Eileach an Naoimh
Eileach an Naoimh
One of the most intriguing - and also one of the less accessible - sites in the care of Historic Scotland, Eileach an Naoimh is a tiny uninhabited island in the Garvellachs group between Jura and Mull. On the island are a series of early Christan monuments including a pair of churches, two graveyards, and domestic buildings such as a kiln, barn, and a double-beehive hut.

The monastic cells are within a pentagonal enclosed area looking over a landing place. Beyond the enclosure is another cell divided into two chambers. Eileach an Naoimh is closely linked with St Brendan the Navigator, a 6th-century Celtic saint, and with later tales of St Columba. According to legend, St Brendan founded a monastery here in AD 542.

If true, that would make the buildings on Eileach an Naoimh the earliest surviving monastic structures in Britain. Although we must be careful with ascribing dates to the remains, for it is possible that at least some date to the early medieval period, though they may certainly have been built on the site of much earlier Celtic buildings. The earliest written record of a settlement here comes from the late 9th century.

St Columba is thought to have visited the island, and one theory suggests that his mother Eithne is buried here. A solitary gravestone stands on the slope of the hill above the monastery, marked with a simple cross. This is said to be the grave of Eithne (Aethne).

According to Columba's biographer, Adamnan, many of the miracles associated with the saint at Iona actually took place at a nearby island monastery called Hinba, which has been tentatively identified as Eileach an Naoimh. A well near the monastery is still called St Columba's Well.

The monastery may have been destroyed during Viking raids in the 9th century and has only occasionally been occupied since then. That very isolation probably explains the survival of the monastic buildings.

Note that there is no regular transportation to the island, so visitors will have to arrange their own boat service.