About Islay

History of Islay

Islay’s history stretches back to around 8000 BC. Its first inhabitants were from the Mesolithic period – numerous tools and implements discovered in archaeological digs have confirmed this – but the first major settlers were Celts, drawn from different parts of Europe.

Islay formed part of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata in the sixth century AD – the 2.7m-high Kildalton Cross erected in 800AD still stands in the south-east of the island – and this situation lasted for 300 years until the arrival of the Vikings, which would change the history of Islay forever. The island remained under Norse rule, defying the Scottish kingdom and leading the independence of the Western Isles from the mainland.

By the mid-12th century, the warrior Somerled rebelled against Islay’s Scandinavian settlers, helping Scotland reclaim the island, although Somerled’s descendants would rule Islay independently as ‘Lords of the Isles’, a state of affairs that lasted for a few hundred years. They based themselves at Loch Finlaggan near Port Askaig; ruins from the settlement are still visible today.

Islay only came under direct Scottish rule from the mid-15th century, after a plot to help the English king conquer Scotland in return for Islay’s independence was rumbled. The Lord of the Isles is now the heir to the Scottish throne. In terms of ownership, the bulk of the island is divided up among five separate estates: Dunlossit and Islay Estate (the two largest landowners), Ardtalla, Foreland and Laggan.

  • Islay’s nickname

    Queen of the Hebrides
  • The current Lord of the Isles

    Prince Charles
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