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Inchcolm

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Inchcolm, an island of Aberdour parish, Fife, in the Firth of Forth, 5 furlongs SE of the nearest point of the mainland and 1½ mile S by W of Aberdour village. It measures 950 yards in extreme length, or a little over half a mile, and from 22 to 220 yards in breadth, to the E of the abbey becoming so flat and narrow, that at high tides the waters of the Firth meet over it. Both the extremities are high and rocky, the western attaining 102 and the eastern 97 feet above sea-level. It chiefly consists of trap, with greenstone to the S, largely dusted with scales of a brownish mica; and, though partly arable, it offers a bleak appearance. Anciently called Æmonia, it figures in Shakespeare's Macbeth, under the name of Saint Colmes Inch, as the burial-place of the defeated followers of Sweno, the Norways' king. 'In menvory whereof,' adds Raphael Holinshed, 'many old sepultures are yet in the said Inch, there to be seen graven with the arms of the Danes.' In 1123 Alexander I., crossing the Queensferry on affairs of state, encountered a great storm, and was driven upon the island of.Æmonia, where he was received by a hermit who served St Columba in a small chapel, and lived upon shellfish and the milk of one cow. Here the King was obliged to remain three days, and here, in fulfilment of a vow made in the extremity of his peril, he founded an Augustinian abbey in honour of St Columba. Such is the story told by Walter Bower, Abbot of Inchcolm, who carried Fordun's Scotichronicon as far down as 1437. From 1335 to 1547 the abbey was several times pillaged by the English; and on the last occasion, after the Battle of Pinkie, the Duke of Somerset seized upon Inchcolm as a post commanding 'utterly the whole use of the Firth itself, with all the havens upon it.' He sent, 'as elect Abbot by God's sufferance, Sir John Luttrell, knight, with C. hakbutiers and L. pioneers, to keep his house and land there, and LXX. mariners to keep his waters, whereby,' observes Patten naively, 'it is thought he shall soon become a prelate of great power.' During the war with France, in the beginning of the present century, the island served as an artillery station, with a ten-gun battery on the E hill, near whose remains the officers and men of Prince Alfred's ship, the Racoon, put up their tents for a fortnight (1863). It was resolved in 1883 to erect a lighthouse here. In 1543 Inchcolm was granted to Sir James Stewart of Beith, afterwards Lord Doune and father of the first Earl of Moray. His second son in 1611 was created Baron St Colme - a title that passed, with the island, at the death of the second Lord, to his cousin, the Earl of Moray. A little stone-roofed chapel, 15 ¾ feet long, which served till lately as a pigstye or a byre, has been identified by Sir James Simpson with the hermitage of King Alexander's day, thus dating among the earliest Christian edifices in Scotland. The neighbouring 'monastic buildings are of very various dates and still very extensive; and their oblong, lightgrey mass, surmounted by a tall, square, central tower, forms a striking object in the distance, as seen in the summer morning light from the higher streets and houses of Edinburgh, and from the neighbouring shores of the Firth of Forth.' The tower (20 ½ feet square) is so similar in its architectural forms and details to that of Icolmkill, that it is evidently a structure nearly, if not entirely, of the same age; and the new choir (78 x 15 feet) of 1265 is apparently, as seen by its remaining masonic connections, posterior in age to the tower on which it abuts. These monastic buildings have been fortunately protected and preserved by their insular situation - not from the silent and wasting touch of time, but from the more ruthless and destructive hand of man. The stone-roofed octagonal chapter-house (22 2/3 feet in diameter) is one of the most beautiful and perfect in Scotland; and the abbot's house, the cloisters (34 feet square), refectory, etc., are still comparatively entire. Pop. (1881) 7.—Ord. Sur., sh. 32, 1857. See vol. iii. of Billings' Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities (1852); an article by Mr Thomas Arnold in vol. v. of Trans. Architectural Institute of Scotland (1859); and Sir James Simpson's Archæological Essays (1872).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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