Islay: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

OS grid reference NR370598
Gaelic name About this sound Ìle
Norse name Yula-Oy/Il
Meaning of name Old Norse for 'Yula's isle'
Area and summit
Area 61,956 hectares (239 sq mi)
Area rank 5
Highest elevation Beinn Bheigier 491 metres (1,611 ft)
Population (2001) 3,457
Population rank 7 out of 97
Main settlement Port Ellen
Island group Islay
Local Authority Argyll and Bute
Flag of Scotland.svg Lymphad3.svg
References [1][2][3][4]
If shown, area and population ranks are for all Scottish islands and all inhabited Scottish islands respectively.

Islay (pronounced /ˈaɪlə/; Scottish Gaelic: Ìle, pronounced [ˈiːlə]), a Scottish island, known as "The Queen of the Hebrides" (Banrìgh nan Eilean),[5] is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. It lies in Argyll just to the west of Jura and around 25 miles (40 km) north of the Irish coast and Rathlin Island, which can be seen on a clear day. In Gaelic a native of Islay is called an Ìleach, pronounced [ˈiːləx], and the plural is Ìlich: Scottish Gaelic is spoken by about a third of the population.[6] The island's capital is Bowmore, famous for its distillery and distinctive round Kilarrow Parish Church. Port Ellen is the largest settlement.

Islay is the fifth largest Scottish island[1] and the sixth largest island surrounding Britain.

Islay has just over three thousand inhabitants. It has a total area of almost 620 square kilometres (239 sq mi). Its main industries are malt whisky distilling, and tourism largely based on whisky and birdwatching.

The island is home to many bird species and is a popular destination throughout the year with bird watchers, notably in February to see a large colony of barnacle geese. Resident birds include chough, hen harrier, sea eagle, oystercatcher, cormorant and many wading birds.

The climate on Islay is often more clement than the Scottish mainland owing to the Gulf Stream.



View from the American Monument, The Oa

The earliest settlers on Islay were nomadic hunter-gatherers who arrived during the Mesolithic period after the retreat of the Pleistocene ice caps. In 1993 a flint arrowhead was found in a field near Bridgend dating from 10,800 BC, the earliest evidence of a human presence found so far in Scotland.[7] Other finds have been dated to 7,000 BC using radiocarbon dating of shells and debris from kitchen middens.[8][9] By the Neolithic, settlements had become more permanent,[10] allowing for the construction of several communal monuments.[11]

Recorded history begins with a document relating to St Columba[12] who probably passed through Islay on his way to establish the monastery on Iona in the 6th century. At this time, Islay lay within the kingdom of Dál Riata and was ruled by the Cenél nÓengusa.

From the 14th to the 16th centuries much of the west coast of Scotland was governed by the Lordship of the Isles from Finlaggan on Islay. A record of lands granted to an Islay resident, Brian Vicar MacKay, by the Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles in 1408 known as the Islay Charter is one of the earliest records of Gaelic in public use and is a significant historical document.[13] The origins of the Lordship date back to the defeat of the Danes off the coast of Islay in 1156 by Somerled.

On Islay there was a stone of inauguration by Loch Finlaggan. It was seven feet square and had footprints cut into it. When a chief of the Clan Donald was installed as the "King of the Isles" he stood barefoot on the imprints on the stone and, with his father's stone in his hand, was anointed King by the Bishop of Argyll and seven priests. During the ceremony an orator recited a list of his ancestors and he was proclaimed "Macdonald, high prince of the seed of Conn". The block was deliberately destroyed in the early 17th century.[14]

In 1726, the island was purchased by Daniel Campbell (d. 1753) of Shawfield for £12,000. It remained in his family's ownership until 1853 when it was sold to James Morrison, the grandfather of the first Baron Margadale.

Starting in the 1830s, the population of the island began dropping from its peak of 15,000 as a result of the Highland Clearances. Today's population is about 3,000. Most emigrants from Islay made new homes in Ontario, Canada, the Carolinas in the United States and Australia.

During World War II, the RAF built an airfield at Glenegedale which later became the civil airport for Islay. There was also an RAF Coastal Command flying boat base at Bowmore from 13 March 1941 using Loch Indaal, flying Short G Boat, Short C Boat (the precursor of the Sunderland) and Catalina I.[15] On 1 September 1942 a reformed 246 Squadron with Sunderland Mark III aircraft took over.[16] In May, 1943, RCAF 422 Squadron moved to Lochindall at Bowmore with Sunderland Aircraft.[17] The 1942 film "Coastal Command" was partly filmed in Bowmore.[18]

There was a RAF Chain Home radar station at Saligo Bay and RAF Chain Home Low radar station at Kilchiaran which became a RAF ROTOR radar station in the 1950s.

In the early 21st century, a campus of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was set up on Islay, Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle.


Topographic map

The island's population is mainly centred around the villages of Bowmore, Port Ellen and Port Charlotte. Other smaller villages include Portnahaven, Bridgend, Ballygrant and Port Askaig. The rest of the island is sparsely populated and mainly agricultural.

The south-western end of the main body is a largely rocky region called The Oa. The north western arm of the island is called the Rhinns of Islay. There are several small lochs on the island including Loch Finlaggan, Loch Ballygrant, Loch Lossit and Loch Gorm. The fractal coast has numerous bays and sea lochs including Loch Gruinart, Loch Indaal, Loch an t-Sailein, Aros Bay and Claggain Bay.

Loch Indaal,which separates the Rhinns of Islay from the rest of the island, is formed along a branch of the great Glen Fault called the Loch Gruinart Fault, the main line of which passes just to the north of Colonsay. This separates the limestone, igneous intrusions and Bogh Mor sandstones from the Colonsay group rocks of the Rhinns.[19] The result is occasional, minor earth tremors.[20] Ardnave Point is a conspicuous promontory on the northwest of Islay.

There are no Munros on Islay or Jura, the highest peak being Beinn Bheigier a Marilyn at 1,612 feet (491 m).



The influence of the Gulf Stream keeps the climate mild compared to mainland Scotland. Snow is rarely seen and frosts are light and short-lived. One might expect therefore a gardener's paradise and indeed, it is not unusual to see exotic plants growing in gardens. However, the winter gales which sweep in off the Atlantic can make travelling and living on the island during the winter difficult, while ferry and air links to the mainland are frequently delayed. The weather tends to become more pleasant around Easter and the summer season then extends until well into September.

Weather data for Islay
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 7.6
Average low °C (°F) 3.1
Precipitation mm (inches) 142.5
Source: Islay Info[21] February 2008



View from the Caol Ila Distillery to the Paps of Jura

Islay malt whisky is produced by eight distilleries on the island.

The distilleries on the south of the island produce whiskies with a very strong peaty flavour. From east to west they are Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig (which are considered to be among the most intensely flavoured of all whiskies). On the north of the island Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain are produced. These whiskies are substantially lighter in taste. Caol Ila is an exception, produced in the north but flavoured more strongly of iodine and peat and thus closer in taste to Islay's southern malts.[22] There were more distilleries in the past: Port Ellen closed in 1983 while the Lochindaal in Port Charlotte closed as long ago as 1929. Little blending is done on the island, though since the takeover of Bruichladdich distillery by several private individuals whisky is now blended and bottled there by Master Distiller James McEwan. Bruichladdich is also noteworthy as the only distillery which bottles its malts on Islay.

In 2005, a new microdistillery opened at Rockside Farm. Named Kilchoman Distillery, it officially opened in June, and distilled its first spirit in November. The malting floor burned down in February 2006, but has since been repaired and is back to full production.

In March 2007 Bruichladdich announced that it would reopen Port Charlotte Distillery, using equipment from the Inverleven distillery. The distillery will use the existing warehouses of the former Lochindaal Distillery while a visitors centre will be built on the current site of Clyne's Garage.

Apart from the whisky there is now an original real ale from the Isle of Islay. The Islay Ales Brewery opened its doors on 22 March 2004 and brews seven different real ales,[23] some of which are seasonal, or for special occasions such as the yearly Festival of Malt and Music. The brewery is located on Islay House Square just outside Bridgend.

Wave energy

Landsat image of Islay, with Jura visible to the east

The location of Islay, exposed to the full force of the North Atlantic, has led to it being the site of a pioneering, and Scotland's first, wave power station near Portnahaven. The Islay LIMPET (Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) wave power generator was designed and built by Wavegen and researchers from the Queen's University of Belfast, and was financially backed by the European Union. Known as Limpet 500, it feeds half a megawatt of electricity into the island's grid. In 2000 it became the world's first commercial wave power station.[24]


Looking over to Jura from Port Askaig

Islay has some of the finest brown trout fishing in Europe. Imported rainbow trout have not been released on the island and the "brownies" still dominate the freshwater ecosystems. In 2003 the European Fishing Competition was held on five of the lochs. Most of the estates organise fishing on the rivers and lochs and maintain the banks for fishing. Sea angling is also popular especially over the many shipwrecks around the coast.


The Finlaggan Trust has a visitor centre which is open on some days of the week.


Islay is home to many different species of wildlife, including Barnacle Geese, Grey Seals, Otters, Shags, Red Deer, Buzzard, Peregrine, Golden Eagle, Rock Dove, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Raven, Chough, Wildcats and Adders.


Road map

Many of the roads on the island are single-track with passing places. The two main roads are the A846 from Ardbeg to Port Askaig via Port Ellen and Bowmore, and the A847 which runs down the east coast of the Rhinns. The island has its own bus service provided by Ben Mundell trading as Islay Coaches.

The island has its own airport, Glenegedale Airport with services to and from Glasgow.

There are regular ferry services to Port Ellen and Port Askaig from Kennacraig, taking about two hours. Services to Port Askaig also run on to Scalasaig on Colonsay and on to Oban on Wednesdays during the summer only. These services are run by Caledonian MacBrayne. There is also a ferry that runs from Port Askaig to Feolin on Jura. A new ferry is expected to enter service in 2011.[25]


Islay was featured in some of the scenes of the 1954 film, The Maggie.

Part of the action in Julian May's book Diamond Mask takes place on Islay, where some characters engage in birdwatching.

In the 1990s the BBC adaptation of Para Handy was partly filmed in Port Charlotte and featured a race between the Vital Spark (Para Handy's puffer) and a rival puffer along the length of Loch Indaal. The local primary school children were released from classes along the length of the loch to watch the race.

Since 1973 the Ileach has been delivering news to the people of Islay every two weeks. This twenty-eight-page, A4-sized publication now has a circulation locally and worldwide of 3,000 copies. The Ileach was named Community Newspaper of the year in 2007.[26]

In 2007, parts of the BBC Springwatch programme were recorded on Islay with Simon King being based on Islay.[27]

The British Channel 4 Time Team television series excavated at Finlaggan on the 24–26 June 1994. The episode was first broadcast on 8 January 1995.


Kilarrow Parish Church (aka the "Round Church") is round, legend has it, to leave no corner for the devil to hide in. The Church of Scotland "living" is currently vacant.

The kirk on the Rhinns of Islay is just outside the village of Port Charlotte. Known as St Keiran's, the ministry is shared with the Kilmeny congregation. St John's Church of Scotland, Port Ellen is exploring a possible linkage with Kilarrow and is currently being served by a locum. Each of the vacant Church of Scotland congregations has an Interim Moderator who is responsible for the oversight of the congregation.

There are several other congregations on Islay. Baptists meet in the mornings in Port Ellen and in the evenings in Bowmore. The Scottish Episcopal Church of St. Columba is located in Bridgend and the Islay Roman Catholic congregation also uses St. Columba's for its services.

Many old church buildings on Islay are in an unroofed and ruined state; some have considerable historical interest dating from mediæval times. The ruined church of Kildalton has one of the finest carved crosses in the world; dating to the 8th century, it is carved out of the local bluestone. A carved cross of similar age, but much more heavily weathered can be found at Kilnave.[28] Associated with many churches are mysterious cupstones which date to prehistory; these can be seen at Kilchoman Church where the carved cross there is erected on one, at Kilchiaran Church on the Rhinns and at other sites. Several more recently abandoned churches have been adapted as dwellings.

Famous natives of Islay

Islay's most famous son of recent times is George Robertson, formerly secretary-general of NATO and British Defence Secretary. In 1999 he was made Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.

  • The Islay-born Reverend Donald Caskie (1902–1983) became known as the "Tartan Pimpernel" for his exploits in France during World War II.
  • The Islay-born TV and radio broadcaster John Carmichael presents Mac'illeMhìcheil on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal.
  • Glenn Campbell, Scottish political reporter for the BBC, was brought up on Islay and attended Islay High School[29] where his performance in the annual pantomime is still remembered.
  • Billy Stewart (born 1935) steered a course from Port Ellen Primary school to being the government’s Chief Scientific advisor in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sir William Stewart as he is now known, is currently chairman of the Health Protection Agency.
  • John Crawfurd was born on Islay in 1783 and during a career around the world became governor of Singapore. He also wrote a number of books.


  • Jupp, Clifford (1994). The History of Islay: From earliest times to 1848. Port Charlotte: Museum of Islay Life. ASIN B0000COS6B.  
  • Storrie, Margaret (1997). Islay: Biography of an Island (New Ed edition ed.). Colonsay: House of Lochar. ISBN 0907651038.  


  1. ^ a b Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 1841954543.  
  2. ^ Ordnance Survey. Get-a-map [map].
  3. ^ 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Islay, Queen of the Hebrides. [video]. Scotland on TV.  
  6. ^ "Boost for Islay Gaelic centre" (11 September 2001) Scottish Executive. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  7. ^ Moffat, Alistair (2005) Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History. London. Thames & Hudson. Page 42.
  8. ^ Storrie (1997) p. 28
  9. ^ Jupp (1994) p. 10
  10. ^ Storrie (1997) p. 29
  11. ^ Jupp (1994) p. 11
  12. ^ "Finlaggan Trust". Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  13. ^ David Ross (10 May 2007). "Gaelic documents may return north". The Herald. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  14. ^ Bord, Janet & Colin (1976). The Secret Country. London: Paul Elek. ISBN 0-236-40048-7; pp. 66-67
  15. ^ "No 119 Squadron RAF". Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  16. ^ "No.246 Squadron RAF". Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  17. ^ "The Battle of the Atlantic". Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  18. ^ "Filming locations for "Coastal Command"". IMDb. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  19. ^ "map" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  20. ^ "Jura Earthquake 3 May 1998". British Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  21. ^ "The 30 year average for Islay". Islay Info. Retrieved 2008-02-14.  
  22. ^ "Islay Whisky" Retrieved 4 January 2009.
  23. ^ "Ales from the Isle of Malts". Islay Ales. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  24. ^ "Islay". Columbia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  25. ^ "Fleet History". Ships of Retrieved 2007-08-29.  
  26. ^ "Shetland Times Retains Newspaper Of The Year Award". 18 January 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  27. ^ "Springwatch". BBC. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  28. ^ "Archaeology Notes on Kilnave". Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  29. ^ "Meet presenter Glenn Campbell". BBC News. 2003-03-02. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  

Further reading

  • Newton, Norman Islay, Devon: David & Charles PLC; 2Rev Ed edition, 1995. ISBN 090711590X


External links

Coordinates: 55°46′N 6°9′W / 55.767°N 6.15°W / 55.767; -6.15

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Islay, "Queen of the Hebrides" is around 20 miles by 20 miles. With its nine distilleries - Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Port Ellen (closed), Lagavulin and the relatively new Kilchoman distillery - it is easy to see why Islay is probably most famous for its whisky.

Other destinations

The Isle of Jura, five minutes ferry ride from Port Askaig. (Note that the ferry terminal on Jura is 8 miles from the main village and that public transport only meets certain ferries).

CalMac ferries run to the Isle of Colonsay on a Wednesday (summer only) and this is an enjoyable day trip.

Getting there

The Islay has two ferry ports Port Ellen and Port Askaig, the ferry journey is a 1 hour 40 mins trip from the mainland, it leaves from Kennacraig, near Tarbert (Loch Fyne) on the Mull of Kintyre, which is about 2 and half hours from Glasgow by car. Caledonian MacBrayne operate the ferries and Citylink coaches connect with some ferries at Kennacraig. There are two or more trips per day, with more ferries going to Port Ellen than Port Askaig.

British Airways also runs two return flights per day between Glasgow international airport and Islay airport.

Get around

Islay Coaches] runs buses which serve the main towns and villages.

Hitchhiking is easy and relatively safe on Islay.

Bicycle hire is available in Bowmore (next to the Post Office) and two companies on the island offer car hire - [Islay Car Hire] and [MacKenzies]


Take a distillery tour. Even if you don't like whisky it's really interesting to learn about the distilling process and see how the distilleries have shaped island life. If you do like whisky you generally get a free taster. The main tours are available at Bowmore and Ardbeg distilleries where there are visitors centres and dedicate tour guides, though it may be possible to tour other distilleries by appointment.

Use the swimming pool, sauna and gym at the McTaggart leisure centre in Bowmore.

You can sit on the beach at The Oa, and watch as Highland cow stroll past


The cafe at Ardbeg distillery is wonderfully rustic with some great menu choices including good soups and home baking.

There is a good Indian restaurant in the centre of Bowmore.

Port Ellen has limited options in the evening - the White Hart serves bar meals and there is an Indian restaurant in the main street. The Machrie Golf Club, approx 3 miles away (near the airport) is a better option.

An Taigh Osda in Bruichladdich offers fine dining but its small dining room (it also has B&B) means that booking is essential at weekends and during the summer months.

The Port Charlotte Hotel does good bar meals and often has live music. The Port Mor Centre, on the road out of Port Charlotte towards Portnahaven, serves lunches and snacks, with a family-friendly play area outside.

The Ballygrant Inn does good home baking and evening meals.

The Port Askaig Hotel is a pleasant pub which does average bar meals.


The Port Charlotte Hotel is a lively venue which does meals and often has live traditional music. There is a beer garden at the back. Even if you are not a whisky drinker, ask to see their whisky menu - a remarkable list of different bottlings from the island's distilleries. If you want to try - beware, as some of the rarer ones are as much as £50 a dram!

In Port Ellen, the White Hart Hotel has a bar and pool table - you can also take your drinks outside to the grassy area across the road.

The Port Askaig Hotel is one of the island's oldest inns and has picnic tables at the front.

  • Port Charlotte Youth Hostel [1], Port Charlotte, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA48 7TX, 0870 004 1128. SYHA Hostel in old whisky warehouse in the village of Port Charlotte. An excellent conversion of the building about 15 years ago giving a 30 bed hostel with good common room facilites. Wildlife Centre Exhibition in the downstairs part of the building.

Stay safe

Islay is a pretty safe place and any crime here is likely to be big news.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ISLAY, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, Argyllshire, Scotland, 16 m. W. of Kintyre and 4 m. S.W. of Jura, from which it is separated by the Sound of Islay. Pop. (1901) 6857; area, 150,400 acres; maximum breadth 19 m. and maximum length 25 m. The sea-lochs Gruinart and Indaal cut into it so deeply as almost to convert the western portion into a separate island. It is rich and productive, and has been called the "Queen of the Hebrides." The surface generally is regular, the highest summits being Ben Bheigeir (1609 ft.) and Sgorr nam Faoileann (1407 ft.). There are several freshwater lakes and streams, which provide good fishing. Islay was the ancient seat of the "lord of the Isles," the first to adopt that title being John Macdonald of Isle of Islay, who died about 1386; but the Macdonalds were ultimately ousted by their rivals, the Campbells, about 1616. Islay House, the ancient seat of the Campbells of Islay, stands at the head of Loch Indaal. The island was formerly occupied by small crofters and tacksmen, but since 1831 it has been gradually developed into large sheep and arable farms and considerable business is done in stock-raising. Dairy-farming is largely followed, and oats, barley and various green crops are raised. The chief difficulty in the way of reclamation is the great area of peat (60 sq. m.), which, at its present rate of consumption, is calculated to last 1500 years. The island contains several whisky distilleries, producing about 400,000 gallons annually. Slate and marble are quarried, and there is a little mining of iron, lead and silver. At Bowmore, the chief town, there is a considerable shipping trade. Port Ellen, the principal village, has a quay with lighthouse; a fishery and a golf-course. Port Askaig is the ferry station for Faolin on Jura. Regular communication with the Clyde is maintained by steamers, and a cable was laid between Lagavulin and Kintyre in 1871.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun




  1. The southernmost island of the inner Hebrides in Scotland.


  • Anagrams of ailsy
  • yalis


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