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Historic Scotland unveils dramatic new interpretation at the “Island of the Saints”

31 July 2012

Island of the Saints

The stories that make the history of Eileach an Naoimh so fascinating have been brought to life following an expert consultation to create new interpretation at this evocative island site – the best-preserved early Christian monastery in Scotland.

A colourful illustration reconstructing the earliest dwellings has been installed on the remote island, following months of painstaking research by Historic Scotland.

Eileach an Naoimh, “Rock of the Saints”, is located between the islands of Scarba and Mull off Mid Argyll. The site, which may date to about 542, includes the remains of a monastery believed to have been founded by St Brendan the Navigator.

The existing remains include a church, chapel, graveyards, a remarkable double beehive cell, a possible underground ritual “purgatory” and a complex of domestic buildings, although it is uncertain how many of these buildings belong to the early Christian period. Human bones and a skull were found at the site in 1859, when one of the buildings was rebuilt as a sheepfold.

For the new interpretation, Historic Scotland created a photo-realistic aerial image of the site as it may have appeared in the 7th century, showing a boat approaching a natural harbour below the settlement. From here, a set of steps leads up past two enclosures to main residential area, where an outer wall encloses a collection of beehive cells, with an inner enclosure protecting a chapel. The visual representation also shows several cells outside the main enclosures.

Eileach an Naoimh has not been excavated. The illustration is based on the surviving remains and expert advice, drawing on better known early Christian monasteries in Ireland.

Interpretation Officer at Historic Scotland, Steve Farrar explained: “The new panel offers a surprising amount of detail. Artist Bob Marshall has created a visually stunning and historically accurate representation, based on detailed research.

“The panels link Eileach an Naoimh to St Brendan the Navigator, whose remarkable adventures culminated in the founding of the monastery.”

His arrival is recorded in verse form in the “Life of Brendan” : So Brendan sailed over the wave-voice of the strong-maned sea, and over the storm of the green-sided waves, and over the mouths of the marvellous, awful, bitter ocean… and found beautiful, marvellous islands.

Steve said: “Interpretation lies at the heart of Historic Scotland’s mission to present our built heritage effectively and imaginatively to visitors. The research that has gone into this new panel gives an added dimension to one of the Argyll’s most important historic locations.”


Chaidh na sgeulachdan inntinneach mu Eileach an Naoimh an toirt beo as deidh do luchd-eolais co-chomhairleachadh gus mineachadh ur a chruthachadh air an eilean alainn seo – am manachainn Chriosdail trath as fhearr a ghleidheadh ann an Alba.

As deidh mhiosan de rannsachadh aig Alba Aosmhor, chaidh dealbh dathte a dheanamh, a' sealltainn mar a bha na togalaichean as sine. Tha an dealbh a-nis steidhichte air an eilean iomallach seo.

Tha Eileach an Naoimh suidhichte eadar Muile agus Scarpa ann an Earra-Ghaidheal. 'S e manachainn a th' anns an larach seo a tha 's docha a' dol air ais gu 542, agus chaidh a steidheachadh leis an Naomh Bhriannan.

An luib na tobhtaichean tha eaglais, caibeal, cladh, uamh-sheomar dubailte, togalaichean fon talamh, agus grunn thaighean abhaisteach. Chan eil e follaiseach cia mheud dhiubh seo a bhuineas dhan am Chriosdail thrath. Chaidh cnaimhean duine agus claigeann a lorg ann an 1859 nuair a chaidh buaile a dheanamh de thogalach.

Tha Alba Aosmhor air iomhaigh coltach ri dealbh-camara a chruthachadh, a' sealltainn an larach mar a thathar an duil a bha e coltach anns an 7mh linn. Chithear bata a' tighinn a-steach gu cala, le staidhrichean a' dol suas seachad air da bhuaile dhan aite-fuirich. An seo, tha uamh-sheomraichean am broinn balla a-muigh, agus caibeal am broinn balla a-staigh.

Cha deach Eileach an Naoimh a chladhach le arc-eolaichean. Tha an dealbh steidhichte air na tha air fhagail air an larach agus comhairle bho eolaichean, a' deanamh coimeas le laraichean ann an Eireann.

Thuirt Oifigear Mineachaidh Alba Aosmhor, Steve Farrar: "Tha e iongantach cho mionaideach sa tha na panailean ur. Chruthaich an neach-ealain Bob Marshall iomhaigh riomach a tha a' riochdachadh an fhiosrachaidh eachdraidheil bhon rannsachadh.

"Tha na panailean a' deanamh ceangal eadar Eileach an Naoimh agus an Naomh Bhriannan, a thoisich a mhanachainn as deidh taisdealach annasach."

Tha bardachd mun turas ann am 'Beatha Bhriannan' a chaidh eadar-theangachadh dhan Bheurla:
So Brendan sailed over the wave-voice of the strong-maned sea, and over the storm of the green-sided waves, and over the mouths of the marvellous, awful, bitter ocean… and found beautiful, marvellous islands.

Thuirt Steve: " Tha mineachadh aig teas-mheadhan amas Alba Aosmhor gus an dualchas togte againn a thabhann do luchd-tadhail. Tha an rannsachadh a chaidh a dheanamh airson nam panailean ur tha seo a' toirt taobh eile gu aon de na laraichean as cudromaiche ann an Earra-Ghaidheal.”

Image caption

The new photo-realistic image of Eileach an Naoimh, created for Historic Scotland by Bob Marshall.

An iomhaigh ur de dh’Eileach an Naoimh, air a chruthachadh do dh’Alba Aosmhor le Bob Marshall.

Notes for editors:

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with ensuring that our historic environment provides a strong foundation for a successful future for Scotland. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

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For further information

David Gray
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8588 or 07854 366 805