Parish of Tiree

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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1791-99: Tiree and Coll
1834-45: Tiree and Coll

Tyree (Gael. tirith, 'land of corn'), an island of the Argyllshire Hebrides, 2 miles SW of Coll, 13¼ W of Treshinish Point in Mull, 19 NW of Iona, and 37¼ SE of Barra. Its length is 14 miles; and its breadth varies between ¾ mile and 6 miles. It appears to have been, in Columban times, part of the patrimony of the Church, and to have supplied Iona with considerable quantities of grain; and hence it is supposed to have acquired its name. Another ancient name, still applied to it in romantic tales, is Rioghachd bar fo thuin, 'The kingdom whose summits are lower than the waves;' and this aptly describes it as the lowest and the flattest of the Hebrides, and as so curiously washed by the sea, that from one side the waves may often be seen on the other rising several feet above the level of the rocks. The shores have frequent though not deep indentations, and consist of sandy bays, separated by ridges of rock The Bay of Gett, on the E side, measures about 2½ miles round the head, and has so firm a sandy beach that a horse at full gallop makes an impression not above ½ inch deep. Upwards of 20 fresh-water lakes together cover some 600 acres. From one of the larger lakes flows the only stream, which, however, is powerful enough to drive a mill. At the northern extremity of the island are considerable accumulations of blown sand. In the S the rocks look so rarely up from the surface as to form only a few scattered elevations; but towards the N they become numerous, and at length occupy the greater part of the surface, preventing the cultivation of the soil, and condemning it to perpetual pasturage. A few low heights are formed on the rocky ground, ranging from 30 to 60 feet in altitude; and three separate hills rise near the southern extremity to a maximum height of 400 feet. All the rest of the island has a mean elevation above high-water mark of scarcely 20 feet; and, as it has no tree, and scarcely an enclosure, it is swept with unrestrained violence by the westerly winds, and often so scourged by gales that sown seed and loose dry soil are dispersed, and matured crops of corn and potatoes broken- down. A remarkable plain, called the Reef, near the centre of the island, and 1562 acres in area, is as flat as the sea, and has scarcely a swell or even a stone; and, from dread of the effect of the winds should the surface be once broken, it is kept in a state of perpetual pasture, and offers a singular spectacle of rich verdure. The soil is in general light, consisting of sand, calcareous earth, and moss. The sand very greatly predominates; but, in its general diffusion, it is of a calcareous nature, consisting, together with quartz, of a large proportion of pulverised sea-shells. The island, in consequence, is one of the most fertile tracts of land in the Hebrides. Its fertility is greatly aided, too, by a regular and constant moisture, occasioned partly by its flatness and partly by its peculiar climate and exposure. The regularity of the moisture is everywhere proved by the flourishing growth in the corn-fields of the yellow iris, the polygonum viviparum, and other aquatic plants. Such natural pastures as, from their soil and position, have least humidity are surprisingly rich, and produce white clover in such abundance as almost to exclude the grasses. Marshes are unknown; and bogs are so limited that the inhabitants are under the necessity of importing their fuel from Mull, and in some instances have been driven to the ruinous resource of paring the soil down occasionally to the subjacent rock. So wondrously destitute is the island of wood, that, excepting one species of willow, it may be said not to possess a ligneous fibre. Yet the total want of shelter, while in many respects injurious to agriculture, combines with the level nature of the surface to occasion so equable a distribution of sand-drift by the winds, that, instead of low lands being overwhelmed as in many places throughout the other Hebrides and the Shetland Islands, the drift brings a perpetual renewal of calcareous manure, and scarcely anywhere accumulates to such a degree as to choke vegetation. At the northern extremity, however, as in the S end of Coll, protuberating rocks afford local shelter, and occasion the sand to accumulate. Agricultural practice has undergone some improvements, but is still in a comparatively rude condition. About 5850 acres are in tillage; and about 10,725 are pastoral or waste. The produce of all kinds of crops is comparatively small. The rearing of black cattle is a chief employment; and the exportation of them a principal means of support. Poultry and eggs also are largely exported. Fishing, contrary to the prevailing practice in the Hebrides, engages comparatively little attention. Owing to a rapidity of increase in the population, and to the ruin of the kelp manufacture on which a large proportion of them depended mainly for subsistence, Tyree has shared to a grievous extent in the distress with which so many of the Hebridean islands have of late years been visited. The Duke of Argyll is the sole proprietor. The predominant rock of the island is gneiss; but this abounds with veins of granite, and imbeds masses of primitive limestone. One of the limestone masses, long and favourably known for the flesh-coloured marble into which it has been cut for ornamental architecture, is an irregular rock, 100 feet in diameter, lying among the gneiss without stratification or continuity. In consequence of its hardness, even though cheaper, in spite of that inconvenience, than many foreign marbles of far inferior beauty, it has lost the patronage of public caprice, and ceased to be in request. Its very tint is finely relieved by the dark green crystals of augite and hornblende which are imbedded in it. The deposit is quite unstratified. Another mass, ten times the size of the former, and equally irregular, resembles the marble of Iona in whiteness, texture, and fracture, yet is generally impure, and seems to have been quarried only for building dikes. The Hill of Ceanmharra, situated at the SW point of the island, and presenting a mural face to the sea, is perforated with a great number of caves, some of which are large and scoured by the surge, while all are frequented by flocks of sea-fowls. Remains of no fewer than 39 watch-towers or forts, within view of one another, encircle the coast of Tyree and Coll; and there are 9 or 10 standing-stones, besides minor antiquities. The inhabitants relate many Fingalian and other tales of battles and chieftains, and even affect to point out the graves of the heroes of their legends. On an islet, now converted into a peninsula, anciently stood a square turreted castle, accessible only by a drawbridge; and on its ruins was erected, in 1748, a house for the factor of the Duke of Argyll. Fairs are held on the Wednesday in May before Mull, on the Monday in August before Mull, and on the Wednesday in October before Mull. The island has a post office under Oban, with money order and savings' bank departments, and communicates weekly by steamer with the Clyde. Tyree, to which Coll was annexed from 1618 to 1866, is now a separate parish, in the presbytery of Mull and the synod of Argyll; the living is worth £317. The church was built in 1776, and enlarged in 1786, and contains 475 sittings. There are Free and Congregational churches in Tyree; and four new public schools- Cornaigmore, Hillipol, Ruaig, and Scarnish-with respective accommodation for 130, 120, 105, and 70 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 88, 73, 63, and 48, and grants of £93, 17s. 5d., £27, 12s. 5d., £58, 1s. 4d., and £31, 14s. Valuation (1885) £6177, 16s. Pop. (1831) 4453, (1861) 3201, (1871) 2834, (1881) 2730.

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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