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North Rona

North Rona
Gaelic name    
Norse name hraun-øy?
Meaning of name possibly "seal island"
North Rona is located in Scotland
North Rona
North Rona shown within Scotland
OS grid reference
Physical geography
Island group North Atlantic
Area 109 hectares
Area rank 145 [1]
Highest elevation Tobha Rònaigh 108 m[2]
Political geography
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Population 0
References [3][4]
Cave on North Rona

Rona (Scottish Gaelic: Rònaigh, pronounced ) is a remote Scottish island in the North Atlantic. Also "Rona" in Manx means "Sea Calf" as in seal. Gaelic Rona is often referred to as North Rona in order to distinguish it from South Rona (another small island, in the Inner Hebrides). It has an area of 109 hectares (270 acres) and a maximum elevation of 108 metres (354 ft)[2][4][5]

The island lies 71 kilometres (44 mi) north north east of the Butt of Lewis and 18 kilometres (11 mi) east of Sula Sgeir. More isolated than St Kilda, it is the most remote island in the British Isles to have ever been inhabited on a long-term basis. It is also the closest neighbour to the Faroe Islands. Because of the island's remote location and small area, it is omitted from many maps of the United Kingdom.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


The name "Rona" may come from hraun-øy, Old Norse for "rough island", a combination of ròn and øy, Gaelic and Old Norse for "seal" and "island" respectively, or it may have been named after Saint Ronan.[4] The English language qualifier "North" is sometimes used to distinguish the island from Rona off Skye. In Gaelic it is also known as Rònaigh an Daimh which is literally "Rona of the stag" but may be derived from Rònaigh an Taibh, containing the Norse word tabh, meaning "ocean" and convey the meaning "Rona of the Atlantic".[6]


Ronay Island.[7]

Rona is said to have been the residence of Saint Ronan in the eighth century. A tiny early Christian oratory which may be as early as this date, built of unmortared stone, survives virtually complete on the island - the best preserved structure of this type in Scotland. A number of simple cross-slabs of early medieval date are preserved within the structure, probably the grave-markers of Dark Age monks or hermits from Scotland or Ireland. The island continued to be inhabited until the entire population of thirty died shortly after 1685 after an infestation by rats, probably the black rat (Rattus rattus), which reached the island after a shipwreck. The rats raided the food stocks of barley meal and it is possible the inhabitants starved to death, although plague may have been a contributory factor. This occurred in a year in which it is reported that no further ships reached the isolated island to supply or trade. The rats themselves eventually starved to death, the huge swells the island experiences preventing their hunting along the rocky shores.[8]

It was resettled, but again depopulated by around 1695 in some sort of boating tragedy, after which it remained home to a succession of shepherds and their families, until 1844 when it was deserted. Sir James Matheson, who bought Lewis in 1844, offered the island to the Government for use as a penal settlement. The offer was refused.

Although farmers from Lewis have continued to graze sheep on Rona ever since, the island has remained uninhabited, apart from one brief and tragic episode in 1884–85. In June 1884, two men from Lewis, Malcolm MacDonald and Murdo Mackay, having reportedly had a dispute with the minister of their local church, went to stay on Rona to look after the sheep. In August, boatmen who had called at the island reported that the men were well and in good spirits, and had refused offers to take them back to Lewis. In April 1885, the next people to visit Rona made a grim discovery: the bodies of the two men from Lewis, who, a post-mortem subsequently showed, had fallen ill and died during the winter.

During World War I, the commander of German U-boat U-90, Walter Remy, stopped his submarine at North Rona during each of his wartime patrols, weather permitting, and sent crewmen onto the island to shoot sheep to obtain mutton for on-board consumption.[9]

The island was occupied temporarily in 1938–39 by author and conservationist Frank Fraser Darling with his wife Bobbie and their son Alasdair, while they studied the grey seals and the breeding seabirds.

Tobha Rònaidh / Toa Rona

The island still boasts the Celtic ruins of St Ronan's Chapel. It is owned by Scottish Natural Heritage, and managed as a nature reserve, for its important grey seal and seabird colonies. These include the European storm-petrel and the larger Leach's storm-petrel, for which North Rona is an important breeding locality. Rona and Sula Sgeir form the most remote and least-visited National Nature Reserve in Britain.[10]

In "Island at the edge of the world", the poet Kathleen Jamie describes a visit to the island,[11] as well as in an essay in her collection Sightlines.

In The Silver Darlings by Neil M. Gunn, North Rona is mentioned.

The island hosts an automatic light beacon, remotely monitored by the Northern Lighthouse Board.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ a b Ordnance Survey
  3. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 326-329.
  5. ^ Boyd (1986) p. 119 states that the height is 116 metres and the area 120 acres.
  6. ^ Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 92
  7. ^ Harvie-Brown, J. A. & Buckley, T. E. (1889), A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides. Pub. David Douiglas, Edinburgh. Facing P. XXXVI.
  8. ^ Fraser Darling & Boyd (1969) pp. 73–74.
  9. ^ Gleaves( 1921) p. 219.
  10. ^ In the Lap of Wild OceanScottish Natural Heritage - . Retrieved 28 June 2007
  11. ^ Island at the edge of the world
  12. ^ "Overview of North Rona".  


  • Boyd, John Morton (1986) Fraser Darling's Islands. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-85224-514-9
  • Fraser Darling, F. & Boyd, J.M. (1969) Natural History in the Highlands and Islands. London. Bloomsbury.
  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate.  
  • Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Ainmean-àite/Placenames. (pdf) Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  • Nisbet, HC and Gailey, R A (1962) 'A survey of the antiquities of North Rona', Archaeological Journal Vol.117, p88-115.

Further reading

  • Island Going by Robert Atkinson (Collins, 1949)
  • A Naturalist on Rona: essays of a biologist in isolation by Frank Fraser Darling (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1939)
  • Island Years by Frank Fraser Darling (G. Bell & Sons, 1940)
  • Rona, the Distant Island by Michael Robson (Acair, 1991)

External links

  • North Rona - Special Area of Conservation
  • Rona and Sula Sgeir - Scotland's National Nature Reserves
  • Charles Tait Photographs of North Rona
  • Scheduled Ancient Monuments
  • Information on the church and oratory at RCAHMS
  • BBC Radio 3 Feature on North Rona
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