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Iona

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.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

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Iona, an island and quoad sacra parish at the SW corner of the island of Mull, and separated from the long promontory known as the Ross of Mull by a channel about a mile wide, deep enough for the passage of the heaviest ships, but dangerous on account of the sunk rocks. For quoad eivilia purposes the island belongs to the parish of Kilfinichen and Kilvickeon, one of those into which the island of Mull was divided in 1730. The date of junction is not known, but at the period of the Reformation Iona was still a distinct parish. The island lies NE and SW, and is about 3½ miles long and 1½ mile wide. The area is about 2000 acres, of which 600 -re under occasional cultivation, the rest being pasture or waste. In the centre, at the narrowest part, a plain extends across from side to side, with a small green hillock in the centre. Here the soil is fairly good; but to the N the surface is rougher, and shows grassy hollows and rocky rising-grounds, terminating in Dun-i (327 feet). To the N a strip of low land extends to the shore, and terminates in a stretch of white sand, chiefly composed of broken shells. Along the E the ground is flat and fertile. To the S of the central plain the surface is irregular, with rocky heights and grassy hollows, but affording fair pasture. The underlying rocks are entirely Laurentian, with a dip nearly vertical, the strike being from NE to SW. There are beds of slate, quartz, marble with serpentine, and a mixture of felspar, quartz, and hornblende passing sometimes into a sort of granite. Among other minerals epidote may be found. The coast has a number of small rocky bays and headlands. It is by no means such a bleak and dismal place as it is sometimes represented to be, and there is some truth in the Gaelic proverb that asserts that if a man goes once to Iona he will go three times. The name of the island has a very large number of varieties, and, according to Dr Reeves, in his edition of Adamnan's Life of St Columba, Iona is a mistake for Ioua, the root being Iou. The following are some of the names it has had at different dates:-Hyona (A.D.657), Hii (730), Columbkill (730), Ii (900), Hi (11th century), I-cholaimchille and Ieoa (late 11th century), Yona and Iona (circa 1251), Icolmkill (circa 1400), Yensis. The old derivations I-thona, ' the island of waves,' and I-shona, ' the blessed island,' are now abandoned. Y, I, or Ii is the island, while Columkill is the cell of Columba, and Icolumkill or Icolmkill is the island of the cell of Columba.

The chief interest of the island lies in its historical associations with St Columba and the introduction of Christianity into Scotland; and so powerful are these associations that, though Dr Johnson on his visit in 1773 had to be carried ashore on the back of a Highlander, and had to sleep in a barn among straw, with a portumanteau for a pillow, he had yet no thought of grumbling, but instead burst out into high praise. ' We were now treading that illustrious island which was once the lumminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me and from my friends be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us, indifferent and unmoved, over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona. ' Wordsworth has devoted four sonnets to the same subject—

'Isle of Columba's cell,
where Christian piety's soul cheering spark
(Kindied from Heaven between the light and dark
Of time) shone like the morning star.

And again—

'On to Iona!—what can she afford
To us save matter for a thoughtful sigh,
Heaved over ruin with stability
In urgent contrast ? To diffuse the Word
(Thy Paramount. mighty nature! and Time's Lord)
Her Temples rose,. mid pagan gloom: but why,
Even for a moment. has our verse deplored
Their wrongs, since they fulfilled their destiny ?
And when. subjected to a common doom
Of mutability. those far-famed Piles
Shall disappear from both the sister Isles,
Iona's Saints, forgetting not past days,
Garlands shall wear of amaranthine bloom,
while heaven's vast sea of voices chants their praise.

'How sad a welcome! To each voyager
Some ragged child holds up for sale a store
Of wave-worn pebbles, pleading on the sh ore
Where once came monk and nun with gentle stir,
Blessings to give, news ask, or suit prefer.
Yet is yon neat trim church a grateful speck
Of novelty amid the sacred wreck
Strewn far and wide. think, proud Philosopher!
Fallen though she be. this Glory of the west,
Still on her sons the beams of mercy shine;
And " hopes. perhaps more heavenly bright than thine,
A grace by thee unsought and unpossest,
A faith more fixeds a rapture more divine,
Shall gild their passage to eternal rest." '

In Aug. 1847 the island was visited by the Queen and Prince Albert during their tour in the west and their progress northward to Ardverikie. Prince Albert, the Prince of Leiningen, the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Grey, and Sir James Clark landed, while the Queen remained in the yacht and sketched. They had a very primitive and decorous reception. A few plainly dressed islanders stood on the shore, carrying tufted willow wands, and prepared to act as an escort; the body of the people stood behind at a respectful distance looking eagerly on; while a few children, in the usual fashion of the island, offered pebbles and shells for sale.

St Columba.—Columba or Colm or Colum was born in Ireland A.D. 521, and was from his boyhood noted for his piety and devotion to wisdom. Even when a young deacon his power was wonderful. Adamnan tells how, when he was in Leinster acquiring divine wisdom, a young girl fled to his master Gemman for protection. Her pursner, ' an unfeeling and pitiless oppressor of the innocent,' without any regard for the presence of the holy men, ' stabbed the girl with his lance under their very cloaks, and, leaving her lying dead at their feet, turned to go away back. Then the old man, in great affliction, turning to Columba, said, " How long, holy youth Columba, shall God, the just judge, allow this horrid crime and this insult to us to go unpunished ? " Then the saint at once pronounced this sentence on the perpetrator of the deed, " At the very instant the soul of this girl whom he hath murdered ascendeth into heaven shall the soul of the murderer go down into hell; " and scarcely had he spoken the words when the murderer of the innocent, like Ananias before Peter, fell down dead on the spot before the eyes of the holy youth.' About 545 he is said to have founded a large monastery in Ireland, in a place called, from the number of its oaks, Dearmagh, identified with Durrow in King's County, and his character for sanctity must have made him a man of considerable power and influence. About 560 Curnan, the son of the King of Connaught, w ho had taken refuge with the saint, was forcibly carried off by Diarmaid, King of Ireland, and the latter is said to have given further offence by deciding against Columba in a dispute with Finnian of Moville about a MS. psalter. The second incident is probably false (for there is no trace of a quarrel between Columba and Bishop Finnian), but the first seems to have led to the great battle fought at Culdremhue in Connaught in A.D.561, in which the northern y Neill defeated the southern Hy Neill, under King Diarmaid, with great slaughter. Columba sprang from the tribe of Cinel Conaill, a branch of the northern Hy Neill, and is traditionally credited with having incited his kinsmen to make war on King Diarmaid, in order to avenge the violated right of sanctuary, and to have contributed to their success by means of his prayers. He was in consequence held responsible for the bloodshed, and was summoned before a synod of the saints of Ireland, who decided that he must quit Ireland in perpetual exile, and neither again gaze on its shores or tread its soil, but must go to a distant land and win back from paganism as many souls as there had been persons killed in the battle of Culdremhue. Leaving Ireland he sailed for the Western Isles, and after in vain trying Islay, Jura, and Colonsay (from all of which Ireland was still visible), he finally landed at the S end of Iona, and finding that Ireland was no longer to be seen (Cairn Cul-ri-Erin being his point of view), he settled there, and began his work among the heathen. The part of the story regarding his perpetual exile seems to be a fable, for Adamnan speaks of him as exercising constant supervision over the Irish monasteries with which he was connected, and records a large number of visits he is said to have paid to Ireland, while he attributes the saint's desire to go forth as a missionary merely to his love for Christ. ' His real motives, ' says Dr Scene, ' for undertaking this mission seem therefore to have been partly religious and partly political. He was one of the twelve apostles of Ireland who had emerged from the school of Finnian of Clonard, and he no doubt shared the missionary spirit which so deeply characterised the Monastic Church of Ireland at this period. He was also closely connected through his grandmother with the line of the Dalriadic kings, and as an Irishman must have been interested in the maintenance of the Irish colony in the West of Scotland. Separated from him by the Irish Channel was the great pagan nation of the Northern Picts, who, under a powerful king, had just inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Scots of Dalriada, and threatened their expulsion from the country; and while his missionary zeal impelled him to attempt the conversion of the Picts, he must have felt that, if he succeeded in winning a pagan people to the religion of Christ, he would at the same time rescue the Irish colony of Dalriada from a great danger, and render them an important service by establishing peaceable relations between them and their greatly more numerous and powerful neighbours, and replacing them in the more secure possession of the western districts they had colonised. '

He set out from Ireland in 563 at the age of 42, and, according to a quatrain at least as old as the beginning of the 12th century—

'His company was forty priests,
twenty bishops of noble worth;
For the psalm singing, without dispute,
Thirty deacons, fifty youths'

He seems first to have visited Conall, King of Dalriada, and then to have passed on to Iona, where, according to the old Irish life, he found ' two bishops, ' who ' came to receive his submission from him. But God manifested to Colum Cille that they were not in truth bishops; wherefore it was that they left the island to him when he ex0 posed their real history and career.' This story of the monks is probably founded on fact, and Dr Scene is of opinion that not only was there ' an earlier Christian establishment on the island, ' but that it belonged to that peculiar development of the Irish church which was known As the Church of the Seven Bishops. Bede tells us that the island of Hii 'had been by the donation of the Picts who inhabit these districts of Britain given over long before to Scottish monks, from whose preaching they had received the faith of Christ, ' and possibly the donation may have been to the earlier settlement to which Columba succeeded. However that may be, and whether he received the right from the Picts or from the Dalriads, his claim to the island seems to have been fully recognised and admitted. His landing took place probably on the 12 May 563, and traditionally at the bay now known as Port-a-churaich, and he must at once have proceeded to found the monastery and establish the' church which not only embraced within its fold the whole of Scotland N of the Firths of Forth and Clyde, and was for a century and a half the national church of Scotland, but was destined to give to the Angles of Northumbria the same form of Christianity for a period of thirty years. 'The buildings that now remain are of course of much later date than Columba's time. Dr Skene, who has carefully and patiently investigated the matter, is indeed quite positive that the first erections were in a site about ¼ mile to the N of the present cathedral, between Dun-i on the W, and the old burying-ground called Cladh-andiseart on the E. From the lives of St Columba written by Cummin (the white abbot, 657-669) and Adamnan (abbot 679 -704), the original structures were (1) a monastery with a small court, on one side of which was the church, with a small side chamber, on a second side the guest chamber, on the third a refectory, and on the fourth dwellings of the monks; a little way off on the highest part of the ground (2) the cell of St Columba, where he sat and read or wrote during the day, and slept at night on the bare ground with a stone for his pillow; (3) various subsidiary buildings, including a kiln, a mill, a barn, and a cowhouse, which latter was, however, outside the rampart. Not far off was a sequestered hollow (identified by Dr Skene with Cabhan euildeach), to which Columba retired when he wished to pray in solitude. The whole was bounded by a vallum or rampart, the course of which may still be traced. The site of the monastery has already been noted, and St Columba's cell seems to have been within the rampart immediately to the E of the mound known as Cnoc-na-bristeadh claeh, close to the house at present called Clachanach. The kiln was probably about 100 yards NW of Torr-abb, and the mill was in the same neighbourhood. It has left its traces in the small stream to the N of the present cathedral ruins which bears the name of Struth-a-mhuilinn or the mill stream. Remains of old causeways may be traced from the landing places of Port-na-martir, Port Ronan, and Port-na-muintir. All the early buildings, except the kiln, were of wood, the guest chamber was wattled, the church was of oak, and the cell of Columba was made of planks. The monks were divided into three classes, the older brethren, who devoted themselves to the religious services of the church, and to reading and transcribing the Scriptures; second, the younger and stronger working brothers, who devoted themselves to agriculture and the service of the monastery; and third, the alumni or youth under instruction. They took a solemn vow at the altar, were tonsured from ear to ear, and wore white robes with over bodies and hoods of the natural colour of the wool.

After he had set matters in order, the Saint seems to have made frequent journeys to the mainland, probably for missionary purposes, and in 565 he even made his way across Drumalban, and along the Great Glen to the court of the Pictish King Brude, which was somewhere in the neighbourhood of Inverness. Here, after certain miraculous occurrences, he converted Brude, and thus prepared the way for the establishment of missions all through the territories of the Picts, and for the more rapid conversion of the whole Pictish nation. In 574, on the death of King Conall, he consecrated his successor Aidan, and in the following year, at the synod of Drumceatt, he was able to obtain concessions which practically established Dalriada as a kingdom independent of the Irish Ard-ri. The death of Brude in 84 deprived Columba of his powerful friend and patron, but it opened up new fields of labour. Brude's successor was Gartnaidh, a southern Pict, whose seat was at Abernethy on the Tay, and though the southern Picts had been converted by Ninian in the beginning of the 6th century, they had lapsed, until the labours of Columba restored them again to the true faith. Adamnan tells us that four years before his death he had a vision that angels had been sent to bear his soul on high, but they were stayed by the prayers of his churches. When the four years were nearly finished he set everything in order for his departure. The day before ` he ascended the hill that overlooketh the monastery, and stood for some little time on its summit, and as he stood there with both hands uplifted, he blessed his monastery, saying: ` ` Small and mean though this place is, yet it shall be held in great and unusual honour, not only by Scotic kings and people, but also by the rulers of foreign and barbarous nations, and by their subjects; the saints also, even of other churches, shall regard it with no common reverence." ' On the following day at nocturnal vigils he went into the church and knelt down in prayer beside the altar, and 'his attendant Diormit, who more slowly followed him, saw from a distance that the whole interior of the church was filled with a heavenly light in the direction of the saint,' which, as he drew near, quickly disappeared. 'Feeling his way in the darkness, as the brethren had not yet brought in the lights, he found the saint lying before the altar,' and all the monks coming in, Columba moved his hand to give them his benediction, and so breathed his last on the 9 June 597, while 'the whole church resounded with loud lamentations of grief.' His body, 'wrapped in a clean shroud of fine linen, and, being placed in the coffin prepared for it, was buried with all due veneration,' with no one present but his faithful monks, for all the three days and nights of his obsequies there was such a storm that no one could cross the sound.

After Columba's death, the monastery continued its career, but under harassing conditions, for under the abbot second in succession to the founder began that controversy concerning Easter, which was destined to work such harm to the Columban Church. In this early stage, however, the interference was from without, and did not as yet disturb the harmony of the brethren, who went on teaching and preaching and spreading themselves still farther to the north. When Edwin, King of Deira, conquered Bernicia, many of the young nobles of the latter country seem- to have, in 617, taken refuge at Iona, among them being Oswald, who afterwards, in 634, invaded Northumbria, and won back the kingdom from Penda of Mercia and Caedwalla of Wales. As soon as he began to set things in order, mindful of his hosts and entertainers, he sent to Iona where he had been baptized, and asked for ` a bishop, by whose instructions and ministry the Anglic nation which he governed might be taught the advantages of faith in the Lord, and receive its sacraments; ' and in response to this Aidan was sent. The Columban church flourished in Northumbria for thirty years, but the Easter difficulty and question about coronal tonsure then proved fatal to its further existence, and the Northumbrian church conformed to the usages enjoined from Rome. The influence of Iona was no sooner lost, however, to the south, than it made fresh conquests in the north over all that wild district along the W coast from Ardnamurchan to Loch Broom, but the parent monastery seems to have been in a decaying condition, for when Adamnan came into office as abbot, in 679, he found it necessary to execute very extensive repairs, and sent twelve vessels to Lorn for timber. He tried to introduce the Roman calculation as to the time of Easter, but his efforts led only to schism, which he himself, however, did not live to see. About 717 the continued resistance of the community to the cycles of nineteen years, ' sent throughout all the provinces of the Picts, ' caused them to be driven across Drumalban, and entirely out of the dominions of King Naiton; and at this time, therefore, the sway of Iona over the monasteries and churches in Pictland entirely ceased while the controversy of the styles does not seem finally to have ended till about 772. In 749 there was a storm in which a great number of the community of Iona perished, and in 795 the island was plundered by Danish sea-rovers, and this happened again in 798. In 802 the island was again plundered, and the buildings of the original monastery, as repaired by Adamnan, were burned, while in a subsequent attack, in 806, sixty-eight members of the community were slain. These visits seem to have caused so much alarm as to inspire the churchmen with an intention of removing from the western islands altogether, and before 807 the remains of St Columba were carried away to Ireland and there enshrined: Kells was erected, and to it passed the primacy over the Columban monasteries in Ireland. The relics were brought back in 818, and at that time the monastery was rebuilt, and now of stone as affording greater safety. The buildings were probably at the same time changed to their present site as from its natural features offering greater security. The Danes granted the monks but a short respite, for in 825 the abbot, and probably a number of the community were slain for refusing to disclose where the rich shrine of St Columba had been concealed. In 878 it was again necessary to remove the shrine and relics of Columba ` to Ireland to escape the foreigners, 'but they must have been brought back about the close of the century. According to the Annals of Ulster, Iona was once more plundered by the Danes in 986 on Christmas eve, and the abbot and fifteen of the monks were slain, while i, the following year 360 of these plunderers were slain' by a miracle of God and of Cholaimchille. 'Traditionally, the martyrdom of these sixteen took place at a bay at the N end of the island, and known as Traith ban na manach, or the White bay of the monks. This was the last occasion on which Iona suffered from the Danes, but the buildings seem to have remained in a ruined state thereafter till about 1074, when Queen Margaret' restored the monastery,.. rebuilt it, and furnished it with monks, with an endowment for performing the Lord's work; ' but the island passed very shortly after into the rule of Magnus Barefoot, King of Norway, and in 1099 the old order came to an end with the death of the last of the old abbots. Under the bishopric of Man and the Isles the monastery now became subject to the bishopric of Drontheim, to which Man and the Isles was suffragan, and probably fell into a state of decay, till in 1156 Somerled won the Sudrejar, including Iona, and once more restored the connection between Iona and Ireland by placing the monastery under the care of the Abbot of Derry. In or about 1203 Reginald, Lord of the Isles, founded in the island a monastery of Benedictine Friars formerly thought to be of the Cluniac order, but now considered by Dr Skene to have been rather a branch of those introduced by David I. in 1113 from Tyron in Chartres, and settled by him first at Selkirk, and subsequently at Kelso. At the same time there was founded a nunnery for Benedictine nuns, of which Beatrice, the sister of Reginald, was first prioress. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The nuns seem at a later date to have been Augustinian. The deed of confirmation of the monastery, dated 9 Dec. 1203, still exists in the Vatican, and most of the ruins that now exist are those of this monastery and nunnery. When the Benedictine monastery was established the abbot ' appears to have attempted to thrust out the prior Celtic community and place them in a separate building near the town, for we are told in the Ulster Annals that in 1203 " a monastery was erected by Cellach in the middle of the Cro of Iona (Croi Ia) without any legal right, and in despite of the family of Iona, so that he did considerable -damage to the town (Baile)." ' The Irish clergy, however, brought aid to their brethren, and, ` in obedience to the law of the church, pulled down the monastery.' A compromise seems, however, to have been arranged, for from this time onward the old monks of Iona disappear from its history, and the. Benedictincs were supreme. Dr Reeves identifies the site of this monastery with the Gleann-an- Teampull, but Dr Skene thinks it was near the parish church. - In a valuable paper read to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1873, and published in their Proceedings, and subsequently in the 187 4 edition of Adamnan's Life of St Columba, Dr Skene indicated the opinion that none of the buildings that remained were of older date than the 12th century, being the remains of the building founded by Reginald, Lord of the Isles, between 1166 and 1207, while the capital of one of the columns in the tower has sculptured on it, ` Donaldus O'Brolchan feeit hoe opus, ' and the Ulster Annals record the death of Domhnall Ua Brolehain (who was probably prior of Iona) in 1203.* Remains that came to light during operations undertaken for the partial restoration of the buildings in 1874-75 have led him since then to modify his opinion, and in a subsequent paper read in the end of 1875, and published in the Scottish Society of Antiquaries' Proceedings for 1875-76, he pints out that the little chapel N of the Abbey Church of St Mary (it was not a cathedral till near the Reformation), and at a little distance from it, had an entirely different orientation pointing more to the N, and that alongside it some foundations were exposed with a similar orientation. To the W of the ruins a small building known as St Columba's house was similar in orientation, and, therefore, these are probably all remains of the establishment that preceded the Benedictine monastery.

At the instance of the Duke of Argyll, the ruins were in 1873 visited by Mr Robert Anderson, architect, Edinburgh, who drew up a report with suggestions for their repair and partial restoration. These were carried out in the autumn of 1874 and the spring of 1875 with most excellent taste and judgment, the stone for the repairs being all brought from Carsaig Quarry in Mull, whence the original materials had been obtained. During the operations the foundations of the chapels and cloisters, which were formerly mere green mounds, have been plainly marked out in order to give a clear and accurate idea of the original plan of the Abbey. On the N side a great deal was done, the chapel and refectory having had walls, doorways, and windows restored, and even reconstructed in exact imitation of the style of the old architecture. In excavations in the cloister court several beautifully carved pillars were exposed. They formed the sides of little doors that led from the court into the square. The foundation of a cross was exposed on the mound known as Torr-Abb (the Abbot's Mound) opposite the W front of the church, and from which there is a magnificent view. This is probably the little hill on which, according to Adamnan, Columba stood when he gave utterance to the prophecy, already quoted, as to the homage that should yet be paid to the island. The excavations carried on at the nunnery have shown the foundation lines of the buildings, and both here and at the cathedral numerous stones were brought to light. A short distance NE of the Abbey Church, at Cladh-andiseart, there was found in 1872 a heart-shaped stone ft. 7 in. long, 1 ft. 3 in. wide, and 4½ in. thick, with an incised cross on it. Dr Skene is inclined to think it is the stone used by Columba as a pillow, and the late James Drummond, R. S.A., has suggested that besides ` when the remains of St Columba were enshrined this stone, with the sacred emblem carved upon it, was put in the place where the saint's body had lain ' (See Dr Mitchell's Vacation Notes in Cromar, Burghead, and Strathspey, Edinb. 1875, reprinted from the Proceedings of the Soc. Antiq. of Scot.). The church, which was dedicated to St Mary, though begun in the 12th century, was probably built bit by bit for a considerable time after, as was then quite customary. It is cruciform in shape, consisting of nave, transepts, and choir, with a sacristy on the N side of the choir and side chapels on the S. Near the W entrance was a small chamber called St Columba's Tomb. The length, from E to W, is 160 feet, and the width 24. The width across the transepts is about 70 feet. Over the crossing is a square tower 70 feet high, and supported by arches resting on four pillars. The tower itself is plain, but it is lighted on one side by a window formed by a slab with quatrefoil openings, and on the other by a marigold or Catherine wheel window with spiral mullions. The capitals of the columns are of sandstone, carved with very grotesque figures, still sharp and well defined. One shows the sacrifice of an ox, another the temptation of Adam and Eve, another the fall, another the crucifixion, another Peter cutting off Malchus' ear, another an angel weighing the good and evil deeds of a man, with the devil trying to depress the side of the evil deeds. There are three sedilia' formed with trefoiled ogee arches under connected dripstones, which run out afterwards into a horizontal tablet, and have at each apex the remains of what seems to have been a sculptured head.' The high altar seems to have been of marble, and measured 6 feet by 4. Dr Sacheverell mentions it in 1688, and Martin, in his Description of the western Islands in 1702, speaks of the beauty of its marble. Before 17 72 it had got much destroyed, and Pennant, who visited the place in that year, and who describes it minutely in his Tour, confesses that he and his companions carried pieces of it away. It has since vanished entirely. On the N side of the chancel is the tomb of Abbot Mackinnon who died in 1500, and opposite it is that of Abbot Kenneth Mackenzie. Both are much defaced. In the centre of the chancel is the monument of Macleod of Macleod, the largest in the island. To the N and E of the cloisters are the refectory and chapter-house. The latter is a gloomy vaulted chamber, with the roof still entire; the building over it is said to have been the library. The library was traditionally very large and valuable, but was entirely dispersed at the Reformation, a number of the MSS. passing to the Scotch College at Douay. The Relig Oran or Reilig Odhrain, i. e., the burial-place of Oran, to the SW of the Abbey, is the ancient burial place of the monastery. The name is very old, and the account of its origin given in the old Irish life of St Columba is somewhat peculiar, and shows trace of a custom seemingly of wide extent. After he had landed at Hy, ` Columbcille said to his people.. it is permitted to you that some one of you go under the earth of this island to consecrate it. Odbran arose quickly, and thus spake: If you accept me, said he, I am ready for that. O Odhran, said Columbcille, you shall receive the reward of this: no request shall be granted to any one at my tomb, unless he first ask of thee. Odhrain then went to heaven. ' Tradition has considerably amplified this, and makes St Oran be buried alive, to appease some fiend who undid at night all Columba's work by day at the first occupation of the island. Oran was dug up at the end of three days, and began immediately to assure the bystanders that there was neither deity nor devil, neither future happiness nor future punishment, statements which so utterly shocked St Columba that he ordered Oran to be at once reinterred, and hence has come the Gaelic proverb, ` Earth to earth on the mouth of Oran, that he may blab no more. ' Dr Reeves supposes that the place received its present name from the first of St Columba's fraternity who was buried in it. It contains a chapel called St Oran's Chapel, a plain oblong building of 40 feet by 20, and dating from the close of the 11th century. There is no E window, but in the sides near the E end are two narrow openings for light. At the W end is a circular-headed doorway, with beak-head ornament. Dr Reeves supposes this to be the building resulting from the liberality of Queen Margaret. The oldest tombstones in the cemetery are two with Irish inscriptions, requesting prayer for the souls of Eogan and of Maelpatrick. Here, it is said, were buried the Scottish kings prior to Malcolm Ceannmor, Ecgfrid the Northumbrian king (684), Godfred (1188), and Dean of the Isles, who visited the place in the 16th century, and left an account of his visit, there were three tombs formed like chapels, in which were laid ` the kings of three fair realms. ' The first, which contained the kings from Fergus II. to Macbeth, was inscribed, Tumulus Regum Scotiæ; the second, which contained the remains of four Irish kings, had the inscription, Tumulus Regum Hiberniœ; the third, with eight Norwegian kings, was marked, Tumulus Regum Norwegiœ An effigy of a man in armour is the monument of Macquarrie of Ulva. According to Dr Skene, a stone of the early part of the 13th century, with a sword, a small cross in a corner, and a treasure box (marking the founder of a church), is the tomb of Reginald, the founder of the monastery. That of Angus, Lord of the Isles in Bruce's time, who was interred at Iona in 1306, has a galley on it. There is also a portion of a monument to Abbot Mackinnon, already mentioned. The reason of the place having such sanctity as a burying-ground, is said to be the Gaelic prophecy thus paraphrased by the late Dr Smith of Campbeltown:—

'Seven years before that awful day,
when time shall be no more.
A watery deluge will o'ersweep
Hibernia's mossy shore.

'The green-clad Islay. too. shall sink,
while with the great and good
Columba's happy isle shall rear
Her towers above the flood'

There is a chapel at the nunnery still farther to the S with late Norman features passing into Early English. It is now partially restored. Here is the monument of the last prioress, much injured by the fall of the roof. It bears the inscription' Hic jacet Domina Anna Donaldi Terletti quondam Prioressa de Iona quæ obiit anno MDXLIIItio ejus animam Altissimo Commendamus' It has a figure of the prioress with the symbols of the mirror and the comb. It was asserted by the older writers that the island at one time contain ed 360 crosses, and that the synod of Argyll ordered these to be destroyed shortly after the Reformation, but this is plainly a very strong case of travellers'stories. There are now two entire crosses, traces of other nine or ten in the shape of fragments, and of three or four from the names of places. The entire ones are St Martin's Cross, opposite the W door of the Abbey Church, and Maclean's Cross, on the wayside between the nunnery and the cathedral. The name of the latter is evidently due to some popular mistake; it is 10 ft. 4 in. high, while the former is 14 feet high. There was a parish church at an early date, and, according to the Old Statistical Account, it was distinct from the nunnery church, and is there described in 1795 as 'entire, but tottering.' It is mentioned in 1561 by the name of Teampul Ronain- the church of Ronan. In the 14th and 15th centuries Iona was under the Bishop of Dunkeld, but in 1506 it passed back to the care of the Bishop of the Isles, and from this date till the Reformation it was the Cathedral Church of the diocese. in 1648 Charles I. granted the island to Archibald, Marquis of Argyll, and it still belongs to his descendant, the present Duke of Argyll. A golden chalice belonging to the Abbey was in the possession of the Glengarry family, and from them passed to the service of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Glasgow. From the sacristy of that church it was stolen in 1845, and by the thieves consigned to the melting-pot.

At Port-a-Churaich, where Columba first landed on Iona, is a ship-barrow. It is about 50 feet in length, and is traditionally the model of St Columba's currach or boat. Dr Wilson in the Prehistoric Annals of Scotland is of opinion that it is a sepulchral barrow of some fierce Viking, erected during the period when the island was so frequently ravaged by the Northmen. There were formerly two standing stones at the same place. Tb ere are also cairns on the W side of the bay, and at Sithean Mor (the great fairy mount) there is also a tumulus on which Pennant says at the time of his visit (1772) there was a circle of stones.

The parish of Iona contains also five farms in the Ross district of Mull. it was erected in 1845, and is in the presbytery of Mull and the synod of Argyll. The village is to the E of the ruins of the nunnery, and there are a few houses in the northern district, but the southern part is uninhabited. The parish church is in the village; the stipend is £120, and there is a manse and glebe. There is also a Free church, the minister of which resides in Mull, and the old Free church manse is now used as a hotel. The post-town is Aros in Mull. Pop. (1782) 277, (1841) 1084, (1871) 865, (1881) 713, of whom 645 were Gaelic-speaking.

See Monro's account in 1549 in the Macfarlane MS. in the Advocates Library, and particulars supplied to Sacheverell, Governor of Man, by Dean Fraser in 1688 in the same MS.; Martin's Description of the Western Islands (Lond. 1703); Pennant's Tour (Chester, 1774); Maclean's Historical Account of Iona (Edinb. 1833-41); Transactions of the Iona Club, Collectanea de rebus Albanicis - Edited by the Iona Club [Edited by Donald Gregory and W. F. Skene] (Edinb. 1834); Graham's Antiquities of Iona (Lond. 1850); C. A. Buckler's Cathedral or Abbey Church of Iona (Lond. 1866); Duke of Argyll's Iona (Lond. 1870; reprinted from the vol. of Good Words for 1869); Adamnan's Life of St Columba (Scottish Historian Series, Edinb. 1874); and Skene's Celtic Scotland, vol. ii. (Edinb. 1877).

* This was the inscription as it existed in 1848. Between that and 1850 it was damaged probably by some reckless relic hunter. See Reeves' Adamnan's Life of St Columba, Ed. 1874, p. 247.

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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