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Islay ( ; , ), a Scottishmarker island, known as "The Queen of the Hebrides" (Banrìgh nan Eilean), is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebridesmarker. It lies in Argyllmarker just to the west of Juramarker and around north of the Irish coast, which can be seen on a clear day. In Gaelic a native of Islay is called an Ìleach, pronounced , and the plural is Ìlich: Scottish Gaelic is spoken by about a third of the population. The island's capital is Bowmoremarker, famous for its distillery and distinctive round Kilarrow Parish Churchmarker. Port Ellenmarker is the largest settlement.

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

Islay has just over three thousand inhabitants. It has a total area of almost . 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.


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 Bridgendmarker dating from 10,800 BC, the earliest evidence of a human presence found so far in Scotland. Other finds have been dated to 7,000 BC using radiocarbon dating of shells and debris from kitchen middens. By the Neolithic, settlements had become more permanent, allowing for the construction of several communal monuments.

Recorded history begins with a document relating to St Columba who probably passed through Islay on his way to establish the monastery on Ionamarker 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Isles in 1408 known as the Islay Charter is one of the earliest records of Gaelic in public use and is a significant historical document. 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 Finlagganmarker. 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.

In 1726, the island was purchased by Daniel Campbell 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, Canadamarker, the Carolinas in the United Statesmarker and Australia.

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

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 Bowmoremarker, Port Ellenmarker and Port Charlottemarker. Other smaller villages include Portnahavenmarker, Bridgendmarker, Ballygrant and Port Askaigmarker. 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 Oamarker. The north western arm of the island is called the Rhinns of Islaymarker. There are several sea lochs on the island including Loch Finlagganmarker, Loch Gruinartmarker, Loch Gorm, Loch Indaalmarker, Loch an t-Saileinmarker, Loch Ballygrant and Loch Allan. The fractal coast has numerous bays including Aros Baymarker and Claggain Baymarker.

Lochindaal, a sea loch 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 Colonsaymarker. This separates the limestone, igneous intrusions and Bogh Mor sandstones from the Colonsay group rocks of the Rhinns. The result is occasional, minor earth tremors. Ardnave Pointmarker is a conspicuous promontory on the northwest of Islay.

There are no Munros on Islay or Jura, the highest peak being Beinn Bheigiermarker 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 Atlanticmarker 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.



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 Ardbegmarker, Lagavulinmarker, and Laphroaigmarker (which are considered to be among the most intensely flavoured of all whiskies). On the north of the island Bowmoremarker, Bruichladdichmarker and Bunnahabhainmarker are produced. These whiskies are substantially lighter in taste. Caol Ilamarker 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. There were more distilleries in the past: Port Ellenmarker 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 Distillerymarker, 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, 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

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 LIMPETmarker (Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) wave power generator was designed and built by Wavegen and researchers from the Queen's University of Belfastmarker, 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.


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 Airportmarker with services to and from Glasgowmarker.

There are regular ferry services to Port Ellen and Port Askaig from Kennacraigmarker, taking about two hours. Services to Port Askaig also run on to Scalasaigmarker on Colonsaymarker and on to Obanmarker on Wednesdays during the summer only. These services are run by Caledonian MacBrayne. There is also a ferry that runs from Port Askaig to Feolinmarker on Juramarker. A new ferry is expected to enter service in 2011.


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.

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

The British Channel 4 Time Team television series excavated at Finlaggan on the 24 June–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 Scotlandmarker "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 Scotlandmarker, 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 Kildaltonmarker 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. 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 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 Singaporemarker. He also wrote a number of books.



  1. "Boost for Islay Gaelic centre" (11 September 2001) Scottish Executive. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  2. Moffat, Alistair (2005) Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History. London. Thames & Hudson. Page 42.
  3. Storrie p. 28
  4. Jupp p. 10
  5. Storrie p. 29
  6. Jupp p. 11
  7. Bord, Janet & Colin (1976). The Secret Country. London: Paul Elek. ISBN 0-236-40048-7; pp. 66-67
  8. "Islay Whisky" Retrieved 4 January 2009.

Further reading

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


Image:Sunset4.jpg|Sunset over the Rhinns of Islaymarker from a Bowmoremarker gardenImage:bridgendwoods.JPG|Bridgend woods in January 2006Image:Port_Charlotte_-_Loch_Indall.JPG|Loch Indaalmarker from Port CharlottemarkerImage:Portellen_lighthouse.jpg|The lighthouse at Carraig Fhada, Port Ellenmarker

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