Click for Bookshop

Oronsay

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.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Colonsay and Oronsay, two Inner Hebridean islands of Argyllshire, separated by a sound of only 100 yards at the narrowest, and dry at low water for three hours. Colonsay, the northernmost and much the larger of the two, has a good eastern harbour at Schallasaig, which, 16 miles NNW of Port Askaig in Islay, may be reached from Glasgow by the Oban steamer, and at which are an inn and a post office (Colonsay) under Greenock. Its length from NNE to SSW is 8 miles, and its breadth varies between 1½ and 3¼ miles; whilst 3 by 2 miles is Oronsay's utmost extent. The surface is irregular, rising to 493 feet in Carn-nan-Eun to the N of Colonsay, where two lochs yield capital trout fishing. The shooting also is good. Mica slate, passing into chlorite and clay slate, and mixed with quartz and limestone, is the leading formation; the soil is well suited for either crops or cattle; and so mild is the climate that fuchsias, hydrangeas, and the like, flourish unchecked by winter cold- A paper read before the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (June 14,1880) described a bone cave lately discovered in Colonsay by Mr Symington Grieve, and comprising chambers 230 feet in extent, some of which contain a local deposit of stalagmite, and, underneath, successive layers of ashes, charcoal, and bones of the common domestic animals. The most interesting antiquities, however, are the ecclesiastical, second only to those of Iona. Columba and Oran, his colleague, are said, though not by Skene, to have first settled here, after quitting Ireland in 563, and to have given name to the two islands; but the Austin Priory of Oronsay must have been founded long after, most likely in the 14th century by a Lord of the Isles as a cell of Holyrood. Early English in style, its roofless church measures 772/3 by 18 feet, and contains a number of curious effigies, figured in Gordon's Monasticon (1868). Near it, too, are a beautifully sculptured cross, 12 feet high, and the mutilated fragments of another. From the Macduffies, their ancient lords, the islands passed in the 17th century to the Macdonalds of the Colkitto branch, and next to the Duke of Argyll. The latter in 1700 exchanged them for Crerar, in South Knapdale, with Donald M`Neill, two of whose descendants have shed great lustre upon Colonsay in law and in diplomacy. These are Duncan M`Neill (1794-1874), who was raised to the peerage as Lord Colonsay in 1867; and his brother, the Right Hon. Sir John M'Neill, G.C.B. (b. 1795), of Burnhead, Liberton, who now is principal proprietor, holding 11,262 acres in Argyllshire, valued at £2172 per annum. Colonsay House (1722; enlarged about 1830), in the northern part of the island, is the present seat of their nephew, Sir John Carstairs M`Neill, K.C.M.G., C.B., V.C. (b. 1831; cre. 1880). An obelisk of red Mull granite, 30 feet high, was erected in 1879 to the memory of Lord Colonsay, in place of one destroyed three years before by lightning. Long annexed to Jura, the islands now form a parish in the presbytery of Islay and Jura and synod of Argyll; the living is worth £170. The church, built in 1802, contains 400 sittings; and Colonsay public and Kilchattan Christian Knowledge Society's school, with respective accommodation for 50 and 51 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 20 and 30, and grants of £29,3s. and £36,7s. Valuation (1881) £3131,18s. Pop. (1801) 805, (1851) 933, (1861) 598, (1871) 456, (1881) 395.

Oransay, an island in Colonsay parish, Argyllshire, near the S end of Colonsay island, and 5½ miles N by W of the nearest point of Islay. It is separated from Colonsay by a channel only from 100 yards to 1 mile wide, and dry at low water; measures 2 2/3 miles from E to W, by 1 7/8 mile from N to S; and has an indented, irregular outline, with a rugged, hilly, but not high surface. According to tradition, Columba and Oran, his colleague, the latter of whom gave name to the island, first landed here from Ireland in 563, when, finding he could see the Irish coast from Cairn-Cul-riErinn,its highest hill, he durst not tarry, but proceeded northward to Iona. Long after, in the 14th century, an Austin priory was founded here by one of the Lords of the Isles as a cell of Holyrood Abbey. This -priory has left remains more interesting than any in the Western Highlands and Islands, excepting those of Iona. Transitional Early English in style, its roofless church measures 772/3 feet in length and 18 in width, has a fine three-light Gothic E window, and adjoins a very peculiar cloister, forming a square of 40 feet without and 282/3 within. In Pennant's time (1772) one of the sides of the cloister had five small round arches; whilst two other sides, confronting each other, showed seven low triangular-headed arches, with plain square columns. A side chapel contains a sculptured tomb of an abbot of 1539, and a stone with figures of dogs, a stag, and a ship under sail; and in the churchyard is a finely sculptured cross of 1510, resting on a graduated pedestal, and bearing on its head a sculpture of the crucifixion. Other antiquities, such as cairns and tumuli, are numerous. Pop. (1871) 48, (1881) 10. See an article by W. Stevenson in Procs. Soc. Ants. Scotl. (1881).

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

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better