Priest Island

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Priest Island
Priest Island is located in Highland
Priest Island
Priest Island
Priest Island shown within Highland Scotland
OS grid reference NB925025
Gaelic name Eilean a' Chlèirich
Meaning of name Priest Island
Physical Geography
Island group Summer Isles
Area 122 ha
Area rank 136=[1]
Highest elevation 78 m
Political Geography
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Highland
Population 0[2]
References [3][4]

Priest Island (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean a' Chlèirich) is a small, uninhabited island in the Summer Isles off the west coast of Scotland.


According to the Gazetteer for Scotland the island was an "early Christian retreat" and that it has several stone circles.[5] Haswell-Smith refers to "three prehistoric stone circles" and a "prehistoric stone circle ... beside the burn" that had been dug up and placed there by the naturalist John Harvie Brown.[6]

Harvie Brown visited the island on July 4, 1884 and "saw the remains of old crofts, and a curious and perfect circle of stones, lying flat on their sides with the smaller ends towards a common centre, and sunk flush with the surface of the short green sward". Harvie Brown noted the "highly polished surface of these nine stones when I first saw them in situ .... as if done by human hands (or feet)". On his second visit he found the stones gone, and on his fourth visit, in 1903, he searched for the stones in the surrounding area, collected nine he was fairly sure were the originals, and placed them in a new location but in the original plan. His drawing of the time shows a feature of circa 4 m in diameter. He also noted that there were "at least two, if not more, similar stone circles ... which were not far removed in distance from this principal circle, but these were of smaller dimensions and not formed with so perfectly flat stones".[7]

Frank Fraser Darling, who lived on the island for a while,[8] refers to Harvie Brown seeing "what he thought was a stone circle" and his reconstruction of the feature on an adjacent site: "they lie there still, and as the sheep graze over them, they do not disappear".[9]

The 1794 Statistical Account states that "there is a large 'cove' on the south side of Priest Island, said to have been the alternative home of a 'Popish priest'."[8] According to the "Scotland's Places" website (which collates information from various national databases including RCAHMS) this "cove" is probably one of the caves on the island, possibly at NB927016 which "has been divided by a drystone wall from floor to roof with an opening for communication between the two compartments". They note that Fraser Darling found a midden there, although all trace of it has now gone. They make no reference to stone circles.[8]


Priest Island is the outermost and most exposed of the Summer Isles, lying about 6 km off the west coast of Wester Ross.[10]


Priest Island beneath Ben Mor Coigach.

Eilean a' Chleirich is owned and managed as a nature reserve by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It is a SSSI and a Special Protection Area. Non-avian fauna includes pygmy shrews, otters and grey seals.[5]

Priest Island supports heath communities and a small amount of woodland. Enrichment from salt spray and bird guano enables more species-rich maritime heath and cliff communities to exist around the coast. The island has one of the largest Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) colonies in the UK, together with other breeding seabirds.[10]

In the summer of 1960, a group from an English school studied some of the bird life of the island.[citation needed] Pupils and teachers from Whitgift School in South Croydon spent 2 weeks on the island with official permission to study and ring some of the birds, such as storm petrels at night time (netting and ringing) and shags on the cliffs in daytime. They took a month's supplies with them, including food, tents and equipment totalling quarter of a ton on a trek cart pulled over from Garve Station.


  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  3. ^ Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 190
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey. Get-a-map (Map). 1:25,000. Leisure. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Overview for Priest Island". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 2007-12-15. 
  6. ^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 191-92
  7. ^ J A Harvie-Brown and Rev H A Macpherson (1904) A Fauna of the North-West Highlands & Skye.
  8. ^ a b c "Priest Island". Scotland's Places. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  9. ^ Frank Fraser Darling (1940) Island Years.
  10. ^ a b "Priest Island SPA Description". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Retrieved 2007-12-15. 


Coordinates: 57°57.5′N 5°30′W / 57.9583°N 5.500°W / 57.9583; -5.500