From one of the small beaches on the east coast of Oronsay, looking towards the Paps of Jura in the distance.
It rises to a height of 93m (305 feet) at Beinn Orasaigh (Beinn Oronsay) and is linked to Colonsay by a tidal causeway (called An Traigh ('The Strand')) consisting of sands and mud flats. In the 2001 census Oronsay was recorded as having a population of five people, who live at the farm adjacent to Oronsay Priory. The island has no facilities of its own, and is entirely dependent upon its tidal access to and from Colonsay. The rocks and skerries of Eilean nan Ròn (Seal Island), to the south-west, are an important Grey Seal breeding colony. In order to conserve the population of resident Choughs and breeding Corncrakes Oronsay and southern Colonsay became a Special Protection Area in December 2007.
There are two theories for the origin of the name from Old Norse. Either it is Oran's Isle, St Oran being the founder of the island's priory in 563, or it may be from the Old Norse Örfirisey meaning "island of the ebb tide".
On a visit to Colonsay in the 18th century, Sir Joseph Banks was informed that, "Macdufie was a factor or manager for Macdonald King of the Isles upon these islands of Oransay and Colonsay & that for his mismanagement & tyranny he was executed by order of that prince". It is now owned by the Colburn family.
The island is best known for Oronsay Priory, a 14th-century ruined Augustinianpriory, probably on the same site as the original 563 building, and the Oronsay Cross, originally carved on Iona. The Priory was modest in scale, but has one of the most complete (though somewhat restored) cloister garths of any Scottish medieval religious house. In the late Middle Ages a distinct 'school' of monumental sculpture flourished on Oronsay, leaving many slabs with effigies or other carvings at the Priory itself, or at other religious sites throughout the Hebrides to which they were exported. See examples pictured below. The production of sculpture ceased at the Scottish Reformation.
Oronsay is one of several Hebridean islands that have furnished archaeologists with invaluable information about the Mesolithic period of prehistory, particularly about the diet of human beings.
Oronsay Priory was recently 'improved' in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth's visit.
Colonsay and Oronsay are home to about 50 colonies of the only native species of honeybee in Britain–Apis mellifera mellifera. In 2013 the Scottish Government introduced the Bee Keeping (Colonsay and Oronsay) Order to protect the species, which has suffered serious declines on the mainland, from cross-breeding and disease.
^This image was drawn by John Cleveley, junior, from a sketch taken on 8 August 1772. On the back of the drawing is the quotation given above, presumably made by Sir Joseph Banks who travelled to the Western Isles around 1772.