An Early Written Account of Islay by Donald Monro


Islay around 1500ADSir Donald Monro held the post of High Dean of the Isles. In 1549 he embarked on a grand tour, paying pastoral visits to many of the islands off the west coast of Scotland. The manuscript, written by Sir Donald following his tour, is the earliest description of the Western Islands made from personal observation. The manuscript was first published in Edinburgh in 1774. Monro's work only became more widely available when it was published as part of a bundle with Martin Martin's books.

Below is a reprint of chapter 55, Islay, with Monro's spellings and names retained. Many of the spellings suggest that Monro was either not very familiar with Gaelic or that he was unable to write it well. It is also likely that he wrote some names from memory after his visit. One result is that the islands being referred to are sometimes far from obvious which is also the case with this particular chapter. The careful reader though will certainly find references to places on Islay, I have tried to name a few in brackets. If there's anyone with an idea about the other names in this chapter please contact me. The map might help out!

The map which is displayed on the right, can be enlarged by clicking it, and comes from the "Book of Islay", 1895 (allow some time to load). The map is drawn around 1500AD and gives an interesting view of the island in those days.

ILA (Islay). Nar this forsaid iyle, on the west side of it, layes Ila, an ile of twentie mile lenthe from the north to the south, and sixteen myle in breadth from the eist to the west, fertil, fruitful, and full of natural grassing, with maney grate diere, maney woods, faire games of hunting beside everey toune, with ane watter callit Laxay (Lochindaal?), whereupon maney salmon are slaine, with ane salt water loch callit Lochegunord (Loch Gruinart?), quherin runs the water of Gyinord, with high sandey bankes, upon the quhilk bankes upon the sea lyes infinit selccheis, whilkis are slain with doges lernt to the same effect. In Ila is meikle lead ure in Mochyills. In this iyle there is ane guid raid for schipps, callit in Erische Polmoir, and in English the Mechell puill; this layes at ane toune callit Lanlay Vanych. Ane uther raid layes within Ellan Grynard, callit in English the isle at the poynt of the ness; the raid is callit Leodannis. Within this iyle ther is sundrie freshe water lochis, sic as Lochmoyburge, wherein ther layes an iyle perteining to the Bishopes of the iyles; the loch of Ellan Charrin, quherin ther is ane iyle pertyning to M’Gillane of Doward; Loch Cherossa, with ane iyle perteining to the abbot of Colmkill. In this iyle there is strenths castells; the first is callit Dunowaik (Dunyvaig?), biggit on ane craig at the sea side, on the southeist part of the countery pertaining to the Clandonald of Kintyre; second is callit the castle of Lochgurne (Loch Gorm?, there was a castle in Loch Gorm hundreds of years ago!), quhilk is biggit ill ane iyle within the said fresche water loche far fra land, pertaining of auld to the Clandonald of Kintyre, now usurped be M’Gillayne of Doward. Ellan Forlagan (Finlaggan?), in the middle of Ila, ane faire iyle in fresche water.

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