Or­say chapel

The Oban Times - - News -

LY­ING off the south-west coast of the Rhinns of Is­lay is the small is­land of Or­say and the site of a me­dieval chapel. The is­land is also the lo­ca­tion for the Rhinns of Is­lay light­house, which was built in 1824-25 by Robert Steven­son of the fa­mous light­house-build­ing dy­nasty.

There is some con­fu­sion over which saint gave his name to the chapel and is­land. Or­di­nance Sur­vey maps seem to credit them to both St Odhran and St Columba, although it seems highly likely that the chapel was cor­rectly ded­i­cated to the lat­ter.

There is also some ev­i­dence to sug­gest that there was an ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal pres­ence on the is­land through­out the 8th and 9th cen­turies.

The chapel, which stands in a walled en­clo­sure on a promon­tory on the north- east end of the is­land, is re­ferred to by Dean Munro in 1549 where he de­scribes the is­land as ‘hav­ing one parish church and is good for fish­ing’. He also warns of treach­er­ous wa­ters be­tween the is­land and its neigh­bour­ing Is­lay.

The chapel had fallen into ruin by the end of the 18th cen­tury and it is claimed that dur­ing the build­ing of the light­house the sur­round­ing burial ground was lev­elled off and that some of the grave­stones were dis­posed of in the crevasses of some nearby rocks.

The only mon­u­ment now vis­i­ble within the en­clo­sure is the re­mark­able tomb known as Hugh MacKay’s Grave (Tung MhicAoidh na Ranna). The area has strong links with the MacKay fam­ily, who were ap­pointed as lieu­tenants of the Rhinns penin­sula by the rul­ing MacDon­alds.

Three frag­ments of an early Chris­tian cross-slab, found be­side the MacKay grave in 1959, are now housed in the Mu­seum of Is­lay Life at Port Char­lotte.

Prior to the ar­rival of the light­house, the is­land was used for cat­tle graz­ing by a num­ber of Rhinns folks in­clud­ing the MacNeills of El­lis­ter.

Its only in­hab­i­tants in re­cent years were those who manned the light­house be­fore it was fully au­to­mated in the mid 1990s.

Rona MacKen­zie, left, and Rae Woodrow cut the quil­ters’ cake.

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