The Whole Illand is Church Land

Aerial view of Iona Abbey.
Aerial view of Iona Abbey.

Icollumkill, antiently called Iona, lays from Colle to the south and south-east about thirty-six myils of sea, and is distant from the south end of Mulle about one myil of sea. It is two myills in lenth, and almost from east to west, and one mile in bredth. It is very fertill; commodious for fishing and fowling. It hes two fresh water lochs, goud springs, and medicinall herbs.

Port-a-Churaich (St. Columba's Bay), Iona.
Port-a-Churaich (St. Columba’s Bay), Iona.

Here the sea casteth up in one place a number of small stones of divers collours, and transparente, very fair to looke upon; they are really peculiar to the place, for the longer they lay upon the shoar, they reapen and turn more lively in their coulors, yield to the feil, and admits of gouid polishing and engraving. Marble also, of divers colours, and with beautyful vains, is found in this Illand. It hes been counted renound pairtly for the goud discipline of Columbus, who is buried in it, and partly for the monuments of the place; for it has two monastryes, one of monks, another of nuns; a church of considerable dimensions dedicated to Columbus.

Iona Abbey.
Iona Abbey.

This hes been the Cathedrall of the Bishops of the Illes since Sodora in the Ill of Man came into the Englishes hands. In this Illand are many other small chapells; the vestiges of a citie is yet visible in it, which, as some old manuscripts testifie, was called Sodora.

Rèilig Odhrain and St. Oran’s Chapel, Iona.
Rèilig Odhrain and St. Oran’s Chapel, Iona.

Many of the Kings of Scotland, some of the Kings of Ireland and Noraway, were buryet heer. Many tombs appropriat to the families of the Illanders, as ther inscriptions, though now allmost obliterate, do testify; heer the famous Columbus himself was also interred. The coast round about Iona is very bade, full of rocks and violent tides. The whole Illand is Church land, so is also a goud pairt of Tyrie, the Ill of Gonna wholly, and the two ends of Colle. It is remarkable that there is in Iona a few people called to this day Ostiarii, from their office about the Church in Columbus’ tyme; this people never exceed the number of eight persons in perfyte age; this is found to had true, and there is a tradition that for some miscarriage in ther predecessors in Columbus’ tyme this malediction was left them. The inhabitants of all the said Illands are naturally civill and bountiful, right capable of all goud instructions. All thir Illands have been possossed by M’Leane and the cadette of his family.

— Description of Iona by Rev. John Fraser, an Episcopal clergyman in the Highlands, who was the author of a “Treatise on Second Sight,” printed at Edinburgh, 1707; from the collections of MacFarlane of MacFarlane and published in The Spottiswoode Miscellany: A Collection of Original Papers and Tracts, Illustrative Chiefly of the Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, Spottiswoode Society, 1845.

With All the Display Which the Parties Could Make

The Highlanders had no feasts nor rejoicings at a birth, but a funeral was conducted with all the display which the parties could make. All the clan, and numerous neighbors, were invited and entertained with a profusion of every thing. The male part of the procession was regularly arranged according to rank, and, instead of laying aside their weapons, they were all well armed and equipped on such an occasion. The statistical account of the parish of Tongue, in Sutherland, informs us that a funeral procession there was regulated with military exactness by an old soldier, a person easily found in these parts. If the coffin is borne on a bier, he, every five minutes, or at such time as may be thought convenient, draws up the company, rank and file, and gives the word “relief;” when four fresh bearers take place of the others. There are some particular observances in Highland families such as that of the Campbells of Melfort, Duntroon, and Dunstaffnage, who being descended from a Duke of Argyle, took the following method of cementing their friendship; when the head of either family died, the chief mourners were always to be the two other lairds. This was the case on occasion of the death of the late Archibald Campbell of Melfort. The coffin was usually borne in a sort of litter between two horses, called carbad, a term which is now often applied to the coffin itself. Carbad seems to have been originally applied to such vehicles, and, when restricted to those used for funeral purposes, became synonymous with the shell in which the body was deposited. The Gaëlic Cobhain, the origin of coffin in its primary sense, meant a box, or any hollow vessel of wood. The desire to be interred in the sacred Isle of Iona appears to be as old as the era of Druidism. The Druidical cemetery is still seen separate from the others, and has never been used as a Christian burial place. In the poem of Cuthon, as translated by Dr. Smith, it is said that Dargo, who is called Mac Drui Bheil, son of the Druid of Bel, was buried in the Green Isle, an epithet given to Iona, where his fathers rested. In this Isle forty eight kings of Scotland, four of Ireland, and eight of Norway are buried, besides numerous individuals of note. There were certain cairns on the lines of road along which funerals passed, both in Ireland and Scotland, on which the body was rested; and some villages, particularly one at the entrance of Locheil from the muir of Lochaber, are called corpach, from the circumstance of the coffin being laid down there on the halt of the company; corp, in Gaëlic, being a body. Durand says that the Gauls used black in mourning. The Highlanders have, I presume, ever done the same, but, except by the wearing of crape, I know not how they evinced the loss of their relatives.

James Logan, The Scottish Gaël; Or, Celtic Manners, as Preserved Among the Highlanders: Being an Historical and Descriptive Account of the Inhabitants, Antiquities, and National Peculiarities of Scotland: More Particularly of the Northern, Or Gaëlic Parts of the Country, where the Singular Habits of the Aboriginal Celts are Most Tenaciously Retained, London, 1831.

The Maist Honorable and Ancient Place in Scotland

Colmkill. Narrest this be twa myles of sea, layes the ile the Erische callit I-colm-Kill, that is, Sanct Colm’s ile, ane faire mayne ile of twa myle lange and maire, and ane myle braid, fertill, and fruitfull of corne and store, and guid for fishing. Within this ile there is a monastery of mounckes, ane uther of nuns, with a paroche-kirk, and sundrie uther chapells, dotat of auld by the kings of Scotland, and be Clandonald of the iyles. This abbay forsaid was the cathedrall kirk of the bishops of the iyles sen the tyme they were expulsed out of the ile of Man by the Englishmen; for within the ile of Man was ther cathedrall kirke and living of auld, as I have already said in the description of that ile. Within this ile of Colmkill, there is ane sanctuary also, or kirkzaird, callit in Erische Religoran, quhilk is a very fair kirkzaird, and weill biggit about with staine and lyme: into this sanctuary ther is three tombes of staine formit like little chapels, with ane braid gray marble or quhin staine in the gavill of ilk ane of the tombes. In the staine of ane tombe there is wretten in Latin letters, Tumulus Regum Scotiæ, that is, The tomb ore grave of the Scotts Kinges. Within this tombe, according to our Scotts and Erische cronickels, ther layes fortey-eight crouned Scotts kings, throughe the quhilk this ile hes beine richlie dotat be the Scotts kings, as we have said. The tombe on the south syde forsaid hes this inscription, Tumulus Regum Hyberniæ, that is, The tombe of the Irland kinges; for we have in our auld Ericshe cronickells, that there wes foure Irland kings eirdit in the said tombe. Upon the north syde of our Scotts tombe, the inscriptione beares, Tumulus Regum Norwegiæ, that is the tombe of the kings of Norroway; in the quhilk tombe, as we find in our ancient Erische cronickells, ther layes eight kings of Norroway; and als we find in our Erische cronickells, that Coelus king of Norroway commandit his nobils to take his bodey and burey it in Colm-Kill, if it chancit him to die in the iles, bot he was so discomfitit, that ther remained not so maney of his armey as would burey him ther; therfor he was eirded in Kyle, after he stroke ane field against the Scotts, and was vanquisht be them. Within this sanctuary also lyes the maist pairt of the Lords of the iles with ther lineage. Twa Clan Lynes with ther lynage, M’Kynnon and M’Guare with ther lynages, with sundrie uthers inhabitants of the hail iles, because this sanctuarey wes wont to be the sepulture of the best men of all the iles, and als of our kings as we have said; becaus it was the maist honorable and ancient place in Scotland in thair dayes, as we reid.

— Of the Western Isles of Scotland, called Hybrides; by Mr Donald Monro High Dean of the Isles who travelled through the most of them in the year 1549.