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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Iona is located in Scotland
Iona shown within Scotland
OS grid reference NM275245
Gaelic name About this sound Ì Chaluim Chille
Pronunciation [iː xalˠ̪əmˈçiʎə]
Norse name Eyin Helga; Hioe (hypothetical)
Meaning of name unclear
Area and summit
Area 877 hectares (3.4 sq mi)
Area rank 55
Highest elevation Dùn Ì 101 metres (331 ft)
Population (2001) 125
Population rank 40 out of 97
Main settlement Baile Mór
Island group Mull
Local Authority Argyll and Bute
Flag of Scotland.svg Lymphad3.svg
References [1][2][3]
If shown, area and population ranks are for all Scottish islands and all inhabited Scottish islands respectively.

Iona (Scottish Gaelic: Ì Chaluim Chille) is a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was a center of Celtic Christianity for four centuries and is today renowned for its tranquility and natural beauty. It is a popular tourist destination. Its modern Gaelic name means "Iona of Saint Columba" (formerly anglicised "Icolmkill").



The Hebrides have been occupied by the speakers of at least four languages since the Iron Age, and as a result many of the names of these islands have more than one possible meaning. Nonetheless few, if any, can have accumulated so many different names over the centuries as the island now known in English as "Iona".

The earliest forms of the name enabled place-name scholar William J. Watson to show that the name originally meant something like "yew-place".[4] The element Ivo-, denoting "yew", occurs in Ogham inscriptions (Iva-cattos [genitive], Iva-geni [genitive]) and in Gaulish names (Ivo-rix, Ivo-magus) and may form the basis of early Gaelic names like Eogan (ogham: Ivo-genos).[5] It is possible that the name is related to the mythological figure, Fer hÍ mac Eogabail, foster-son of Manannan, the forename meaning "man of the yew".[6]

Mac an Tàilleir (2003) lists the more recent Gaelic names of Ì [7], Ì Chaluim Chille and Eilean Idhe noting that the first named is "generally lengthened to avoid confusion" to the second, which means "Calum's (i.e. in latinised form "Columba's") Iona" or "island of Calum's monastery".[8][9] The possible confusion results from "ì", despite its original etymology, becoming a Gaelic noun (now obsolete) meaning simply "island".[10] Eilean Idhe means "the isle of Iona", also known as Ì nam ban bòidheach ("the isle of beautiful women"). The modern English name comes from an 18th century misreading of yet another variant, Ioua,[8][9] which was either just Adomnán's attempt to make the Gaelic name fit Latin grammar or else a genuine derivative from Ivova ("yew place").[11] Ioua's change to Iona results from a transcription mistake resulting from the similarity of "n" and "u" in Insular Minuscule.[12]

Despite the continuity of forms in Gaelic between the pre-Norse and post-Norse eras, Haswell-Smith (2004) speculates that the name may have a Norse connection, Hiōe meaning "island of the den of the brown bear",[9], "island of the den of the fox", or just "island of the cave" [13]. The medieval English language version was "Icolmkill" (and variants thereof).[9]

Table of earliest forms (incomplete)
Form Source Language Notes
Ioua insula Adomnán's Vita Columbae (c. 700) Latin Adomnán calls Eigg Egea insula and Skye Scia insula
Hii, Hy Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum Latin
Eoa, Iae, Ie,
I Cholaim Chille
Annals of Ulster Irish, Latin U563 Nauigatio Coluim Chille ad Insolam Iae
"The journey of St Columba to Í"
U716 Pascha comotatur in Eoa ciuitate
"The date of Easter is changed in the monastery of Í")[14]
U717 Expulsio familie Ie
"The expulsion of the community of Í"
U778 Niall...a nn-I Cholaim Chille
"Niall... in Í Cholaim Chille"
Hi, Eu Lebor na hUidre Irish Hi con ilur a mmartra
"Hi with the multitude of its relics"
in tan conucaib a chill hi tosuċ .i. Eu
"the time he raised his church first i.e. Eu"
Eo Walafrid Strabo (c. 831) Latin Insula Pictorum quaedam monstratur in oris fluctivago suspensa salo, cognominis Eo
"On the coasts of the Picts is pointed out an isle poised in the rolling sea, whose name is Eo"[15]
Euea insula Life of St Cathróe of Metz Latin

Folk etymology

Murray (1966) claims that the "ancient" Gaelic name was Innis nan Druinich (the isle of Druidic hermits") and repeats a Gaelic story (which he admits is apocryphal) that as Columba's coracle first drew close to the island one of his companions cried out "Chì mi i" meaning "I see her" and that Columba's response was "Henceforth we shall call her Ì".[16]


Iona lies approximately one mile (1.6 km) from the coast of Mull. The island is 1 mile wide (1.6 km) and 3.5 miles (5.6 km) long with a resident population of 125.[17] The island's stone base is covered by a layer of basaltic lava. Like other places swept by ocean breezes, there are few trees with most of these being located around the parish church area.

Iona's highest point is Dùn Ì (101 m, 331 ft), an Iron Age hill fort dating from 100 BC – 200 AD. Its geographical features include the Bay at the Back of the Ocean and Càrn Cùl ri Éirinn (the Hill/Cairn of [turning the] Back to Ireland), said to be adjacent to the beach where St. Columba first landed.

The main settlement, located at St. Ronan's Bay on the eastern side of the island, is called Baile Mòr and is also known locally as "The Village". The primary school, post office, the island's two hotels, the Bishop's House and the ruins of the Nunnery are here. The Abbey and MacLeod Centre are a short walk to the north.[2][18] Port Bàn (white port) beach on the west side of the island is home to the Iona Beach Party.[19]

There are numerous offshore islets and skerries of which Eilean Annraidh (island of storm) and Eilean Chalbha (calf island) to the north, Rèidh Eilean and Stac MhicMhurchaidh to the west and Eilean Mùsimul (mouse holm island) and Soa Island to the south are amongst the largest.[2] The steamer Cathcart Park carrying a cargo of salt from Runcorn to Wick ran aground on Soa on 15 April 1912, the crew of 11 escaping in two boats.[20]


In 563 Saint Columba, also known as Colm Cille, was exiled from his native Ireland as a result of his involvement in the Battle of Cul Dreimhne,[21] and founded a monastery on Iona with 12 companions. From there they set about the conversion of pagan Scotland and much of northern England to Christianity. Iona's fame as a place of learning and Christian mission spread throughout Europe and it became a major site of pilgrimage. Iona became a holy island where several kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway came to be buried.

In the seventh century Celtic Christianity as practiced on Iona was in conflict with Rome until the Synod of Whitby established Roman practice as the norm.

Many believe that all or part of the Book of Kells was produced on Iona towards the end of the 8th century, the bi-centenary of Columba's death (597) being an appropriate event to commemorate by the production of such an outstandingly elaborate manuscript. A series of Viking raids on the monastery on Iona began in 794 and, after its treasures had been plundered many times, Columba’s relics were removed and divided two ways between Scotland and Ireland in 849 as the monastery was abandoned.[22] A convent for the order of Benedictine nuns was established in 1208, with Beathag, daughter of Somerled, as first prioress. The present Benedictine abbey was built in 1203. The monastery itself flourished until the Reformation when buildings were demolished and all but three of the 360 carved crosses destroyed.[23]

Iona Nunnery survives as a number of 12th-13th century ruins of the church and cloister, and a colourful garden. Unlike the rest of the medieval religious buildings, the nunnery was too fragmentary to restore, though it is the most complete remnant of a medieval nunnery in Scotland.

In the 19th century green-streaked marble was commercially mined in the south-east of Iona; the quarry and machinery survive. Pebbles of Iona marble can still be found on the island's beaches.

Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey
Enlargement, showing the location of the abbey and monasteries.

Iona Abbey, now an ecumenical church, is of particular historical and religious interest to pilgrims and visitors alike. It is the most elaborate and best-preserved ecclesiastical building surviving from the Middle Ages in the Western Isles of Scotland. Though modest in scale in comparison to medieval abbeys elsewhere in Western Europe, it has a wealth of fine architectural detail, and monuments of many periods.

In front of the Abbey stands the 9th century St Martin's Cross, one of the best-preserved Celtic crosses in the British Isles, and a replica of the 8th century St John's Cross (original fragments in the Abbey museum).

The ancient burial ground, called the Rèilig Odhrain (Eng: Oran's "burial place" or "cemetery"), contains the 12th century chapel of St Odhrán (said to be Columba's uncle), restored at the same time as the Abbey itself. It contains a number of medieval grave monuments. The abbey graveyard contains the graves of many early Scottish Kings, as well as kings from Ireland, Norway and France. Iona became the burial site for the kings of Dál Riata and their successors. Notable burials there include:

In 1549 an inventory of 48 Scottish, 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish kings was recorded. None of these graves are now identifiable (their inscriptions were reported to have worn away at the end of the 17th century). Saint Baithin and Saint Failbhe may also be buried on the island. The Abbey graveyard is also the final resting place of John Smith, the former Labour Party leader, who loved Iona. His grave is marked with an epitaph quoting Alexander Pope: "An honest man's the noblest work of God".[24]

Other early Christian and medieval monuments have been removed for preservation to the cloister arcade of the Abbey, and the Abbey museum (in the medieval infirmary). The ancient buildings of Iona Abbey are now cared for by Historic Scotland (entrance charge).

Iona Community

Baile Mòr viewed from the Sound of Iona

In 1938 George MacLeod founded the Iona Community, an ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church committed to seeking new ways of living the gospel of Jesus in today's world. This community is a leading force in the present Celtic Christianity revival.

The Iona Community runs 3 residential centres on the Isle of Iona and on Mull. These are places of welcome and engagement giving a unique opportunity to live together in community with people of every background from all over the world. Weeks at the centres often follow a programme related to the concerns of the Iona Community.

The 8 tonne Fallen Christ sculpture by Ronald Rae was permanently situated outside the MacLeod Centre in 2008.[25]


Visitors can reach Iona by the 10-minute ferry trip across the Sound of Iona from Fionnphort on Mull. The most common route is via Oban in Argyll and Bute. Regular ferries connect to Craignure on Mull, from where the scenic road runs 37 miles to Fionnphort. Tourist coaches and local bus services meet the ferries.

There are very few cars on the island, as they are tightly regulated and vehicular access is not allowed for non-residents, who have to leave their car in Fionnphort. Bike hire is available at the pier, and on Mull.

Iona from Mull. The Abbey lies below Dun Ì at right and the main settlement of Baile Mòr is to the left.

Media and the arts

"Peace of Iona" is a song written by Mike Scott that appears on the solo album Universal Hall and on the live recording Karma to Burn by The Waterboys.

Kenneth C. Steven published an anthology of poetry entitled Iona: Poems in 2000 inspired by his association with the island and the surrounding area.

Iona is featured prominently in the first episode ("By the Skin of our Teeth") of the celebrated arts series Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark (1969).

See also


  1. ^ Haswell-Smith, Hamish. (2004) The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh. Canongate.
  2. ^ a b c Ordnance Survey Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  3. ^ Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  4. ^ Watson, Celtic Place-Names, pp. 87–90
  5. ^ Watson, Celtic Place-Names, pp. 87–88. The name of the Gaulish god Ivavos is of similar origin, associated with the healing-well of Evaux in France.
  6. ^ Watson, Celtic Place-Names, pp. 88–89
  7. ^ For etymology of Ì and Latinised derivative Iona, see Watson (2004), pp. 87–90.
  8. ^ a b Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 67.
  9. ^ a b c d Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 80.
  10. ^ Dwelly (1911)
  11. ^ Watson, Celtic Place-Names, p. 88
  12. ^ Fraser (2009) p. 71. This same error turned the historical British churchman Uinniau into Uinnian (Irish: Finnian) and then eventually into the fictional Anglo-Norman saint "Ninian".
  13. ^
  14. ^ original (translation)
  15. ^ Watson, Celtic Place-Names, p. 88, n. 2
  16. ^ Murray (1966) p. 81.
  17. ^ Scotland Census 2001 - anaylser
  18. ^ Murray (1966) pp. 82–83.
  19. ^ "It's Been Emotional" Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  20. ^ "Cathcart Park: Soa Island, Passage Of Tiree" RCAHMS. Retrieved 13 July 2009. The record is tentative, the press cutting the record refers to identifying "'Sheep Island', one of the Torran Rocks near Iona" but there is no other obvious contender.
  21. ^ Admonan The Life of St. Columba, Founder of Hy ed. William Reeves (1857) University Press for the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society. pp. 248-50.
  22. ^ BBC - Iona - A Beacon of Light Through the Dark Ages
  23. ^ Travel Scotland
  24. ^ Walk Of The Month: The island of Iona The Independent 4 June 2006
  25. ^ "'The Fallen Christ' on Iona" Retrieved 8 July 2009.


  • Dwelly, Edward (1911) Faclair Gàidhlig gu Beurla le Dealbhan/The Illustrated [Scottish] Gaelic- English Dictionary. Edinburgh. Birlinn. ISBN 1874744041
  • Fraser, James E. (2009), From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795, The New Edinburgh History of Scotland, 1, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-1232-1  
  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 1841954543.  
  • Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Placenames" (pdf) Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Edinburgh. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  • Marsden, John (1995) The Illustrated Life of Columba. Edinburgh. Floris Books. ISBN 0863152112
  • Murray, W.H. (1966) The Hebrides. London. Heinemann.
  • Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland. Reprinted with an introduction by Simon Taylor, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2004. ISBN 1-84158-323-5


External links

Coordinates: 56°20′N 6°25′W / 56.333°N 6.417°W / 56.333; -6.417

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Iona [1]is an island in Scotland. It is 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles across.


The island only has two major settlements, Baile Mor and the Iona Community. There are 70 permanent residents, but 500,000 visitors each year.


The monastic community on Iona was founded in 563AD by Colum Cille (St. Columba) from Ireland, who was driven out of his homeland, Ireland, in the 6th c. and settled on the Isle of Iona, with his monks; the nearest point to Ireland from which he could not see his homeland. This was the home of celtic christianity for six hundred years until King David suppressed celtic christianity in the twelfth century. Iona remained a major pilgrimage site until the reformation when the island was sacked and the community scattered. In the early twentieth century, the abbey was rebuilt and a new monastic community has begun here, providing much of the tourism for the island.

The ferry from Fionnphort connects with a bus number 496 to Craignure, which connects with a Caledonian Macbrayne ferry service to Oban. Oban has a train and bus service to Glasgow. The journey from Iona to Glasgow takes approximately 5 hours. The bus and ferries will wait for incoming services to try to keep the connections.

By car

Visitors are not allowed to bring cars onto Iona, but you can park for free at Fionnphort on Mull. There are ferries to Mull from Oban, Kilchoan and Salen.

Get around

Iona has one Taxi. If you stay in one of the retreats or hotels, then you may be collected from the quay by car. You can hire bicycles from the Finlay Ross shop in Balle Mor. Otherwise you need to walk.

  • The Augustan Monastery in Balle Mor
  • Iona Heritage Centre
  • MacLean's Cross - one of the few surviving stone crosses on the island.
  • The Lewissian Gneiss rocks on the Western half of Iona are ~ 2 Billion years old and are some of the oldest in Europe. They are a mixture of pink, white, red, green and black.
ancient cross in the churchyard of the abbey.
ancient cross in the churchyard of the abbey.


Walk to the top end of Iona where there are several beaches with white sand, clear water and beautiful rocks. The views are stunning views back towards the Ross of Mull or to the North to Tiree, Coll, The Treshnish Isles, Staffa, Eigg, Muck, and Skye. This walk can be combined with a visit to the Abbey, which is enroute to the beaches.

Walk to South West coast of the island to the beach at Camas Cuil an t-Saimh. To the south of the bay there is a spouting cave.

There are boat trips to Fingal's Cave on Staffa

  • Argyll Hotel, [2].
  • St Columba Hotel, [3].


There is a bar near the quay in Balle Mor, and in the hotels.

  • Iona Hostel [4] - £17.50 Adults, £12.00 Children. The hostel in a fantastic location on a sheep farm to the North of the island. It has 21 beds in 5 rooms, with a good kitchen for self-catering.

Stay safe

Its safe. The biggest danger on Iona is from the elements. In 1998, four men from Iona were killed when their boat capsized on an evening trip to Mull [5].

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

IONA, or Ic0LMKILL, an island of the Inner Hebrides, Argyllshire, Scotland, 62 m. S. of Staffa and 14 m. W. of the Ross of Mull, from which it is separated by the shallow Sound of Iona. Pop. (1901) 213. It is about 32 m. long and 12 m. broad; its area being some 2200 acres, of which about one-third is under cultivation, oats, potatoes and barley being grown. In the rest of the island grassy hollows, yielding pasturage for a few hundred cattle and sheep and some horses, alternate with rocky elevations,. which culminate on the northern coast in Duni (332 ft.), from the base of which a dazzling stretch of white shell sand, partly covered with grass, stretches to the sea. To the south-west the island is fringed with precipitous cliffs. Iona is composed entirely of ancient gneisses and schists of Lewisian age; these include bands of quartzite, slate, marble and serpentine. The strike of the rocks is S.W.-N.E. and they are tilted to very high angles. Fronting the Sound is the village of Iona, or Buile Mor, which has two churches and a school. The inhabitants depend partly on agriculture and partly on fishing.

The original form of the name Iona was Hy, Hii or I, the Irish for Island. By Adamnan in his Life of St Columba it is called Ioua insula, and the present name Iona is said to have originated in some transcriber mistaking the u in Ioua for n. It also received the name of Hii-colum-kill (Icolmkill), that is, "the island of Columba of the Cell," while by the Highlanders it has been known as Innis nan Druidhneah ("the island of the Druids"). This last name seems to imply that Iona was a sacred spot before St Columba landed there in 563 and laid the foundations of his monastery. After this date it quickly developed into the most famous centre of Celtic Christianity, the mother community of numerous monastic houses, whence missionaries were despatched for the conversion of Scotland and northern England, and to which for centuries students flocked from all parts of the north. After St Columba's death the soil of the island was esteemed peculiarly sanctified by the presence of his relics, which rested here until they were removed to Ireland early in the 9th century. Pilgrims came from far and near to die in the island, in order that they might lie in its holy ground; and from all parts of northern Europe the bodies of the illustrious dead were brought here for burial. The fame and wealth of the monastery, however, sometimes attracted less welcome visitors. Several times it was 'plundered and burnt and the monks massacred by the heathen Norse sea-rovers. Late in the 11th century the desecrated monastery was restored by the saintly Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, king of Scotland; and in 1203 a new monastery and a nunnery were founded by Benedictine monks who either expelled or absorbed the Celtic community. In 838 the Western Isles, then under the rule of the kings of Man, were erected into a bishopric of which Iona was the seat. When in 1098 Magnus III., "Barefoot," king of Norway, ousted the jarls of Orkney from the isles, he united the see of the Isles (Sudreyar, "the southern islands," Lat. Sodorenses insulae) with that of Man, and placed both under the jurisdiction of the archbishopric of Trondhjem. About 1507 the island again became the seat of the bishopric of the Isles; but with the victory of the Protestant party in Scotland its ancient religious glory was finally eclipsed, and in 1561 the monastic buildings were dismantled by order of the Convention of Estates. (For the political fortunes of Iona see Hebrides.) The existing ancient remains include part of the cathedral church of St Mary, of the nunnery of St Mary, St Oran's chapel, and a number of tombs and crosses. The cathedral dates from the 13th century; a great portion of the walls with the tower, about 75 ft. high, are still standing. The choir and nave have been roofed, and the cathedral has in other respects been restored, the ruins having been conveyed in 1899 to a body of trustees by the eighth duke of Argyll. The remains of the conventual buildings still extant, to judge by the portion of a Norman arcade, are of earlier date than the cathedral. The small chapel of St Oran, or Odhrain, was built by Queen Margaret on the supposed site of Columba's cell, and its ruins are the oldest in Iona. Its round-arched western doorway has the characteristic Norman beak-head ornamentation. Of the nunnery only the chancel and nave of the Norman chapel remain, the last prioress, Anna (d. 1543), being buried within its walls. The cemetery, called in Gaelic Reilig Oiran (" the burial-place of kings"), is said to contain the remains of forty-eight Scottish, four Irish and eight Danish and Norwegian monarchs, and possesses a large number of monumental stones. At the time of the Reformation it is said to have had 360 crosses, of which most were thrown into the sea by order of the synod of Argyll. Many, however, still remain, the finest being Maclean's cross and St Martin's. Both are still almost perfect, and are richly carved with Runic inscriptions, emblematic devices and fanciful scroll work. Of Columba's monastery, which was built of wood about 4 m. from the present ruins, nothing remains.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Possibly a misreading of Latin Ioua, Gaelic Ì, Old Norse ey "island".

Proper noun




  1. A small island in the Inner Hebrides.
  2. A female given name of mostly Scottish usage, derived from the place name.

See also


  • Anagrams of aino
  • AION


Proper noun


  1. (Biblical) Jonah
  2. A male given name of biblical origin.
  3. A patronymic surname.


  • Mary Kawena Pukui - Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, University of Hawaii Press 1971, page 183
  • Hawaii State Archives: Marriage records Iona occurs in 19th century marriage records as the only name (mononym) of 1 woman and 11 men.

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