Colonsay shown within Argyll and Bute
|OS grid reference||NR382938|
|Pronunciation||[kʰɔlˠ̪ɔ.əs̪ə] ( listen)|
|Meaning of name||Old Norse for 'Columba's isle'|
|Area||4,074 hectares (15.7 sq mi)|
|Area rank||26 |
|Highest elevation||143 metres (469 ft)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Council area||Argyll and Bute|
|Population rank||44 |
|Population density||2.7 people/km2|
Colonsay (Scottish Gaelic: Colbhasa) is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, located north of Islay and south of Mull. The ancestral home of Clan Macfie and the Colonsay branch of Clan MacNeil, it is in the council area of Argyll and Bute and has an area of 4,074 hectares (15.7 sq mi). Aligned on a south-west to north-east axis, it measures 8 miles (13 km) in length and reaches 3 miles (4.8 km) at its widest point.
Geography and geology
Although Colonsay appears bare and somewhat forbidding on approach from the sea, its landscape is varied, with some sandy beaches, and a sheltered and fertile interior. It is linked by a tidal causeway (called The Strand) to Oronsay. The highest point on the island is Carnan Eoin, 143 metres above sea level.
The Colonsay Group, which takes its name from the island, is an estimated 5,000 m thick sequence of mildy metamorphosed Neoproterozoic sedimentary rocks that also outcrop on the islands of Islay and Oronsay and the surrounding seabed. The sequence has been correlated with the Grampian Group, the oldest part of the Dalradian Supergroup.
Mesolithic food industry
In 1995 evidence of large-scale Mesolithic nut shelling, some 9000 years ago, was found in a midden pit at Staosnaig on the island's sheltered east coast, in a large, shallow pit full of the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells. Hazelnuts have been found on other Mesolithic sites, but rarely in such quantities or concentrated in one pit. The nuts were radiocarbon dated to 7720+/-110BP, which calibrates to circa 7000 BC. Similar sites in Britain and its dependencies are known only at Farnham in Surrey and Cass ny Hawin on the Isle of Man.
This discovery gives an insight into communal activity and forward planning of the period. The nuts were harvested in a single year and pollen analysis suggests that the hazel trees were all cut down at the same time. The scale of the activity, unparalleled elsewhere in Scotland, and the lack of large game on the island, suggests that Colonsay's inhabitants were largely vegetarian. The pit was originally on a beach close to the shore, and there were two smaller stone-lined pits, whose function remains obscure, a hearth, and a second cluster of pits.
There are a variety of ruined hill forts on the island such as Dùn Cholla and Dùn Meadhonach. The eighth century Riasg Buidhe Cross has been re-erected in the gardens of Colonsay House. St Cathan's Chapel may date from the 14th century. The ruins of the Chapel of St. Mary are little more than foundations and may date to an even earlier period. in 1549 Dean Monro wrote that Colonsay was "seven myle lange from the northeist to the southwest, with twa myle bredthe, ane fertile ile guid for quhit fishing. It hath ane paroch kirke. This ile is bruikit be ane gentle capitane, callit M’Duffyhe, and pertened of auld to Clandonald of Kyntyre.
During the 18th century the lairds of the island were Macneils, and included Archibald Macneil. Colonsay House was first built by the Mcneil family in 1722. Since 1904 the house has been the property of the island's later owners, the Barons Strathcona. Colonsay is owned by Donald Howard, 4th Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal and Colonsay House is currently occupied by his eldest son, Alexander Howard and his family.
In 2013 the Argyll and Bute Council threatened legal action against Alexander Howard over the state of the Rubh' Aird Alanais beach following the significant removal of gravel leading to large holes. Howard infuriated island residents, by accusing them of removing gravel from a beach without permission. Locals said that innocent people had been labelled "thieves" and "peasants". It was later discovered that the gravel had been removed by a builder working on behalf of one of the crofters.
The island's population was 124 as recorded by the 2011 census an increase of nearly 15% since 2001 when there were 108 usual residents. During the same period Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702. Colonsay's main settlement is Scalasaig (Gaelic: Sgalasaig) on the east coast.
Recently there has been a growth of tourism as the mainstay of the island's economy, with numerous holiday cottages, many of them owned and managed by the Isle of Colonsay Estate. The Colonsay Hotel, the only hotel on the island, is also estate owned.
The island has a tiny bookshop specialising in books of local interest; it is also the home of the House of Lochar publishing company specialising in Scottish history. There is a hotel overlooking the harbour, a cafe and bakery, and a shop and post office.
Colonsay Community Development Company, the local development trust is “engaged in a range of work which reflects a sustainable approach to the regeneration of our island”. Current projects include running the islands coal supply and only petrol pump, a major Rhododendron ponticum eradication programme and a feasibility study into the possibility of improving the harbour and surrounding area.
The nature of island life was exemplified by a story reported in 1993 that, at that time, the last recorded crime was treachery against the King in 1623. In November 2006 a construction worker from Glasgow was arrested and confessed to theft by housebreaking having entered an unlocked house and stolen £60 in cash. Media interest was stirred when it was reported that this was the first recorded crime since 2004 and the "first ever theft from a house". The next reported crime was in 2013 involving vandalism to a car.
In 2006 the former grass airstrip was upgraded and provided with a hard surface in readiness for the introduction of a scheduled air service. Hebridean Air Services operates from Oban Airport and Islay Airport to Colonsay Airport.
The 1945 film I Know Where I'm Going! directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger was principally shot on Mull and references the fictional "Isle of Kiloran", which was based on Colonsay. The American author John McPhee, descended from a Colonsay emigrant, spent a summer on Colonsay, out of which was published The Crofter and the Laird in 1969.
In 2008, Colonsay hosted the first ever Ceòl Cholasa, the island's own folk festival. This has now become an annual event and has seen performances by numerous well-known artists including Phil Cunningham & Aly Bain, Karen Matheson, Gaberlunzie and Karine Polwart as well as performances from local island musicians.
Since 2011 the island has held a three-week "Festival of Spring" annually in May. Its aim is to encourage tourism onto the island, with events and activities led by both local inhabitants and visiting guest "speakers/experts".
A similar event occurs every Autumn, called "Connect with Colonsay", which runs over a three-week period in October.
In 2012 the island staged its first book festival which featured, amongst others, Alexander McCall Smith, James Robertson, and Scots Makar Liz Lochhead. The line up for 2013 was headed by crime writer Ian Rankin.
Colonsay and Oronsay are home to about 50 colonies of the only native species of honeybee in Britain–Apis mellifera mellifera. The Scottish Government introduced the Bee Keeping (Colonsay and Oronsay) Order 2013 to protect the species from cross-breeding and disease. This bee has suffered serious declines on the mainland and from 1 January 2014 it will be an offence to keep any other species of honeybee on either island. Paul Wheelhouse MSP said: "The order is a targeted measure to protect an important population of black bees on Colonsay from hybridisation with non-native bees. We are working in close collaboration with the Scottish Beekeepers Association and Bee Farmers Association to deliver the ten-year Honeybee Health Strategy, which aims to achieve a sustainable and healthy population of honeybees for pollination and honey production in Scotland."
Colonsay's name derives from Old Norse and means "Kolbein's island" (although Haswell-Smith offers "Columba's island"). In the 14th century the name was recorded as Coluynsay and by Dean Monro in the 16th century as Colvansay. The modern Gaelic is Colbhasa. Scalasaig also has a Norse derivation and means "Skali's bay".
- Donald MacKinnon was born in Kilchattan on Colonsay, in 1839. In 1882, he became the first person appointed to the Chair of Celtic Studies at Edinburgh University. Professor MacKinnon was born on Colonsay in 1839 and held the Celtic Chair from 1882 until his death at Balnahard, Colonsay, in 1914.
- John McNeill, recipient of the Victoria Cross.
- Danny Alexander the ex-Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey grew up on Colonsay.
- Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
- 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.
- Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 52-53
- "Mesolithic food industry on Colonsay" (June 1995) British Archaeology. No. 5. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
- Moffat, Alistair (2005) Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History. London. Thames & Hudson. p. 91–2.
- Monro (1549) "Colnansay" no. 84
- "The Estate". colonsayestate.co.uk. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- Watson, Rachel (4 October 2013) "Anger as laird blames crofters in gravel dispute". Glasgow. The Herald. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
- General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
- "Scotland's 2011 census: Island living on the rise". BBC News. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
- "Colonsay Hotel" colonsayestate.co.uk. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- House of Lochar Publisher. "Mission Statement". Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- "Colonsay Hotel". Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- "Colonsay Brewery". Retrieved 2007-04-24.
- "Hebridean beer pioneers win battle of the tiny islands". Retrieved 2013-02-24.
- "Hebridean policeman's lot is a happy one". Herald Scotland. 21 June 1993.
- Paterson. S. (2006-11-10). "Colonsay’s first house thief is fined £400". The Herald newspaper (Glasgow). Retrieved 2006-11-29.
- "First crime recorded on Colonsay for seven years". The Scotsman. 28 June 2013.
- "Home" and "History". Colonsay Rugby Festival. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
- "Mull: I Know Where I'm Going" powell-pressburger.org. Retrieved 29 December 2009. Extract from Bruce, David (1996) Scotland the Movie. Polygon.
- The Crofter and the Laird amazon.com Retrieved 7 Feb 2011.
- "Ceol Chòlasa" ceolcholasa.co.uk. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- "SpringFest 2014". Colonsayevents.co.uk. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- "Home". Colonsay Book Festival. Retrieved 5 Sept 2012.
- "Colonsay and Oronsay to become honeybee havens". Edinburgh. Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
- Mac Taillier (2003) p. 31
- Watson (1926) p. 84
- Mac Taillier (2003) p. 103
- "Grave Location For Holders of the Victoria Cross in Strathclyde". Prestel. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- Dinwoodie, Robin (31 May 2010) "The boy from Colonsay takes on critical job at Treasury". Glasgow; The Herald.
- Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
- Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Ainmean-àite/Placenames. (pdf) Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
- Monro, Sir Donald (1549) Description of the Western Isles of Scotland. William Auld. Edinburgh - 1774 edition.
- Watson, W. J. (1994). The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland. Edinburgh; Birlinn. ISBN 1841583235. First published 1926.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Colonsay.|
- Island at the Edge Colonsay produce website
- Colonsay Brewery Website
- Island web site
- Colonsay "Festival of Spring"
- Colonsay House and gardens
- The Corncrake, Colonsay's newsletter
- Colonsay Estate Website and Holiday Cottages
- On The Edge, documentary about Colonsay