Come to Colonsay, enjoy our four-star holiday cottages




recreated text of Issue # 2 (late February 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.


Dougie cuts the Ribbon

The first ever party in the New Hall was held on Saturday 26 February. Dougie McGilvaray, the oldest person on the island, who will be 90 next week, is pictured here declaring the Hall open. With remarkable foresight he arrived at the celebration with his own scissors at the ready! Alex Howard, as Chairman of the Hall Committee made a very brief speech and everyone had a chance to see every corner of the building. The first dance was a St. Bernard's Waltz, children managed to explore up and down the stairs and even underneath the stage and the Hall was well and truly christened. Over a hundred bottles of the Hall Committee's special malt whisky were sold in aid of funds and there was plenty of enthusiastic planning of future events!

[picture not available]



Air Service to Colonsay

A short news article in "The Herald" on 18 February confirmed that a feasability study is currently underway, with a view to providing an air service to the island. As it is understood locally, a service is mooted which would provide regular links with Connel and also with other remote communities (such as Coll). Fares would be as for the ferry, and frequency would be twice daily. The service would not compete with the ferry, but would reduce the isolation of the community, would permit schoolchildren to get home at weekends and might lead to increased economic activity in Colonsay, thus leading to increased ferry traffic. As yet, there is very little firm information.

Integrated Transport

It is understood that no major timetabling changes are planned for the ferry, but there is a proposal to re-time the Monday ferry next winter to depart Oban at 11.40hrs. This will allow people to travel to/from Glasgow by train without an overnight stop in Oban.

The New Hall

The new Village Hall has now been completed and the inaugral event was an Official Opening by Dugie MacGilvary on Saturday 26 February. It is a magnificent building, with all the facilities that we require. Full details will appear in "The Corncrake". Everyone will wish to be associated with the thanks and congratulations due to all who were involved. There was a very active committee, but especial thanks are due to Iain Gilles and Trevor Patrick, who gave unstintingly of their professional services; and also to Georgina Hobhouse and Rhona Grant, whose effort and commitment went well beyond any call of duty. The island is much indebted to these individuals and to all their colleagues.

Mobile Telephone

After months of anticipation, persons arrived recently by helicopter and "switched on" the system. Coverage is patchy - with a Vodaphone it is sometimes possible to make a call from an upstairs room of the lodges at Scalasaig; and with BT Cellphone it is possible to make "Emergency Calls Only" from the graveyard. In the total absence of information from any official source, it is not known whether any additional coverage is proposed.

Construction News

The new manse is at an advanced stage... only the dashing, the septic system and the landscaping is outstanding externally. The interior will be ready for painting and decorating within ten days or so. The accommodation includes two bedrooms for visiting Ministers, together with kitchen and dining areas. There is a spacious lounge, ideal for parochial meetings, and a separate en suite study/bedroom reserved for the use of Rev. Marshall, the parish Minister. As readers may know, Colonsay is now linked with Kilchattan & Kilbrandon, and shares a joint minister. It is understood that there will be Divine Service every Sunday from Easter until the end of October. Work on the Pantry extension is progressing apace, and should be completed in good time for Easter. Work on four new private houses should be completed by the end of April, and four more will be under construction later this year. Six more are just over the horizon...

Iomairt aig an Oir

Angus MacFadyen has had to resign his chairmanship through increased responsibilities elsewhere, and has been replaced by Donald "Pesie" MacNeill; Lucy McNeill is the official co-ordinator. To read the latest bulletin, use this link to IaaO Newsletter (Use your "page back" button to return!)

House of Lochar - latest catalogue

House of Lochar is Colonsay's very own publishing company, operating from the small white building at Port Mor. Their latest catalogue has just been published, and includes some sixty titles of Scottish interest. New entries include "The Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe" by John McPhee, "From Lochnaw to Manitoulin" (the diary of a Highland soldier) and "For Promised Joy", an historical novel on the life of Flora MacDonald. Full details of titles in the West Highland Series are included for the first time. To receive a copy, just get in touch with http://www.houseoflochar.com


Duncan has mislaid one of his telephone poles. It was about twenty feet long, brown and made of wood. He thought he left it outside his house. Neither Sid nor Busby admit to knowing anything about it.


It is reported that a deck-cargo of timber was jettisoned about 25 miles southwest of Tiree on Friday morning. All things being equal, it might be at Colonsay by Tuesday morning, assisted by the current northwest gales. Volunteers are standing by, with a view to tidying it up and protecting the environment.


The Colonsay and Oronsay Heritage Trust seeks the support of all wellwishers in its efforts to secure funding under the Nadair umbrella. The proposal is to renovate redundant farmsteadings at Scalasaig to provide exhibition and interpretative facilities; the Trust has operated from the Old Waiting Room in recent years, but its future development is constrained by the restrictions of those premises. For further information, contact Colonsay and Oronsay Heritage Trust, Isle of Colonsay, Argyll PA61 7YR or send a message via the Editor, for onward transmission.

DIARY DATES Everybody welcome

Easter: MacAllister family gathering, including all-island ceilidh.
May 20: Grand Celebration of the New Hall, with sponsors and supporters as invited guests.
June 17: Millenium Street Party. An oecumenical service at the Priory, followed by grand barbecue and party at Seal Cottage, by courtesy of Mrs. F. Colburn and all Oransay residents. This is a party for all islanders and all friends - come by boat, come by tractor, even on foot - but please don't miss it.


Actually, they don't, or not yet anyway. It is early days yet and it may take some time for new readers to discover the Corncrake. In the meantime we will not "wipe" articles from the magazine section until pressure of new contributions build up a bit. Do please feel free to send comments, items of news or "magazine" pieces for the attention of the Editor.



BEN ODHRAN HOUSE (by Kevin Byrne)

A number of inscribed sections of monumental granite have been re-cycled as quoins at Ben Odhran House. They were brought to light during extensive renovations in 1995, when contractors mentioned them over a lunchtime drink - "a really creepy house, it's built out of re-cycled gravestones". Acting on the hint, the quoins were examined and recorded by Duncan MacDougall and Kevin Byrne. Conditions were difficult, involving slippery scaffolding and torrential rain, so there might be slight errors in the transcription. The inscriptions were subsequently covered in cement and then pebble dashed and are therefore no longer accessible. The visible inscriptions at the time read as follows:

[NW Corner, Lower]

[NW Corner, Top]

[SE Corner]

[SE Corner]

[SW Corner]
[three words obscured]

[NE Corner]

[Inside LH Shutter Box, Upper front window, SE corner room]
beachd aithris
agus cothrom
agus teag...

Two slabs of the same monumental granite had been noted in Kilchattan graveyard, and another piece seems to have been used for a tablet in the MacNeill Mortuary Chapel on Oransay. A small section has been used for a step in the pleasure garden of the Hotel at Scalasaig. Ornate sections may be seen in the grounds of Colonsay House, east of Pondside.

All these slabs are now known to be remnants of the original Monument to Duncan MacNeill (1793 - 1874), Lord Colonsay, erected on Cnoc na Faire Mor and inaugrated on 9 August 1876. The actual construction and erection work was undertaken by the Sound of Iona Granite Quarries, of Mull.

The driving force behind the project was Donald MacKinnon of Colonsay, first Professor of Celtic Studies at Edinburgh University. His report to the Oban Times stated that nearly 200 Colonsay inhabitants (almost half the population) had contributed "from a sixpence upwards".

Professor MacKinnon's manuscript report has been preserved in the family papers of the late Peter "Para Mor" MacAllister, and provides the key to "The Riddle of Ben Odhran". It states that there were differing inscriptions on three sides of the pedestal, an English one by Alexander Nicholson, one in Latin by Professor Blackie, and a Gaelic one by Professor MacKinnon himself.

At 3 o'clock on the day of inaugration, almost 300 inhabitants of Colonsay were present when Rev. Donald MacLean opened the proceedings in prayer. Various speeches were made, including one in Gaelic by Sir John McaNeill GCB, which was acclaimed by "loud and prolonged cheering". Professor MacKinnon, by request, read out the Gaelic inscription; "substantial refreshments" followed, at the hotel.

Unfortunately, sixty three days later, on the evening of 11 October, a bolt of lightning struck the monument; it "may be said to be totally destroyed ... the under-building [with the inscriptions] was the part which was struck".

It was rebuilt, but on a more modest scale, at the expense of Sir John MacNeill; sadly, the inscriptions were omitted from the new structure. The present structure is equipped with a lightning conductor and one can clearly see the marks of the lightning strike and of the incidental damage caused when the upper-building fell to the ground.

Clearly, remnants of the original monument were thriftily re-cycled when Ben Odhran was built, as a house for the then factor. The last substantial block from the original structure was removed by Mr. Dugie McGilvray, using a Caterpillar Tractor in the 1950s, and from this block were fashioned the two memorials now a Cill Chatain.


By coincidence, Professor Sheets has drawn attention to a more poignant event in that same August 1876, when a 22 year old man and his 17 year old sister both died of typhoid fever in Kilchattan. On 16 September the Oban Times gave some background details:

"Colonsay - Fever - Typhoid fever has been prevalent here for some time back. Owing to the want of medical skill, people thought it was a severe cold, but fortunately a medical man (Dr. Dougall, Glasgow) was here on pleasure, and kindly visited those who were sick, when he at once pronounced it fever, and warned people to be careful. In one house there is at present five seriously ill, and two deaths occurred in the same family. The proprietor, the Rt. Hon. Sir John McNeill G.CB., generously sent a doctor from Edinburgh, who was on the island for some weeks, and it is hoped the fever is now arrested."

Professor Sheets has checked the records and confirms that only two more deaths were recorded in the year, and that the outbreak had indeed been successfully confirmed.


As long lists of links can be daunting, it is proposed to offer just one interesting link per issue. Selection is fairly random, and ideas are welcome. As a first offering, readers might like to visit our near neighbours in Jura. Colonsay and Jura were part of one territory for centuries, and shared the same laird under the McNeills. In the days iof the Old Parish Register they were a united parish, and were threfore taken together for official purposes such as the Old Statistical Account and the poor Law Commission. They still have something in common, so why not visit Jura now?