Welcome to the website for Iona’s Namescape: Place-Names and their dynamics in Iona and its environs

Name of the month: July 2022

In July 1772 Thomas Pennant visited Iona. A few years later he published what would become one of the most influential early modern accounts of the island.[1] One of the places he visited is known in Gaelic as Port a’ Churaich (‘The port of the coracle’), usually known in English as St Columba’s Bay (Grid reference: NM263216). Pennant is the earliest source to provide the English name ‘Bay of St. Columba’, describing the site as follows: ‘the landing place of St. Columba; a small bay, with a pebbly beach, mixed with variety of pretty stones, […] On one side is shewn an oblong heap of earth, the supposed size of the  vessel that transported St. Columba and his twelve disciples from Ireland to this island’ (Pennant 1774, p. 297). Port a’ Churaich and St Columba’s Bay are arguably two of the most well-known place-names on Iona due to their association with the arrival of St Columba.

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This is a three-year project funded by the AHRC and based in Celtic & Gaelic at the University of Glasgow. The core objective of the project is a survey of the place-names of Iona and the nearby island of Staffa. This will be presented in the form of an interactive web resource in due course on this site (planned to be ready for 2022); and in the form of a volume in the Survey of Scottish Place-Name series.

We will also be researching the early records for the topography of Iona; the names of Iona’s monuments; and the relationship between Iona and Mull. A key part of our research involves trying to understand the dynamism of names and naming in Iona, both over the centuries, and among the different constituent communities who live on and interact with the island in the present.

We are partnered with the two heritage bodies in whose care Iona and Staffa sit: the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland.

More detail about the project can be found here.

We will be producing regular blogs on our research which you can consult here.

This web resource is under construction and will be constantly updating as the project progresses.