounds from the
later Norse era. In the 12th century the island became part of
the Diocese of Sodor and the Isles, which was re-established by King
Olaf Godredsson. The diocese fell within the jurisdiction of the
Archdiocese of Nidaros
Archdiocese of Nidaros and there were four principal churches on Islay
in the Norwegian prestegjeld model: Kilnaughton, Kildalton, Kilarrow
and Kilmany. In 1472
Islay became part of the Archdiocese of St
Kilarrow Parish Church, Bowmore
Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of
Argyll was a strong supporter of the
Reformation, but there is little evidence that his beliefs were
greeted with much enthusiasm by the islanders initially. At first
there were only two Protestant churches but in 1642 three parishes
were created, based at Kilchoman, Kilarrow and a new church at
Dunyvaig. By the end of the century there were seven churches
including one on Nave Island.
Kilarrow Parish Church
Kilarrow Parish Church is round, as
local folklore has it, to leave no corner for the devil to hide in.
This "architectural gem" was constructed in 1767 by Daniel Campbell,
the laird of Islay. The kirk on the Rhinns of
Islay is St
Kiaran's, located just outside the village of Port Charlotte and Port
Ellen is served by St John's. There are a variety of other Church of
Scotland churches and various other congregations on the island.
Baptists meet in
Port Ellen and in Bowmore, the Scottish Episcopal
Church of St.
Columba is located in Bridgend and the
Catholic congregation also uses St. Columba's for its services.
Media and the arts
Islay was featured in some of the scenes of the 1954 film The
Maggie, and the 1942 documentary "Coastal Command" was partly
filmed in Bowmore.
In 1967–68, folk-rock singer Donovan included "The Isle of Islay" in
his album, A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, a song praising the
pastoral beauties of the island.[Note 12] "Westering Home" is a
20th-century Scottish song about
Islay written by Hugh S. Roberton,
derived from an earlier Gaelic song.
In the 1990s the
BBC adaptation of
Para Handy was partly filmed in
Port Charlotte and
Bruichladdich and featured a race between the Vital
Spark (Para Handy's puffer) and a rival along the length of Loch
Indaal. In 2007, parts of the
Springwatch programme were recorded
Islay with Simon King being based on Islay. The British Channel 4
archaeological television programme
Time Team excavated at Finlaggan,
the episode being first broadcast in 1995.
In 2000, Japanese author
Haruki Murakami visited the island to sample
seven single malt whiskies on the island and later wrote a travel book
called If our language were whiskey.
Bridgend woods in January
Islay is home to many species of wildlife and is especially known for
its birds. Winter-visiting barnacle goose numbers have reached 35,000
in recent years with as many as 10,000 arriving in a single day. There
are also up to 12,000 Greenland white-fronted geese, and smaller
numbers of brent, pinkfooted and Canada geese are often found amongst
these flocks. Other waterfowl include whooper and mute swans, eider
duck, Slavonian grebe, goldeneye, long-tailed duck and wigeon.
The elusive corncrake and sanderling, ringed plover and curlew
sandpiper are amongst the summer visitors. Resident birds include
red-billed chough, hen harrier, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, barn
owl, raven, oystercatcher and guillemot. The re-introduced
white-tailed sea eagle is now seen regularly around the coasts.
In all, about 105 species breed on the island each year and between
100 and 120 different species can be seen at any one time.
A population of several thousand red deer inhabit the moors and hills.
Fallow deer can be found in the southeast, and roe deer are common on
low-lying ground. Otters are common around the coasts along Nave
Island, and common and grey seals breed on Nave Island. Offshore, a
variety of cetaceans are regularly recorded including minke whales,
pilot whales, killer whales and bottle-nosed dolphins. The only snake
Islay is the adder and the common lizard is widespread although not
commonly seen. The island supports a significant population of
the marsh fritillary along with numerous other moths and
butterflies. The mild climate supports a diversity of flora,
typical of the Inner Hebrides.
John Francis Campbell, authority on Celtic folklore and joint inventor
of the Campbell–Stokes recorder. The son of Daniel Campbell of
Shawfield, his father's bankruptcy prevented him inheriting the Islay
estate. There is a monument commemorating him at Bridgend.
Glenn Campbell, Scottish political reporter for the BBC, was brought
Islay and attended
Islay High School.
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chief Whip, was born
Islay to hill-farming parents. He has represented
Shetland at Westminster since 2001.
The Islay-born Reverend
Donald Caskie (1902–1983) became known as
the "Tartan Pimpernel" for his exploits in France during World War
John Crawfurd was born on
Islay in 1783 and during a long career as a
colonial administrator he became governor of Singapore. He also wrote
a number of books including Journal of an Embassy from the Governor
General of India to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China (1828).
David MacIntyre from Portnahaven, recipient of the Victoria
General Alexander McDougall, a figure in the
American Revolution and
the first president of the Bank of New York, was born in Kildalton in
George Robertson, formerly secretary-general of
NATO and British
Defence Secretary. In 1999 he was made Lord Robertson of Port
Sir William Stewart (born 1935) steered a course from
school to become the UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser in the
late 1980s and early 1990s.
Scottish island names
Timeline of prehistoric Scotland
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) has a table of Scottish "islands arranged in
order of magnitude" that lists
Islay as fifth in rank, although this
Skye as it is a bridged island and includes South
fourth on the grounds that it is connected to other islands such as
Benbecula and North
Uist by causeways that give it a large area.
Rick Livingstone’s Tables provide all the relevant area data
although the information is not ranked.
Ireland is the largest of
the islands surrounding Great Britain and
Anglesey the sixth largest.
^ Mac an Tàilleir (2003) suggests that "if this is a Gaelic name it
may be 'flank shaped'."
^ Banrìgh Innse Gall is literally "Queen of the islands of the
foreigners" and Banrìgh nan Eilean means "Queen of the islands".
^ The Rhinns complex, named after the
Islay peninsula which hosts its
largest outcrop, is predominantly
Palaeoproterozoic syenitic gneiss.
It lies unconformably beneath the
^ At the time this Ahrensburgian flint was the oldest find in
Scotland but a subsequent discovery at Biggar predates it by over
^ Various locations have been suggested for the battle, including west
of the Rinns and north of Rubh' a' Mhail. Marsden (2008) concludes
that a location at the north end of the
Sound of Islay
Sound of Islay is most
Finlaggan has two main islands. Eilean Mòr was probably an
early Christian centre and was fortified in the 13th and 14th
^ While the Lordship itself did not survive, the title did; today, the
heir to the British throne, who is known as the
Prince of Wales
Prince of Wales in all
other parts of the British Commonwealth, bears the title Lord of the
Isles within Scotland.
^ Martin wrote of the "isle Finlagan", that it is "famous for being
once the court in which the great Macdonald, King of the Isles, had
his residence; his houses, chapel, etc., are now ruinous. His guards
de corps, called Lucht-taeh, kept guard on the lake side nearest to
the isle; the walls of their houses are still to be seen there. The
High Court of Judicature, consisting of fourteen, sat always here; and
there was an appeal to them from all the Courts in the isles: the
eleventh share of the sum in debate was due to the principal judge.
There was a big stone of seven feet square, in which there was a deep
impression made to receive the feet of Macdonald; for he was crowned
King of the Isles standing in this stone, and swore that he would
continue his vassals in the possession of their lands, and do exact
justice to all his subjects: and then his father’s sword was put
into his hand. The Bishop of
Argyll and seven priests anointed him
king, in presence of all the heads of the tribes in the isles and
continent, and were his vassals; at which time the orator rehearsed a
catalogue of his ancestors, etc."
^ With regard to the castles of
Islay Monro wrote: "In this iyle there
is strenths castells; the first is callit Dunowaik, biggit on ane
craig at the sea side, on the southeist part of the countery
pertaining to the Clandonald of Kintyre; second is callit the castle
of Lochgurne, quhilk is biggit ill ane iyle within the said fresche
water loche far fra land, pertaining of auld to the Clandonald of
Kintyre, now usurped be M’Gillayne of Doward. Ellan Forlagan, in the
middle of Ila, ane faire iyle in fresche water.
^ The structure was built for Sir Hugh Campbell of Cawdor and is now
used as a hotel. It is a
Category A listed building.
^ It is claimed that Donovan wrote the song after being arrested for
possession of marijuana and that "I had to leave, I had to get away
from the publicity, so I took a plane north to Scotland, and on a
northern island I found the peace, and I wrote this song."
^ a b Gammeltoft 2007, p. 487
^ a b c d e f Haswell-Smith 2004, p. 41
^ Haswell-Smith 2004, p. 42
^ 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 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.
^ National Records of Scotland. "Table KS101SC - Usual Resident
Population, all people; Settlement/Locality 2010; Port Ellen".
Scotland's Census 2011. From the main page select Results,
Standard Outputs, year 2011, table KS101SC,area type locality 2010. On
the map click
Port Ellen for comparison.
^ a b Newton 1995, p. 11
^ Newton 1995, p. 20
^ Newton 1995, p. 31
^ Haswell-Smith 2004, p. 502
^ Rick Livingstone’s Tables of the Islands of
Scotland (pdf) Argyll
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Map sources for Islay
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Islay.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Islay.
"Isle of Islay".
Islay Info. 2014. Provides additional
information on the demographics and culture of
Islay and the Hebrides.
Islay Natural History Trust". Port Charlotte, Islay: The Natural
History Centre. Provides additional detailed information on the
terrain and the species inhabiting niches on Islay.
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in WWI Shipwrecks". Stars & Stripes. Specialized information
on the maritime hazards of the coastline.
Coordinates: 55°46′N 6°9′W / 55.767°N 6.150°W /
Am Fraoch Eilean
Eilean Mhic Coinnich
West of Kintyre
Eilean Ceann na Creige
Eilean dà Mhèinn
Eilean Mhic Chrion
Firth of Lorn
Firth of Lorn and
Eileach an Naoimh
Eilean Dubh Mòr
Cairn na Burgh Beag
Cairn na Burgh Mòr
Coll and Tiree
Firth of Clyde
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Inhabited islands of the Hebrides
Eilean dà Mhèinn
Isle of Ewe
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Islands of Scotland
Islands of the Clyde
Islands of the Forth
Orkney World Heritage Site:
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Ring of Brodgar
Standing Stones of Stenness
Iron Age Shetland:
Broch of Mousa
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Rubha an Dùnain
Kingdom of the Isles
Rulers of the Kingdom of the Isles
Bishop of the Isles
Lordship of the Isles
Treaty of Perth
Treaty of Ardtornish-Westminster
Earldom of Orkney
18th and 19th Century
Description of the Western Isles of
A Description of the Western Isles of
A Journey to the Western Islands of
The Journal of a Tour to the
Scottish island names
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Fair Isle wren
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St Kilda wren
North Ronaldsay sheep
Geology of Orkney
Yesnaby Sandstone Group
Great Estuarine Group
Lorne plateau lavas
Moine Thrust Belt
Islands of the Clyde
Highland Boundary Fault
Rulers of the Kingdom of the Isles
Amlaíb mac Gofraid^
Maccus mac Arailt
Gofraid mac Arailt
Ragnall mac Gofraid
Amlaíb mac Sitriuc
Lagmann mac Gofraid^
Ímar mac Arailt^
Murchad mac Diarmata
Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó
Echmarcach mac Ragnaill
Gofraid mac Sitriuc
Fingal mac Gofraid
Domnall mac Taidc
Somairle mac Gilla Brigte
Dubgall mac Somairle
Ragnall mac Somairle
Aongus mac Somairle
Donnchad mac Dubgaill
Dubgall mac Dubgaill
Somairle mac Dubgaill
Ruaidrí mac Ragnaill
Eógan mac Donnchada
Dubgall mac Ruaidrí