Islands of the Clyde: Wikis


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The islands within the Firth of Clyde
Holy Isle seen from Bute
The Waverley lying in Brodick Bay in front of Brodick Castle. Paddle steamers like this were formerly extremely common on the Clyde.

The Islands of the Firth of Clyde are the fifth of the major Scottish island groups after the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. The islands are situated in the Firth of Clyde between Ayrshire and Argyll. There are about forty islands and skerries, of which only six are inhabited. The largest and most populous are Arran and Bute, and Great Cumbrae, Holy Isle and Inchmarnock are also served by dedicated ferry routes.

The definition of an island used in this list is that it is 'land that is surrounded by seawater on a daily basis, but not necessarily at all stages of the tide, excluding human devices such as bridges and causeways'.[1] Unlike the four larger Scottish archipelagos, none of the isles in this group are bridged.

The geology of the area is complex and the islands each have their own features. The Highland Boundary Fault runs past Bute and through the northern part of Arran, so from a geological perspective some of the islands are in the Highlands and some in the Central Lowlands.[2] In common with the rest of Scotland The Firth of Clyde was covered by ice sheets during the Pleistocene ice ages and the landscape is much affected by glaciation.[3]

The majority of the islands at one time made up the traditional county of Bute. Today the islands are split more or less equally between the modern unitary authorities of Argyll and Bute and North Ayrshire with only Ailsa Craig and Lady Isle falling outwith these two areas in South Ayrshire. They have been continuously inhabited since Neolithic times, were influenced by the emergence of the kingdom of Dál Riata from 500 AD and then absorbed into the kingdom of Kenneth I of Scotland. They experienced Norse incursions during the early Middle Ages and were then absorbed into the Kingdom of Scotland in the 13th century.

The islands are exposed to wind and tide and various lighthouses act as an aid to navigation.[4]





Mesolithic humans arrived in the Firth of the Clyde during the fourth millennium BC, probably from Ireland. This was followed by a wave of Neolithic peoples, via the same route. A chambered cairn at Monamore on Arran has been dated to 3160 BC, although it was certainly built at an early date. Bronze Age settlers left megaliths at various sites, many of them dating from the second millennium BC. During the Iron Age Brythonic culture held sway, there being no evidence that the Roman occupation of southern Scotland extended to these islands.[5]

Early Scots rule

Map of Dál Riata at its height, c. 580–600. Pictish regions are marked in yellow.

During the 2nd century AD Irish influence was again at work in the region and by the 6th century the kingdom of Dál Riata was established. Unlike the P-Celtic speaking Brythons, these Gaels spoke a form of the Gaelic that still survives in the Hebrides. Through the efforts of Saint Ninian and others Christianity slowly supplanted Druidism. Dál Riata flourished from the time of Fergus Mór in the late fifth century until the Viking incursions that commenced in the late eighth century.[6] Islands close to the shores of modern Ayrshire would have remained part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde during this period.

Viking influence

The Islands of the Clyde historically formed the border zone between the Kingdom of the Isles and Scotland. As such many of these islands fell under Norse hegemony between the 9th and 13th centuries.

The Norse influence would see almost constant warfare on the western seaboard of Scotland until the partitioning of the Hebrides in 1156. The Outer Hebrides remained under control of Godred V of the Isle of Man's Kingdom of Mann and the Isles while the Inner Hebrides south of Ardnamurchan and the islands of the Clyde became part of the Kingdom of the Hebrides controlled by Somerled. The former were still nominally was under the sovereignty of Norway, whilst the latter that of Scotland, but the leaders were Scottish in language and culture rather than Norse. After Somerled's death in 1164 his kingdom was split between his three sons, Ragnall in Islay and Kintyre, Dughall in Lorn and the other Argyll islands, and Angus holding Arran and Bute.[7]

Steam Lighter VIC32, the last seagoing coal fired steam Clyde Puffer.

The Battle of Largs between Scots and Norse forces, which took place on the shores of the Firth of Clyde a century later in 1263, was inconclusive as a military contest, but marked an ultimately terminal weakening of Norse power in Scotland.[8]

Modern Scotland

From the mid thirteenth century to the present day all of the islands of the Clyde have remained part of modern Scotland. From the 1850s to the late 20th century the Clyde Puffer, made famous by the Vital Spark, was the workhorse of the islands, carrying all kinds of produce and products to and from the islands. During the course of the 20th century many of the islands were developed as tourist resorts for Glaswegians who went "Doon the Watter", in parallel to mainland resorts such as Largs, Troon and Ayr. [9][10]

Larger islands

The Byron Darnton on Sanda, allegedly the most remote pub in Scotland, named after a local shipwreck
Map of the Firth of Clyde

This is a list of islands with an area greater than 40 hectares (approximately 100 acres).

The Burnt Islands are three small islands that lie in the Kyles of Bute, Great and Little Cumbrae form a pair that guard the entrance to the main estuary of the River Clyde and Arran has several small outliers. The Kilbrandon Sound between the Isle of Arran and the Kintyre peninsula (itself considered an island by the Norse, since a boat could be dragged across Tarbert, and known as "Satiri")[11] contains several islets. The diverse locations of the remaining islands makes further classification difficult.

Island Location Area (ha)[12] Population[13] Last inhabited[14] Highest point[15] Height (m)[16]
Ailsa Craig
(Creag Ealasaid)
South Ayrshire 99 0 1980s The Cairn 338
(Eilean Arainn)
Arran 43201 5058 Goat Fell 874
(Eilean Bhòid)
Bute 12217 7228 Windy Hill 278
(Eilean Dà Bhàrr)
Kintyre 52 2 115
Great Cumbrae
(Cumaradh Mòr)
Bute 1168 1434 The Glaidstane 127
Holy Isle
(Eilean MoLaise)
Arran 253 13 Mullach Mòr 314
(Innis Mheàrnaig)
Bute 253 0 1980s 60
Little Cumbrae
(Cumaradh Beag)
Bute 313 0 1990s Lighthouse Hill 123
Kintyre 127 1 123

Smaller islands

Lady Isle with Ailsa Craig beyond
Eilean Fraoich photographed from the PS Waverley.
Castle Island from Little Cumbrae
Ailsa Craig seen from Pladda

This is a continuing list of uninhabited smaller Firth of Clyde islands, tidal islets only separated at higher stages of the tide, and skerries which are only exposed at lower stages of the tide.

In the vicinity of:

  • Arran:
    • Pladda
    • Eilean na h-Àirde Bàine
    • Hamilton Isle
  • Kilbrannan Sound
    • Eilean Carrach, Skipness
    • Cour Island
    • Eilean Sunadale
    • Eilean Grianain
    • Eilean Carrach, Carradale
    • An Struthlag
    • Island Ross
    • Thorn Isle
    • Gull Isle
  • Loch Fyne
    • Eilean Buidhe, Portavadie
    • Eilean a' Bhuic
    • Eilean Buidhe, Ardmarnock
    • Eilean Ardgaddan
    • Kilbride Island
    • Eilean Math-ghamhna
    • Eilean Aoghainn
    • Eilean Fraoch
    • Glas Eilean
    • Liath Eilean
    • Eilean Mór
    • Heather Island
    • Duncuan Island
    • Inverneil Island
    • Eilean an Dúnain
    • Eilean a' Chomhraig
  • North Ayrshire coast:


The Cumbraes with Arran and Bute beyond

The following are not islands and have misleading names:

  • Eilean na Beithe, Portavadie
  • Eilean Beag, Cove
  • Eilean Dubh, Dalchenna
  • Eilean nan Gabhar, Melldalloch
  • Barmore Island, just north of Tarbert, Kintyre.[17]
  • Eilean Aoidh, South of Portavadie, Kyles.
  • Eilean Leathan, Kilbrandon Sound just south of Torrisdale Bay
  • Islachattan, within Campbeltown Loch
  • Island Muller, Kilbrandon Sound north of Campbeltown

See also

References and footnotes

General references
  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 1841954543.  
  • Keay, J. & Keay, J. (1994) Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland. London. HarperCollins.
  • General Register Office for Scotland (28 Nov 2003)
  • Murray, W.H. (1973) The Islands of Western Scotland. London. Eyre Methuen.
  • General Register Office for Scotland (28 Nov 2003) Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands Retrieved 9 July 2007.
Specific references and notes
  1. ^ Various other definitions are used in the Scottish context. For example the General Register Office for Scotland define an island as 'a mass of land surrounded by water, separate from the Scottish mainland' but although they include islands linked by bridges etc. this is not clear from this definition. Haswell-Smith (2004) uses 'an Island is a piece of land or group of pieces of land which is entirely surrounded by water at Lowest Astronomical Tide and to which there is no permanent means of dry access'. This is widely agreed to be unhelpful as it consciously excludes bridged islands.
  2. ^ Gillen, Con (2003) Geology and landscapes of Scotland. Harpenden. Terra. Page 28.
  3. ^ Gillen (2003) pages 174-86.
  4. ^ "Lighthouse Library" Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved 14 July 2007.
  5. ^ Murray (1973) pp. 113-131.
  6. ^ Murray (1973) pp. 147-155.
  7. ^ Murray (1973) pp. 161-171.
  8. ^ Keay (1994) page 597.
  9. ^ Keay (1994) page 236.
  10. ^ McDonald, Dan (1977) The Clyde Puffer. Newton Abbot. David & Charles.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Haswell-Smith (2004), save those indicated with an asterisk, which are estimates based on Ordnance Survey maps and General Register Office for Scotland statistics.
  13. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 Nov 2003) Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands [1]
  14. ^ For uninhabited islands indicates the last known date of permanent, year round settlement. Information is from Haswell-Smith (2004) save any indicated with a separate footnote.
  15. ^ Haswell-Smith (2004) op cit and Ordnance Survey maps.
  16. ^ Ordnance Survey maps. Note that the maps mark the height above sea level of an elevated place on most islands, but in a small number of cases, this may not be the highest point.
  17. ^ Barmore Island Gazetteer for Scotland Retrieved 1 December 2007.


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