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History of the Isle of Tiree

Tiree's fertile land and mild weather has supported a human population for maybe 8000 years giving the island a long and varied history. The island has neolithic stone circles, standings stones, brochs, dun forts and crannog water dwellings.

The Picts occupied Tiree until being displaced by Gaelic speaking Scots from Ireland in the 5th century. Several early Christian sites, closely associated with Iona, occur on Tiree. Soroby was probably the site of Maigh Luinge, a monastic settlement created on Tiree around 565AD by Baithene, Abbot of Iona.

From the 9th to the 13th century Tiree was, like most of the Scottish islands, were under Norse rule. With the Battle of Largs in 1266 Tiree formerly became part of Scotland and was controlled by the clan MacDonald. In 1517 it passed to the MacLeans and in 1674 to the Campbells.

On Pont's map of the Hebrides, made around 1600, Tyree (changed to Tiree) & Kirkapol with it's ancient chapels was shown. In 1771 the little harbour at Scarinish was constructed.

Agriculture has always been the mainstay of the economy with rich harvests of grain. The delelict Mill at Cornaigmore was commissioned by the Duke of Argyll in 1772, and built shortly after, to provide a mill for Tiree. It is estimated that over 10,000 litres of whisky were made from Tiree barley and exported annually around 1800; whisky production has sadly long since ceased.

The first inn offering Tiree accommodation, which was to become the Scarinish Hotel, was open by 1801. A post office was established in 1803. The 1882 Ordnance Survey map shows both clearly. The hotel quaintly marked as Temperance Hotel - a reminder that for many years the Isle or Tiree was 'dry' ie. no alcohol was sold on the island.

From 1836-44 the majestic Skerryvore lighthouse was constructed by Alan Stevenson (uncle of writer Robert Louis Stevenson). On most days, and nights, the 48metre high lighthouse can be seen 17km to the southwest of Balephuil. The Tiree land base for the operation of Skerryvore was built at Hynish. Here you can still see the off duty keepers' houses, dry dock and signal tower.

In 1885 Tiree had its very own Whisky Galore incident when the 1100 ton iron steamship Cairnsmuir ran aground off Tiree on the 7th January and broke up. The crew abandoned ship and made it safely to shore. She was on her way to China from Hamburg via Glasgow. Barrels of whisky & beer she was carrying were washed up on the beaches of Tiree but were quickly spirited away before the excise could retrieve them!

In the 1830s Tiree's population was around 4500. However until clearances were banned in 1886 many tenants of small crofts were evicted by the laird. By 1890 the numbers were down to 2500. The Oban Times quotes a population of 1825 in 1912. People continued to drift away through the 20th century and by 1970 the population stablised at about 800.

In World War 1, Tiree was served by the Plover which made the trip once a week. In July 1918 she was attacked by a German U-Boat in Gunna Sound while sailing to Barra. The Plover had been fitted with a single naval gun for protection and saw off the attacking submarine before completing her journey to Barra.

During World War 2, a large air base was built at The Reef - the low lying area near the centre of Tiree. There was a huge temporary influx of forces personnel from many allied countries. Later this airfield became the present Tiree Airport .

Tiree's Historical Centre, An Iodhlann, was originally a ferry shelter. Quote from The Scotsman newspaper Wednesday 12th February 1908 -

"Hard Times in Tiree - Relief came to many a home in Tiree last Saturday when the steamer Dunara Castle, which had carried stores for the island from and to Glasgow for three weeks, managed at last to land its cargo. . . . . It is hoped that the erection of a pier and boat shelter at Gott Bay will bring to an end this most inconvenient and dangerous state of affairs."

It wasn't until 1962 that a new large pier was built at Gott but cars were still loaded and unloaded by crane! By the 70s this had been replaced by drive on/off car ferries.

Moss Stone circle

The 2000 year old broch at Vaul

Partick's Temple, Balephuil

Scarinish Old Harbour

Skerryvore from Balephuil Beach

The MV Lord of the Isles
approaches Gott Pier

More historical images
Ancient - 1750
Post 1750 - Recent

Also check out the
roots and meanings of
Tiree place names


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