From their first sight of Tirefour Broch, dominating approaches from mainland, visitors to the Isle of Lismore can explore an outstanding heritage of monuments to the past - Bronze Age cairns, medieval castles, the Cathedral of Argyll, carved graveslabs, deserted townships and watermills, not to mention a Stevenson lighthouse. Talking to islanders, they soon realise that there is also a long and unbroken tradition of Gaelic culture. This is a guidebook to the story of Lismore, placing the events in the context of the times. Because of its strategic position at the mouth of the Great Glen and its fertility, as a limestone island, Lismore played an important part in the prehistory and early history of the West Highlands and Islands, not least as the headquarters of the community of Celtic monks founded by St Moluag.Colonised by the Vikings, and forming part of the extensive empire of the Gallgael leader Somerled, it was at the centre of the complex power play between the rulers of Norway and the emerging Scottish nation.
The MacDougalls built castles and established the diocese of Argyll on the island, but lost possession in the Wars of Independence, and it passed through the hands of the Stewarts to the Argyll and Glenorchy Campbells, who protected it from the effects of warfare and raiding, including the Jacobite Rebellions. The enthusiasm of the Campbells for keeping records provides an opportunity to discover a great deal about the lives of the ordinary people, and the fact that there was limited immigration before the middle of the nineteenth century means that the census records give a clear picture of a closed community undergoing rapid change.
Robert Hay lives on Lismore and is one of the curators of the island museum (Ionad Naomh Moluag). As a professional agricultural and environmental scientist, most recently at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, he has a particular interest in the history of land use. In 2005 he published Lochnavando No More: The Life and Death of a Moray Farming Community 1750-1850 and he has contributed to the forthcoming Agriculture volume of Scottish Life and Society: A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, published by John Donald.
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