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Thought to have been named after a Norse princess, the island of Islay lies in the Inner Hebrides to the west of the Kintyre Peninsula and southwest of the island of Jura from which it is separated by the Sound of Islay. It is the third largest and southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. Noted for its whisky distilleries which utilise the island's extensive areas of peat, Islay's chief settlements are Port Ellen, Port Askaig, Bowmore, Bridgend and Port Charlotte. With an area of 61,956 ha (153,093 acres), the island rises to a height of 491m (1610 feet) at Beinn Bheigeir. Settled by the Irish in the 3rd century AD, Islay was part of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada before the Norse invasions of the 9th century. For nearly four centuries from the 12th century Islay was the headquarters of the powerful Lords of the Isles whose seat was at Loch Finlaggan near Port Askaig. The island was subsequently granted to the Campbells, one of whom, John Francis Campbell (1822-85), spent his life recording the legends and traditions if the island. In recent years, the population has shown an accelerating decline from 3860 (1961), 3816 (1971), 3792 (1981), 3538 (1991), 3457 (2001) to 3228 (2011).

Islay is noted for its birdlife, in particular the large number of overwintering geese and a national nature reserve at Duich Moss was designated in 1993. Monuments of historic interest include the 9th-century high Celtic Cross at Kildalton and the 14th-century cross at Kilchoman, Dunyvaig Castle and the chapel at Kilchiaran founded by St Columba. The Rhinns of Islay forms a hammerhead peninsula to the west and to the west of Port Ellen, while the granite cliffs of The Oa peninsula are popular with climbers and feral goats. On the Mull of Oa is a memorial to those who lost their lives when the Tuscania was torpedoed in February 1918 and the Otranto was wrecked eight months later. Ferries connect Port Ellen and Port Askaig with the mainland, and the latter with Jura. An airport occupies the site of a former Royal Air Force airfield at Glenegedale, to the north northwest of Port Ellen, overlooking the long sandy beach of Laggan Bay.

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