Holy Island, Firth of Clyde

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Holy Island
Scottish Gaelic nameAn t-Eilean Àrd or Eilean MoLaise
Meaning of name"the high island" or "Laisren's island" in Gaelic.
Holy Island from Lamlash
Holy Island from Lamlash
Holy Island is located in North Ayrshire
Holy Island
Holy Island
Holy Island shown within North Ayrshire
OS grid referenceNS063297
Coordinates55°32′N 5°04′W / 55.53°N 5.07°W / 55.53; -5.07
Physical geography
Island groupFirth of Clyde
Area253 ha (1 sq mi)
Area rank95 [1]
Highest elevationMullach Mòr, 1,030 ft (314 m) – a Marilyn
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaNorth Ayrshire
Population rank58 [1]
Population density12/km2 (31/sq mi)[2][3]
References[3][4] [5]
Mullach Mòr
Lighthouse Holy Isle SE.jpg
Lighthouse on Holy Isle SE.
Highest point
Elevation1,030 ft (310 m)
Prominence1,030 ft (310 m)
Coordinates55°31′30″N 5°04′20″W / 55.52500°N 5.07222°W / 55.52500; -5.07222Coordinates: 55°31′30″N 5°04′20″W / 55.52500°N 5.07222°W / 55.52500; -5.07222
English translationBig hill
Language of nameGaelic
PronunciationScottish Gaelic: [ˈmul̪ˠəx ˈmoːɾ]
LocationFirth of Clyde, Scotland
OS gridNS063297
Topo mapOS Landranger 69

The Holy Island or Holy Isle (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean MoLaise) is an island in the Firth of Clyde, off the west coast of central Scotland, inside Lamlash Bay on the larger Isle of Arran. The island is around 3 kilometres (1+78 mi) long and around 1 kilometre (58 mi) wide. Its highest point is the hill Mullach Mòr.


The island has a long history as a sacred site, with a spring or holy well held to have healing properties, the hermit cave of 6th century monk St Molaise, and evidence of a 13th-century monastery. An old Gaelic name for the island was Eilean MoLaise, Molaise's Island; this is the origin (via Elmolaise and Limolas) of "Lamlash", the name of the village on Arran that faces Holy Island.

Some runic writing is to be found on the roof of St Molaise's cave and a Viking fleet sheltered between Arran and Holy Isle before the Battle of Largs.

In 1549, Dean Monro wrote of the "little ile callit the yle of Molass, quherin there was foundit by Johne, Lord of the iles, ane monastry of friars, which is decayit."[6]

Present day[edit]

In 1992, the island was in the possession of Kay Morris, a devout Catholic who reportedly had a dream in which the Virgin Mary instructed her to give ownership of the island to the Samyé Ling Buddhist Community, who belong to the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.[7] The settlements on the island include the Centre for World Peace and Health, founded by Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, on the north of the island. This is an environmentally designed residential centre for courses and retreats which extends the former farm house. It has solar water heating and a reed-bed sewage treatment system. The approach from the ferry jetty is decorated with Tibetan flags and stupas. On the southern end of the island lives a community of nuns who are undertaking three year retreats.

The remainder of the island is treated as a nature reserve with wild Eriskay ponies, Saanen goats, Soay sheep and the replanting of native trees. The rare Rock Whitebeam tree is found on the island, an essential link in the evolution of the Arran Whitebeam species, Sorbus arranensis, Sorbus pseudofennica and Sorbus pseudomeinichii. These are indigenous and unique to Arran.

There is a regular ferry service from Lamlash, and the island is popular with holiday makers staying on Arran. The usually resident population was recorded as 31 in 2011,[2] an increase from 13 in 2001.[8]



  1. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ a b c National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland's Inhabited Islands" (PDF). Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland Release 1C (Part Two) (PDF) (Report). SG/2013/126. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 69 Isle of Arran (Map). Ordnance Survey. 2014. ISBN 9780319229644.
  5. ^ Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Ainmean-àite/Placenames. (pdf) Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  6. ^ Monro (1549) "Molass" no. 5
  7. ^ Holy Isle Buddhists fight power plant by Martin McLaughlin The Scotsman 29 July 2019
  8. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.

External links[edit]