HUMAN HISTORY OF COLONSAY
An excellent introduction to Colonsay's human history is given by the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Scotland and can be found on the Community Website. Although the earliest human traces in the British Isles date back to some 700,000 years ago, any such evidence in Scotland must necessarily postdate the most recent ice age, which finished less than 10,000 years ago. The ice had covered Colonsay to a depth of over 2000 feet, and such was its abrasive power that it created a veritable tabula rasa.
The earliest known occupants of the island were the hunter-gatherer people of the Mesolithic or middle-stone-age period. There are traces from about 8,700 years ago and it seems that they initially visited Colonsay on seasonal expeditions to exploit the natural resources; in due course they settled and established seasonal campsites amongst which they moved. Although the island could have supported only 30 or 40 persons on a hunter-gatherer basis, their campsites contain substantial midden material which has been studied in exhaustive details, most recently and most notably by Prof. Mellors and Dr. Steven Mithen.
After a lengthyr period of occupation, perhaps 700 years or more, the island was deserted once again, and so it remained for a millenium or so. People returned towards the very end of the Neolithic or new-stone-age, and at the dawn of the Bronze Age. Although there is very little Neolithic evidence to be found, there are substantial traces of every subsequent phase of development. The archaeological record may readily be traced by use of the Internet, for example by recourse to SCRAN (a facility provided by RCAHMS).
In addition to more general works (readily available through the Colonsay Bookshop) the following books would probably be at the core of a local library:
Colonsay & Oronsay by Symington Grieve (2 volumes, out of print; would cost about £350 but a facsimile edition is being planned)
Colonsay & Oronsay by John de Vere Loder (out of print; 1st edition c. £350, 2nd Edition c. £200)
Colonsay & Oronsay, Extracts from Inventory of Argyll Volume 5, RCAHMS (out of print, c. £85 but permission for a facsimile is being sought)
Colonsay by Murdoch McNeill (facsimile of 1910 edition available Colonsay Bookshop, £12.99)
Summer in the Hebrides by France Murray (facsimile of 1887 edition available Colonsay Bookshop)
Colkitto - A Celebration of Clan Donald of Colonsay by Kevin Byrne (a few copies available, Colonsay Bookshop)
The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee (available from Colonsay Bookshop)
Colonsay's Fallen by Alan Davis (biographical notes upon the War Dead - available, Colonsay Bookshop)
Mythology, Traditions and History of MacDubhsith-MacDuffie Clan by Earle MacPhee (5 volumes, obtain from Canada)
We hope that information upon every period will appear on this site in due course, but most people who have any family connection with the island will be especially interested in the most recent period, that of the McNeill and subsequent lairdships. We will therefore avoid material most readily available from published sources and try to concentrate upon more ephemeral material. Contributions will be welcomed.
Finlay of Colonsay, Stalker to Campbell of Islay
Colonsay and its Ships