Come to Colonsay, enjoy our four-star holiday cottages



recreated text of Issue # 1 (Late January 2000)

The text of this issue has been recovered. The originating editor was Kevin Byrne but the archive file of the first 100 editions was wiped in error; it will be recreated as far as possible but it is doubtful if any photographs can be recovered. Please ignore anything that, with hindsight, might be upsetting or annoying - the attempt to recreate the files would be pointless if the text were to be bowdlerized. Any necessary or desirable changes will appear in square brackets with a date e.g. [a change kb0315]. If anybody wishes to add comment or enlightenment, send it to byrne@colonsay.org.uk identifying the issue in question and the comment can perhaps be added as a footnote.



Colonsay Whisky

On 18 December, Colonsay Village Hall Committee held their first sale of a special edition "Colonsay Whisky". There are only 2000 bottles of this special whisky available, which is being sold to raise funds for the new Village Hall. It is a superb product and provides a painless way to render practical support to the committee in its efforts.

Puss in Boots

On 20 December, the pupils of Kilchattan Primary School gave an excellent performance of Puss in Boots at the Village Hall. The hall was filled with locals and visitors, and a very entertaining evening was had by all.

The cast was:
Puss... Hamish Grant
The King... Chris Robinson
Colin ... Sean Swift
Dame Trott ... Morag Grant
Princess ... Jasmin Brown
The Fairy ... Caitlin McNeill
The Giant ... Angus Howard

Even the pre-school children, Liam McNeill, Calum McNeill, Glen Brown and Millie Howard appeared on stage as various animals. Congratulations to Carol McNeill, Lucy McNeill and Esme Marshall for putting together such a wonderful pantomime.

Clay Pigeon Shoot

On 29 December Colonsay and Oronsay Gun Club held a clay pigeon shooting competition. There was a huge turnout of locals and visitors alike, and the prizes were presented by Lady Strathcona.
1st Prize: Nigel Grant
2nd Prize: Angus McFadyen
3rd Prize: Brian Usher


In a break with tradition, a Hogmanay party was held in the Village Hall. This was a great evening and the hall was packed with locals and visitors who wanted to make this a New Year to remember!
There was live music fom Donald MacAllister jnr., Mhari McDougall, Ellie Cornford, Sandy Abrahams and Jen McNeill. Songs from Hughie McNeill and Angus MacFadyen had everybody in the building singing at the top of their voices.
Just before midnight, the raffle was drawn for the bottle of Colonsay Village Hall Whisky numbered 0001 - the winner was a local lady, Fran Patrick.
On the stroke of midnight an almighty cheer rang out as everyone celebrated the start of the new Millenium. Outside, there was a brilliant firework display which was thoroughly enjoyed by children and adults alike, and then it was back into the hall to continue dancing and singing through the wee small hours.

Church Services

The Watchnight Service at the Church of Scotland was attended by about 20 persons, all in good voice, and the congregation was later welcomed for refreshments at the hotel, through the generosity of Christine Reysenn.
A special Millenium Praise was held in the Baptist Church on January 2nd. The story of the life of Jesus was told in songs and readings. There was a good turnout of people as both the Baptist Church and Church of Scotland joined together to praise the Lord.

Caledonian MacBrayne

From Easter 2000, Caledonian MacBrayne are introducing a new "Island Hopscotch" ticket, giving unlimited travel between Kennacraig, Islay, Colonsay and Oban. The ticket is valid for one month, but does not automatically assure a place on any particular sailing, therefore advance booking is strongly recommended. Price is £18.15 per person, £92.00 per car. This is an excellent opportunity for folk who usually restrict themselves to the "Queen of the Hebrides" to spread their wings and sample "Lonely Colonsay".
Another innovation is the Passenger Registration system, which as been imposed on certain routes including Oban/Colonsay/Oban. In a nutshell, intending passengers MUST register at the port no later than thirty minutes PRIOR to sailing time, and be on board no later than ten minutes PRIOR to sailing time. Passengers must complete a registration card for each individual member of their party (including babies) and must surrender the card as they go aboard the vessel. There have been no problems to date, but each person needs to look after their own card. If part of the family go up the gangway, they must be careful that they have not left their cards inside the car.

Building Works

There has been a great deal of activity this winter. The new £350,000 hall is nearing completion, built by Alexander Black of Oban; Messrs. Barr are at work on the £1.05 million improvement to the island water supply; and housebuilding includes two new houses at Kiloran Bay, one for Donald and Kirsty MacAllister, and the other for Angus MacFadyen and his bride-to-be, Jenni Whitfield; Kevin and Christa Byrne are at work on a new house at Uragaig; and Rupert is building at Balerulin.
In addition, Messrs. Woodrow of Islay are building a new manse in Scalasaig for the Church of Scotland and, down at Poll Gorm, Andrew Abrahams is completing a new Honey Store.
Charlie and May MacKinnon will shortly unveil an extension to The Pantry and there are firm plans for at least four additional Housing Association homes and two workshop units.
All of the new buildings fit snugly within their settings, and are an encouraging sign of confidence. The island population is currently at 115, with nine children enrolled at the school.

Late news: Number 5 Glassard has been put up for sale - details are available from Colonsay Estate Tel. 01951 200211


The mobile telephone mast - which was completed last Easter - is close to being commissioned. It is hoped that mobile phones will be functioning in Colonsay within the month - they will be particularly useful for people at sea and for the island doctor.
British Telecom have also been busy just recently, and have laid about two miles of underground cabling. The elimination of so many poles will be welcomed by all, although a suitable number have been left standing for the convenience of the buzzards.

Otter Sighting

On Wednesday morning, February 2nd, passengers on the school bus had an excellent close encounter with a beautiful otter, on the Laonaridh Brae. It had a coat of russet brown, with a very heavy drooping tail; it was close to the road and, as it moved away, could be clearly seen for some sixty metres. The morning was calm and dry, and its fur looked very snug; as it went away, its magnificent whiskers could be seen protruding bushily on either side of its head. Others are plentiful in Colonsay, but this was an exceptionally good sighting.

The late Catriona MacFadyen

Islanders were saddened on January 17 when they learned of the passing of Mrs. Catriona MacFadyen, nee McNeill, daughter of John ("Johnnie Muillear") and Margaret McNeill. The funeral service was conducted by Rev. Bradley and took place in calm and sunny conditions; the large attendance was tribute to the esteem and affection of all who knew her. Mrs. MacFadyen was predeceased by sons Duncan ("Dondie") and Donald, and is survived by her sister Flora, by her husband Finlay and by sons John and Finlay, to whom sympathy is extended. Gus am bris an la.

Iomairt aig an Oir

In the winter of 1998 the Community Council was asked to sponsor an audit and, in the light of its findings, to establish a group which would include the community council members. to become a local steering group for Iomairt aig an Oir.

So in the spring of 1999 the Colonsay steering group of Iomairt aig an Oir was established. Colonsay along with other isolated areas Uig and Bernera, Lochboisdale, Bays of Harris, Eriskay, Westray, Papa Westray and Ardnamurchan became part of a Scottish Office initiative called "Initiative at the Edge", a programme to assist areas which needed regeneration.

Colonsay's steering group was asked by I.a.a.O. to identify those problems specific to the island that made progress difficult. They were asked to make suggestions as to what would be of greatest benefit to the island to secure and indeed increase its population, in order to move forward as a vital growing community.

Two fundamental issues were identified by the audit. Firstly, there were the problems arising from the ferry/transport system on which the island is totally dependant. Ferry fares were high, freight charges were a burden, the timetable was clumsy and importantly it left the High School children with no opprtunity to come home at weekends except in the summer months (and this not a certainty). The steering group felt that the rate of charges was off-putting to businesses, and that the timetabling in winter actually led to families quitting the island when children came to High School age.

The second identified problem was housing. The lack of choice in terms of rented accommodation, and the fast sale of the few properties that get into the open market into holiday housing, left building as the main option (grant assistance being available). High freight costs made building extremely difficult and, while grant aid was available, the conflict between planners and Scottish Homes made accessing these grants a complicated and frustrating process.

So the steering group put together what they saw as solutions. Address the ferry timetable or find an alternative way to get the high school children home at weekends. Build new Housing Association houses; speak to Scottish Homes and the planners and see if their difficulties could be resolved.

There are currently feasability studies underway. One is looking at the possibility of a regular air service to the island, and another is assessing ways to get more Housing Association houses built. The Community Land Unit is negotiating the purchase of land as sites for houses and/or workshops, to be held until a mechanism is established for building and the community is ready to go ahead. Argyll & the Isles Enterprise are looking at building workshop space.

A constitution is being decided for the Colonsay Community Development Group that will allow funding for any community programme to be disbursed. The Working Group has for some time been organising a rhododendron clearance scheme and it will be one of the first projects to get funding through the development group. Also to be funded in this way is the post of secretary to Colonsay I.a.a.O.

And so progress is being made.



Poem, on leaving the Old Village Hall, by Eleanor McNeill


After serving us well for years and years
There were perhaps those who shed a few tears -
After concerts and ceilidhs and weddings galore
The old "Lofta Mhor" would serve us no more.

The new Village Hall was ready for use
We danced our last dance - and then were let loose
We followed the piper right down the stairs
In groups with families and the young folk in pairs.

We marched down the hill and we gazed at the scene
Our lovely new hall - so shiny and clean.
The doors were wide open - we all walked right in
And life in the new Hall was about to begin.

Then Alasdair Machrins commanded once more
"Take your partners - let's see you all up on the floor".
Big Angus was playing and tapping his feet,
The dance had re-started - the Hall was complete.

It's near 45 years since that night in November,
If these walls could speak - what would they remember?
What took place in here? - what tales could be told?
Now that this new Hall's become "somewhat old".

When couples got married they invited us all
To attend their reception in this village hall.
We offered them all our sincere congratulations
And then we all joined them in their celebrations.

Then there were concerts - we all sat in rows
And applauded and laughed as we listened to those
Who overcame nerves to play, dance and sing
And tell of "MacAllister's Dance before the King".

There was always one night when the seats were all full
For the Concert put on by the children from School.
They practised for weeks and entertained well
Happy faces, dressed neatly - they really looked swell.

Farewell parties, birthday parties - these walls have seen
For the annual party the children were keen.
When Santa arrived - to the sound of great cheers -
He never missed once throughout all these years.

There's been other functions - to many to mention,
To bore you this evening was not our intention.
Film shows, Root & Grain Shows - and Fancy Dress Ball,
Country dancing, line dancing have been taught in this hall.

A mention in passing - there's been "business meetings",
Not all of them ending with cordial greetings!
On housing and ferries and getting "the lights",
We sat in this hall and stated our "rights"!

But now the whole circle is almost complete,
The building is ageing, we accept its defeat.
The work on the New Hall has captured our gaze,
But we'll not leave this one without singing its praise


A Flitting to Nova Scotia - the story of the Oliver Family by Kevin Byrne

When James MacDonald published "A General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides" in 1811, he was mightily impressed with the energetic developments that he witnessed in Colonsay. The "old Laird" was a famous improver and MacDonald was moved to give an example of his thoroughness: "We here subjoin the work carried on in one season, and in one field of waste ground, copied from a note written by his grieve or farm steward: "Labourers 180 days complete, cleaning out whins and willows etc. in the west field, containing about ten acres of land. Ploughing the same field 51 days with one strong plough. Harrowing with the iron break-harrow 20 days. Oat-seed sown 12 bolls." (Signed)"John Oliver."

It is clear from this reference that John Oliver must have been a highly qualified man, because he had been appointed to take charge of an extraordinarily dynamic farming enterprise. From local records we know that his wife was Elen Smith and that their son (born 1809) was baptised in Colonsay on January 10th 1810. The church was almost new, having been built in 1802, and the Olivers presumably lived at Kiloran Farmhouse; that they had a close connection with their employer is clear - their son was christened as "John McNeill Oliver", the first recorded example in Colonsay of a double forename. Until recently, little more was known of this family.

Through contacts arising from the Colonsay website, we now know that John George Oliver was born in Hawick, Roxburghshire in 1777, and that he married Helen Smith in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire on 19th September 1808. Clearly an ambitious man, he did not linger long in Colonsay, and in 1812 he and his family set out for Nova Scotia. They sailed from Glasgow, aboard the "English" brig "Bacchus" of Saltcoats, bound initially for Pictou. They set sail on August 24, with a crew of 10 and 19 passengers. The other passengers came from Inverness and Nairn, and the Muster roll survives, giving details of the family as follows:
John Oliver, 32 years, "calara, Argyle Shire", "contracted to be carried" to Pictou, "to follow his Employment as a Labourer". Also his wife, Helen, 25 years, "going with her husband"; and children John, 3 years, and Helen, 5 years, "going with the parents". Although "Calara" is possibly a rendering of "Kiloran", it is probably the result of a misreading of "Colasa" (Gaelic form of "Colonsay") by the clerk who transcribed the final copy of the passenger list. No doubt intending passengers supplied such details through an agent, in advance of the actual voyage.

Before she sailed, officers of the Custom House went aboard:
"These certify that we have this day been on board the Brig Bacchus of Saltcoats, Burthen one Hundred and Sixty nine tons, James McCoul Master, for Pictou;
"- and have mustered and examined the Passengers therein and find them to agree with the written list, being twenty nine in number;
"- that said Brig has no goods on board, having one hundred and sixty nine tons for the Passengers and Crew, which is good and sufficient and wholesome accommodation for said Crew and Passengers for said voyage;
"- that they consist of 27 hundred weight two quarters and 20 pounds meal, 31 hundred weights one quarter and twenty five pounds Bread and Biscuits or oatmeal, 2436 gallons of water and 152.25 gallons of mollasses;
"- that we have searched and inspected said Brig and find that there are no more Persons on board of said Brig than what is contained in the within list;
"- we also certify that we find all the requests of law have been duly complied with."

The Master went to the Custom House to swear as follows:
"James McCoull maketh oath that the within list contain a full and true account of all Persons on board this Brig Bacchus under my command;
"- that the same contains the names, ages and the real Trade or Occupation of said Persons;
"- that all the persons named in the said list are subjects of his Majesty;
"- that none of them are Artificers or manufacturers or Seamen, except as within stated."

Lloyds Register suggests that the "Bacchus" was officially 150 tons, from Workington. Additional information from the Curator of Marine History at Nova Scotia Museum has been given in a letter to Ms. Tusher, a descendant:
"She made voyages to Montreal in 1809 and Halifax in 1811.... this brig was built in 1808, commanded buy a Capt. Thompson in 1812, owned by one Jenkinson, drew 11 feet of water and was one deck, with a tier of beams inside the hull for reinforcement. She was unarmed. A brig, as you may know, is a two-masted, square-rigged vessel. This one was small to medium size for the period."

The rigour of the formalities at Port Glasgow reflect the fact that this was a time of economic and political tension, sufficient for John Oliver to declare himself to be a common labourer; as a skilled man he might well have been declined a passage. Unhappily, his timing was worse than he supposed and coincided with an outbreak of hostilities subsequently known as "The Second American War of Independence". On November 27th or 28th, when "Bacchus" was in the Gulf of Canso, she was captured as a prize by the schooner "Revenge" of Salem, Massachusetts. Together with her passengers and crew, "Bacchus" was taken to Boston and held in the custody of the U.S. Marshall. In due course, John Oliver and his family were delivered to "Andrew Allen jun.", British Agent at Boston, December 11th 1812. At the time of her capture, "Bacchus" was barely forty miles short of Pictou.

The family is recorded in the register of "British Prisoners, Massachusetts Maritime", a ledger which had been opened in August 1812. Prisoners No. 87 through 92 are given as John Oliver, Helen Oliver and their children John (McNeill), Helen, James and William. We see that the family had increased by two in the course of the journey, possibly another example of Colonsay's propensity for multiple births. On their release, the family had no option but to make their way as best they could to their intended destination. Possibly the British Agent was able to help in some way, because an immediate application was made for a grant of land.

John Oliver made his application for a grant of land in Nova Scotia on December 12th 1812 (the day after his release in Boston), and on January 11th 1813 he was granted 350 acres on the French River at New Annan. The following year he was joined by two of his brothers, who were granted a further 450 acres of adjacent land. The family history through succeeding generations has been carefully traced; John and Helen had some 34 grandchildren through their nuclear "pioneer" children and the descendants of Colonsay's own John McNeill Oliver are now in their fifth generation.

I am most grateful to Mrs. Marylin L. Tusher for the background information to this article - Kevin Byrne.