Come to Colonsay, enjoy our four-star holiday cottages


recreated text of Issue # 3 (late March 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 all the 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 Inc."

The legal framework for the new Community Company is now at an advanced stage and was submitted to the Community Council when it met on Thursday 16 March. It has been "borrowed" from an existing and successful company, and modified to meet the specific needs of Colonsay. It is clear that the company is to operate as a charity, that it will be open and democratic, and that there is appropriate provision for the legal framework to be modified in the light of experience. The company will have the ability to create or adopt whatever business activity may be agreed upon, and operate it for the general good of the community. The Community Council gave unanimous support to the proposals. It is thought likely that in due course the new company will be able to access grants and expertise to operate marginal businesses of local importance. Similar companies elsewhere have helped to preserve such facilities as retail shop, petrol sales, coal and gas distribution, community transport.


Angus and Jenni McFadyen on their Wedding Day

Rev. Wm. Carmichael R.I.P.

There was a large attendance at the Service of Committal for the late Rev. Carmichael, whose final resting place in Colonsay is at his own specific request. Introduced to the island through his wife, Lillian, he had become enchanted by Colonsay and was a long-term friend to all who knew him. He was a forester and botanist and worked for many years in Africa; in his time he had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and other peaks, had played rugby in the Tanzanian national team and had even played against the Springboks. In his forestry work, Bill had discovered a "new" river and later used it in connection with a dam - thus the "Carmichael River" and the "Carmichael Dam" will have a special significance for those of us who chance upon them. In recent years, he arranged for his extensive and important collection of Colonsay botanical material to be made permanently available in the island. It was in his teenage years that he received his vocation and, in a long and respected career, Rev. Carmichael shared the love and comfort of his faith with all who knew him. Colonsay has lost a good and faithful friend; deepest sympathy is extended to his wife, Lillian, daughter Maryt and son Donald.


CalMac Timetable

The timetable for next winter has been put forward for discussion; the only change is that the Monday ferry will sail ex Oban 11.50hrs, so that persons may use public transport to get from/to Glasgow. It was noted that nothing had been done to make it possible for schoolchildren to get home at weekends, but it was known that a proposed air service was intended to address this difficulty. On that basis the timetable was agreed by the Community Council.


Proposed Air Service

An independent consultancy has been engaged to advise upon a proposed air service for the island, and a researcher has conducted a survey. Unexpectedly, the survey was based upon a frequency and cost which many people failed to recognise from earlier portents; islanders were invited to comment on a service which would run thrice weekly, at a cost of £78.00 return. Many people had thought that the proposal would have been in line with the service enjoyed in Orkney, where boat and air tickets are interchangeable, and that the fare would therefore have been £16.75 return. Results (and opinion) are as yet unknown, but one respondent is known to have said that they "could not and would not" use a service which would be tailored to a privileged minority. Other people are said to be concerned about the implications for the schoolchildren, having now accepted a ferry timetable which incorporates no improvement over yet another winter. Concerns have been voiced that the island might gain a service which would be priced for the privileged minority, and that the true cost could include the withdrawal of the resident doctor.


"Fhada Thall Tha Mise"

The collected poems of the late Donald "Garvard" MacNeill were published a couple of years ago by House of Lochar, under the title of "Moch is Anmoch". The collection was very well received and enjoyed good reviews; all Colonsay households have numbered, individual copies. It is now known that one of the poems, Fhada Thall Tha Mise, has been selected for inclusion in an important new work "Cradle of the Scots: An Argyll Anthology", to be published by Birlinn in May 2000 (ISBN 1 84158 041 4 (£12.99)). This is a welcome independent endorsement of a gifted local hero, and much credit is due to Alastair Scouller whose efforts produced the original publication.


Church of Scotland

Repairs to the roof have been completed, to replace missing slates and restore the rhones on the vestry. Messrs. Woodrow of Islay have completed the construction of the new manse, although a little landscaping is still needed. Parishioners are most grateful for all the support that has been received, and a recent generous donation has permitted the orders for basic furnishings to be placed. Where possible, furniture and equipment from the old manse has been retained and this will be collected from storage very shortly (and to the considerable relief of the interim custodians). Despite all efforts, the construiction of the new manse has been a considerable strain upon the resources of the parish and there is an ongoing appeal for funds.


Holiday Accommodation in Colonsay

It seems that bookings for 2000 are running at an encouraging level; firm information is hard to get, but popular dates are already in short supply. It is hoped that a "late-availability" section may be incorporated in a future edition of "The Corncrake", but for the moment a brief checklist of properties and telephone numbers has been inserted under the "Accommodation" button on the homepage. It is easy to obtain a hard copy by "cut and paste", which should assist people who are trying to find vacancies for a special period. Even if you are very late in booking, it is worth trying all possibilities - unexpected cancellations can arise at any moment.


Springtime etc.

The first wheatear was noticed on 23 March; the ravens at The Pulpit (Machrins) are busily defending their nests against the curiosity of the buzzards; an otter was spotted swimming in Port Mór during the funeral address for the late Rev. Carmichael; the ground is drying out quickly and muir-burn can be seen in Islay, Jura and the Ross of Mull; the first prawn-boats of the year have been lying overnight at Scalasaig.



Archie is busy re-roofing his house; MacLennan Motors have a new collection/delivery depot arrangement at Glasgow; the especially magnificent Bentley on the island this week was rumoured to be only two days old and to have cost £135,000; the Pocklingtons have been busy at the old manse and have fitted new windows throughout; Caitlin McNeill (keen on dinosaurs) says that the "cassouarri" was a featherless ostrich-like creature over 16ft long with a bony lump on its head for bursting through undergrowth; the primary schoolchildren had an expedition to Oransay Priory and Dum Domhnaill; the contractors have finished their work at the Pantry and there are now "only" two articulated lorries in the CalMac carpark.




Extract from "The Highland News" 30 June 1884:

"COLONSAY. - The Colonsay Band of Hope and Temperance Society, though started only two of three years ago, has already achieved grand success, and the island is now practically a temperance colony. Scalasaig Inn, the only house in the place where intoxicating liquors could be obtained, used to do a roaring trade. Now, however, its roaring has been effectually hushed, and it will in future be conducted as a temperance hotel. This is very satisfactory, and we feel sure that the worthy proprietor will not lose by the change. Parties visiting that interesting island will now have all the comforts of hom in "Macneill's Temperance Hotel"."


A further extract, 8 September 1884:


Professor Mackinnon of the Celtic Chair, who is a native of this island, resides with his family at Garvard House for a month or two.

It was reported in the Highland News some weeks ago that the licence was withdrawn from the Colonsay Hotel. This was partly true. It appears now that the landlord is licensed for the sale of beer, porter, wines, and poisons of that sort, and that a few topers on the island are as "jolly" as ever. The island is at present in the market, and it is hoped that the new laird, whenever he comes, will make a clean sweep. Colonsay is a beautiful little island, and the soil is very fertile. Like the rest of the Hebrides, however, the best of the land is in the hands of large tacksmen, except what the laird cannot get let. These large farms would suit admirably for large crofts, and we trust the land here will be devoted to that purpose.

Mr Murdo Macleod's visit and lectures here have given general satisfaction, and the temperance party will gladly welcome him back again. He is a capital Gaelic speaker. If his movements were directed to the necessary places he would do good in the West Highlands"

Thanks to Norman Newton, Research Librarian at Inverness, for this piece.


[The Island Anthem], "Colonsay Isle"

Everybody will be familiar with Edith Clark's lovely song, but it is possible that some are less familiar with the Gaelic version, by Duncan Johnson ["The Islay Bard" kb140217]

Ann an cearcal nan eilean a mach anns an Iar
Chan 'eil a h-aon 'nam measg-san gu lèir;
Bheir barr an grinneas air Colasa ciar
Tir àluinn nam fasaichean réidh.

Tir mo ghràidh!
'S ann riu-sa thilleas mo shùil
Ged a shiùbhlainn-sa fada thar muir agus fonn
Ro Colasa grin bi mo dhùll.

Chithear monaidhean Dhiùra 'san dùbhradh ud chall
'S Muile nam fuar-bheann buileach fo'n cheò,
Cha bhi innis nam fuaran so idir air chall
Fo bhlàth-leus na gréine, glan, beò .

Tha buille a' chuain air cladach nam buadh,
Cluinn duan na riabhaig gu h' àrd
An lòn-dubh's am smeòrach ri solair am be ò-shlaint'
Fo ghorm-bhrat na speura le càil.

An Colasa biodheach tha chridheachan blàth
'S tha cuid diubh 'gam fheitheamh le fonn,
'gu'n greasaicheadh Diá mo thilleadh a ris,
Do Cholasa caoin nan tonn.

From a copy kindly provided to Kevin Byrne by the late Andrew "Oransay". [MacNeill kb150217]


Letter to The Herald from John Clarke

"Further to recent letters sent to The Herald on the subject of chough and the RSPB's involvement in conservation measures, I have been heavily involved in chough conservation since 1982 - I lived on Colonsay for eight years and carried out historical research on Colonsay's chough and agriculture on Islay, Jura, Gigha and Colonsay. In 1992 and '93, I was involved in an intensive study of breeding-chough behaviour on Islay.

From this background I may not be qualified to speak about political or ethical matters concerning fund-raising or the ownership of land. However, I am qualified to speak about the chough and the management of the land where it lives. Therefore I was not best pleased to read some of the RSPB's Stuart Housden's comments. In fairness, I can only assume that Mr Housden has been either misled or misinformed by those who really should know better.

For whatever reason, the RSPB is attempting to tell us that once it takes charge of a site, then the chough news gets better. To back these claims, Mr Housden uses observations and figures taken completely out of context and ignores what we understand about the natural population functions of chough.

For example, he states that since the RSPB began managing Smaull Farm on Islay over 40 chough have used the farm. What he does not tell us is how many were using it prior to RSPB's involvement. I know the farm, which was formerly managed by Eric and Sue Bignal (internationally acknowledged experts on chough), and I am sure that their records would show that similar numbers used the area pre-RSPB.

Furthermore, the same chough still use the same farms that the Bignals manage - and indeed other sites, so the implication that the chough use Smaull because of the RSPB may not be false but it is misleading.

The RSPB took over Oronsay, I believe, in 1995. It claims that since then, numbers of wintering chough have increased and that a pair has attempted to breed. All this, Mr Housden says, has contributed to the relative health of the nearby Colonsay population. I find these claims equally outrageous. Surely they can only be designed to mislead the public or to boost someone's credibility within the RSPB.

The RSPB gives no credit to the previous incumbent on Oronsay - or to the other farmers and crofters on Colonsay, most of whom were actively managing their land for chough long before the RSPB arrived. They were doing this through their farming practices and schemes drawn up by SNH, the Agricultural Department, or the Scottish Chough Study Group - and often with advice from SCSG members such as myself.

In truth, in the early 1900s chough were rarely seen on Colonsay. Then in the early '70s a pair began breeding. Since then, the numbers have steadily increased especially during the late '80s and early '90s. We estimated that in winter and spring 1994 the population of chough on Colonsay was 30 - 35 birds (30 - plus had been seen on Oronsay).

Stuart Housden states that the RSPB recorded 31 in winter, December 1999, so not much change there! Incidentally, a pair nested and laid eggs at a site on Oronsay in 1985, 10 years before the RSPB arrived! Again, the claim may not be false but it is a long way short of the true picture.

Regarding management, our (and others') observations show that the wintering chough on Colonsay and Oronsay feed about equally on the larvae in rotting kelp (on the strand line, which is not managed!) or on mining-bee larvae in the dune systems (grazed). We found that the largest accumulations of mining bees occur where there is either lower grazing or seasonal exclusion of grazing.

However, at a chough seminar in 1999, RSPB speakers seemed obsessed with an assumption that intensive grazing is the answer. True, intensive grazing produces masses of dung, which for a few warmer months of the year will be colonised by dung invertebrates for chough to feed upon. However, I and many others believe intensive grazing also reduces populations of a whole range of other invertebrate chough prey, including mining bees (so important for the local chough population), needed at other times of the year.

This information - and so much more - has been passed to the RSPB. I do not understand why it chooses to ignore hard facts and expert opinion, and when subsequently criticised in public, couches its replies in such a misleading manner.

It gives me little satisfaction to criticise the RSPB. However, as a long-time supporter of its work nationally, I am saddened by what I have too often seen it doing on Islay and Colonsay. It is so easy to be convinced by the RSPB's greater PR machine that the voices of criticism are those of uninformed cranks or people with grudges.

Not so, RSPB! The fact that we are not in "your team" does not necessarily place us "on the other side". Most of us care deeply about the chough, the associated wildlife, and the farming communities who look after them - why else would we often work unpaid and unfunded? Letters like this are our only method of redressing the balance by airing our views and giving the public real facts.

And one real fact is that, to date, I have seen no clear evidence that the RSPB's direct involvement with land management has benefited the Scottish chough. That is not a criticism, nor am I concerned with scoring political points. I feel that it is just the honest truth."

RSPB = Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. SNH = Scottish Natural Heritage. Chough are a great feature of Colonsay and their numbers have soared in recent years - they are amongst the most entertaining and attractive of our birds. At the present time, Colonsay is probably their most important stronghold. A visitor to Islay might see one here and there, in Colonsay they would be hard to avoid. John and Pamela Clarke carried out a lot of natural history research in Colonsay during their years in the island and many of their published papers are available locally. Their booklets on Colonsay Birds and Colonsay Flora are on sale at the bookshop. They lived at Milbuie and their monuments include the neighbouring woodland which they raised entirely from native Colonsay seed; it was John and Pamela who proved that A' Choille Mhór had been coppiced, and it was they who arranged dendrochronological tests on the Loch Fada stumps (4,700 years old). Good to hear from John in such fine form, and many thanks to S.C. for submitting this extract from an obviously stimulating debate.