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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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.

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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