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Oronsay, Inner Hebrides

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Title: Oronsay, Inner Hebrides  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hebrides, List of Inner Hebrides, Clan Macfie, Argyll, Kerrera
Collection: Islands of Argyll and Bute, Islands of the Inner Hebrides, Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Islay and Jura, Tidal Islands of Scotland
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Oronsay, Inner Hebrides

Gaelic name    
Norse name possibly Örfirisey[1]
Meaning of name "tidal island"[2] or "Oran's isle"[3]
Oronsay is located in Argyll and Bute
Oronsay shown within Argyll and Bute
OS grid reference
Physical geography
Island group Inner Hebrides
Area 519 hectares (1,280 acres)
Area rank 71 [4]
Highest elevation Beinn Orasaigh 93 m (305 ft)
Political geography
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Argyll and Bute
Population 8[5]
Population rank 70= [4]
Population density 1.5 people/km2[3][5]
Largest settlement Oronsay Farm
References [3][6]

Oronsay (Scottish Gaelic: Orasaigh, pronounced ), also sometimes spelt and pronounced Oransay by the local community, is a small tidal island south of Colonsay in the Scottish Inner Hebrides with an area of 519 hectares (1,280 acres).[7]

From one of the small beaches on the east coast of Oronsay, looking towards the Paps of Jura in the distance.

It rises to a height of 93m (305 feet) at Beinn Orasaigh (Beinn Oronsay) and is linked to Colonsay by a tidal causeway (called An Traigh ('The Strand')) consisting of sands and mud flats. In the 2001 census Oronsay was recorded as having a population of five people, who live at the farm adjacent to Oronsay Priory. The island has no facilities of its own, and is entirely dependent upon its tidal access to and from Colonsay. The rocks and skerries of Eilean nan Ròn (Seal Island), to the south-west, are an important Grey Seal breeding colony. In order to conserve the population of resident Choughs and breeding Corncrakes Oronsay and southern Colonsay became a Special Protection Area in December 2007.[8] There are two theories for the origin of the name from Old Norse. Either it is Oran's Isle, St Oran being the founder of the island's priory in 563,[9] or it may be from the Old Norse Örfirisey meaning "island of the ebb tide".[1]


  • History 1
  • Archaeology 2
  • Wildlife 3
  • See also 4
  • References and footnotes 5
  • External links 6


On a visit to Colonsay in the 18th century, Sir Joseph Banks was informed that, "Macdufie was a factor or manager for Macdonald King of the Isles upon these islands of Oransay and Colonsay & that for his mismanagement & tyranny he was executed by order of that prince".[10] It is now owned by the Colburn family.


Tomb of Murchardus Macdufie, who died in 1539.[11][note 1]

The island is best known for Oronsay Priory, a 14th-century ruined Augustinian priory, probably on the same site as the original 563 building, and the Oronsay Cross, originally carved on Iona. The Priory was modest in scale, but has one of the most complete (though somewhat restored) cloister garths of any Scottish medieval religious house. In the late Middle Ages a distinct 'school' of monumental sculpture flourished on Oronsay, leaving many slabs with effigies or other carvings at the Priory itself, or at other religious sites throughout the Hebrides to which they were exported. See examples pictured below. The production of sculpture ceased at the Scottish Reformation.

Oronsay is one of several Hebridean islands that have furnished archaeologists with invaluable information about the Mesolithic period of prehistory, particularly about the diet of human beings.

Oronsay Priory was recently 'improved' in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth's visit.
Tombs on Oransay


Colonsay and Oronsay are home to about 50 colonies of the only native species of honeybee in Britain, the European dark bee. In 2013 the Scottish Government introduced the Bee Keeping (Colonsay and Oronsay) Order to protect the species, which has suffered serious declines on the mainland, from cross-breeding and disease.[12]

See also

References and footnotes

  1. ^ This image was drawn by John Cleveley, junior, from a sketch taken on 8 August 1772. On the back of the drawing is the quotation given above, presumably made by Sir Joseph Banks who travelled to the Western Isles around 1772.[10]
  1. ^ a b Watson (2004) p. 505.
  2. ^ Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 93
  3. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 52-56.
  4. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and were listed in the 2011 census.
  5. ^ a b National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  6. ^  
  7. ^ "Gazetteer for Scotland Oronsay". The Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  8. ^ Smith, Claire (17 December 2007). "Special protection zones take flight to protect three rare bird species".  
  9. ^ Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 52.
  10. ^ a b "A tomb in MacDufie's Chapel, Oronsay, 1772".  
  11. ^ Moncreiffe of that Ilk 1967: 79-80.
  12. ^ "Colonsay and Oronsay to become honeybee havens". Edinburgh. Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
General references
  • 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.
  • Watson, W.J. (2004) The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland. Reprinted with an introduction by Simon Taylor. Edinburgh. Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-323-5

External links

  • "On the Monastic Trail: Oronsay". Hidden Europe Magazine.  2005 article that explores Columba's possible landing on Oronsay, the Priory and aspects of Oronsay life today.

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