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.

Back Turned to Ireland

Delightful would it be to me to be in Uchd Ailiun
On the pinnacle of a rock,
That I might often see
The face of the ocean;
That I might see its heaving waves
Over the wide ocean,
When they chant music to their Father
Upon the world’s course;
That I might see its level sparkling strand,
It would be no cause of sorrow;
That I might hear the song of the wonderful birds,
Source of happiness;
That I might hear the thunder of the crowding waves
Upon the rocks;
That I might hear the roar by the side of the church
Of the surrounding sea;
That I might see its noble flocks
Over the watery ocean;
That I might see the sea monsters,
The greatest of all wonders;
That I might see its ebb and flood
In their career;
That my mystical name might be, I say,
Cul ri Erin‘;
That contrition might come upon my heart
Upon looking at her;
That I might bewail my evils all,
Though it were difficult to compute them;
That I might bless the Lord
Who conserves all,
Heaven with its countless bright orders,
Land, strand and flood;
That I might search the books all,
That would be good for any soul;
At times kneeling to Beloved Heaven;
At times at psalm-singing;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven,
Holy the Chief;
At times work without compulsion;
This would be delightful.
At times plucking duilisc† from the rocks;
At times fishing;
At times giving food to the poor;
At times in a carcair‡.
The best advice in the presence of God
To me has been vouchsafed.
The King whose servant I am will not let
Anything deceive me.

Columcille fecit, attributed to St. Columba; translated by Michael O’Curry from an Irish MS. in the Burgundian Library of Brussels.

† seaweed
‡ prison, perhaps a solitary cell

Rubha na Carraig-gèire

A frame saw by G. Anderson, Ltd., Arbroath, at Rubha na Carraig-gèire.
A frame saw by G. Anderson, Ltd., Arbroath, at Rubha na Carraig-gèire.
Fielding & Platt (Gloucester, England) gas engine used at Rubha na Carraig-gèire from 1907-1914.
Fielding & Platt (Gloucester, England) gas engine used at Rubha na Carraig-gèire from 1907-1914.
View of Iona marble quarry from the south west.
View of Iona marble quarry from the south west.
Rubha na Carraig-gèire, the Iona marble quarry, from the sea.
Rubha na Carraig-gèire, the Iona marble quarry, from the sea.

In this Iland is marble enough, whereof the late Earle of Argyle caused polish a piece at London abundantly beautifull. In a particular place of the Island, neer the sea ebbing and flowing thereinto, there are found transparant stones of all colours, but most ordinarily green, much resembling agatts: they yield to the file and tool, and I have severall sealls of them.

The Spottiswoode Miscellany: A Collection of Original Papers and Tracts, Illustrative Chiefly of the Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, Spottiswoode Society, 1845.

Lacrimæ Sancti Columbæ

My collection of Iona greenstone.
My collection of polished Iona greenstone. The smaller examples are known as St. Columba’s Tears.

A small geological outcrop at the south end of the isle of Iona is the source of a rare stone known since the time of St. Colum Cille and treasured for centuries. Iona greenstone (also called Iona marble, nephrite, jade, and a host of other more-or-less mineralogically correct names) may be found on the beach at Port a Churaich or St. Columba’s Bay. The green and white stone is reputed to be a charm against shipwreck, fire, and miscarriage, and local children collected and sold specimens to the tourists flocking to the island since the eighteenth century. Smaller, sea-polished pebbles have long been referred to as St. Columba’s Tears. During the Middle Ages, a large slab of the material was carved for an altar in Iona Abbey. Iona marble was also briefly quarried nearby by the failed Argyll Quarry Company in the nineteenth century. Iona greenstone was particularly prized for use in jewellery during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

I Believe You Are a Campbell

St. Columba’s Bay, Iona.

Being desirous to visit the opposite shore of the island, where Saint Columba is said to have landed, I procured a horse from one M’Ginnis, who ran along as my guide. The M’Ginnises are said to be a branch of the clan of M’Lean. Sir Allan had been told that this man had refused to send him some rum, at which the knight was in great indignation. ‘You rascal!’ said he. ‘Don’t you know that I can hang you, if I please?’ Not averting to the chieftain’s power over his clan, I imagined that Sir Allan had known of some capital crime that the fellow had committed, which he could discover, and so get him condemned; and said, ‘How so?’ ‘Why,’ said Sir Allan, ‘are they not all my people?’ Sensible in my inadvertency, and most willing to contribute what I could towards the continuation of feudal authority, ‘Very true,’ said I. Sir Allan went on: ‘Refuse to send rum to me, you rascal! Don’t you know that, if I order you to go and cut a man’s throat, you are to do it?’ ‘Yes, an’t please your honour! and my own too, and hang myself too.’ The poor fellow denied that he had refused to send the rum. His making these professions was not merely a pretence in presence of his chief; for after he and I were out of Sir Allan’s hearing, he told me, ‘Had he sent his dog for the rum, I would have given it: I would cut my bones for him.’ It was very remarkable to find such an attachment to a chief, though he had then no connection with the island, and had not been there for fourteen years. Sir Allan, by way of upbraiding the fellow, said, ‘I believe you are a CAMPBELL.’

– The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell;
Wednesday, 20th October 1773: Icolmkill (Iona).