Historical rock Cairn on a Clifftop

History & Heritage

There is evidence of human activity on Colonsay going back to 7,000 B.C. and all over the island you can find evidence of Colonsay's long history

Ranging from the Iron Age forts and duns which still dominate the Colonsay skyline, to the abandoned village of Riasg Buidhe, which was inhabited up to 1918. The Colonsay & Oransay Heritage Centre in Kilchatten, is a great place to gather more information

The Ordnance Survey Pathfinder map has all the most important sites archaeological site marked and local guide books and pamphlets are available on island.

On the east coast of Colonsay, the ruins of the 19th Century fishing village of Riasg Buidhe can be found. The houses were abandoned in 1918 and the villagers moved to more modern homes along the coast in Glassard. The fishing settlement includes the remains of eight single-storey domestic and agricultural units. It is also the site of an Early Christian chapel and burial ground, and although there are no identifiable remains of a chapel, boulders appear to mark the position of burials. The site has produced two Early Christan carved stones: a cruciform slab (now at Colonsay House), probably of seventh or eighth century AD date; and a slab with Latin cross, now in the National Museum.

Cill Chatriona, the chapel of St Catherine can be found just before entering the sand dune area of Balnahard Bay. Cill Chaitriona is the partial remains of a chapel and burial ground
At one corner of the chapel is a small stone cross. At the west end is a small basin possibly used for holy water.

Several cruciform stones (rough stone crosses) have been found on the site. No one seems to know when Cill Chaitriona was built; if local tradition is correct and it was founded by monks from the first phase of monastic settlement on Iona, that would suggest a date between 600 and 800 AD. Or, if the monks came from the second phase of monastic activity on Iona, that would place the building of the chapel at a time after 1200.

The geology of Colonsay is known to be quite exciting. In a nutshell, the Great Glen faultline which runs down from Inverness and along the Firth of Lorne splits northeast of Colonsay. One fault continues towards Donegal, running between Colonsay and the Ross of Mull; whilst the other runs between Colonsay and Jura before splitting Islay in two, via Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal. Thus Colonsay, Oransay, the Rhinns of Islay and the tiny, northernmost islands of Ireland are geologically connected and are rather different to the surrounding area.

The Geology of Colonsay

The “Old Parish Register” was maintained by the Presbyterian minister of the day. Until 1832, he was based in Jura and made only three or four forays across to Colonsay in the course of the year; it appears that he normally left the registers in Jura, and brought them up to date upon his return. This was probably the safest procedure, but it did mean that mistakes have been identified in some entries and one may assume that there were other errors and, perhaps, omissions that have not yet come to light.

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