Northern Studies Conference in Islay

The Scottish Society for Northern Studies, a society founded in 1968 to explore the relationships between the Scandinavian, Celtic and Scottish cultures, invited all 'Ileach’ readers to an evening of free talks on Islay landscape and heritage in the Round Church, Bowmore on Thursday evening 12th April. Attending the evening of talks were 50 or so conference delegates, joined by the 'Ileach’ and a few other Islay people. The event’s organisers made us very welcome to attend as much of the conference’s weekend program as time allowed. Malcolm Ogilvie set the scene with an illustrated lecture on "Islay’s Landscape and Natural History", followed by John Barber’s engaging discussion of "Islay’s Prehistoric Settlement Patterns"; and Margaret Storrie spoke on "Islay Settlements and Society over the Past 300 Years".

The conference theme was 'Islay: From Gall to Gael and Galloglass’ and talks were focused on settlement and society in Islay during the Middle Ages. However, the short lectures presented covered archaeology, history and folklore of Islay and other Hebridean islands, and also of other areas connected by the seas of the North Atlantic. The opportunity to hear talks by scholars and researchers on Islay’s early history and its links with the Norse through to the time of the Lordship of the Isles is not often available locally, and this was an outstanding occasion for those of us interested in learning more about Islay’s past. Continue reading

On Friday morning, thanks to the hospitality of Ardbeg Distillery, several interesting talks were given in the distillery’s meeting rooms by speakers from universities in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Norway and Canada. In the half-hour lectures, speakers’ topics ranged from "Who lived in Islay?" by James E Fraser of the University of Edinburgh, then Geoff Waters’ investigation of Islay’s early Christian dry-stone chapels (some of which, Donald James MacPhee and I had previously helped Geoff to visit). The discussions moved on to "Vikings in the Irish Sea" by Clare Downham, followed by Alan MacNiven’s "What’s in a Name; the Viking Invasion of Islay?" then Arne Kruse’s "Loot as Symbol?".

While it was helpful to have learnt a little about Islay’s history beforehand, the lecturers gave clear explanations, which were for the most part straightforward to follow. Printed handouts and powerpoint presentations were provided by most speakers, and short abstracts of each talk were given in the conference notes. Participation was encouraged, with time set aside at the end of each talk for questions from and discussion with the audience.

The conference progressed; an Ardbeg distillery tour, an evening session at ICCI with talks given by David Caldwell on the North Atlantic region’s international culture in the time of and in relation to the Kingdom of the Isles, and by Steve Boardman who spoke on possibilities concerning later-written accounts of the Lordship of the Isles and whether there were indeed inaugurations held at Finlaggan. Saturday morning brought a session of short lectures, followed in afternoon by a visit to Finlaggan, guided by David Caldwell (who led excavations there in the 1980s) and Rona MacKenzie. An evening ceilidh in Ballygrant hall with local artistes was enjoyed by the delegates and partners. On Sunday morning the final session of lectures was given at ICCI, followed by lunch after which the conference was brought to a close.

For more information on the Scottish Society for Northern Studies, see or contact the Society’s Treasurer, Alan Calder by email

This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.

Tag: finlaggan history