]. It's closest neighbours are the Isle of Jura to the north, Colonsay to the north-west and Gigha to the east. The administrative capital of the island is Bowmore while Port Charlotte and Port Ellen are the other major villages. The local authority of Islay is Argyll and Bute. At the last census of 2001 Islay had 3457 inhabitants. One of Islay's best known persons in the world is Lord George Robertson, former Nato Secretary General, who was born in Port Ellen.
The island is home to a little over 3000 inhabitants from who almost 50% speak the original Gaelic language. It has a total area of just over 600 square kilometres (239 square miles). The main industries are farming, fishing, malt whisky distilling and tourism, the latter largely based on the presence of the whisky distilleries and birdwatching.
The earliest known reference to the island comes in Adomnan's, Vita Columbae, a biography of the Irish Saint, Columba or Colum Cille in about 720 AD. St Columba visited the Isle of Islay on his way north, prior to founding the famous monastery on the island of Iona, off the south-west tip of the Isle of Mull.
From the Early Historic period, after c. 500 AD, Christianity came to Islay, leaving its mark in a remarkable series of churches and carved stone crosses such as the crosses at Kilnave and Kildalton. Kildalton Cross is built in the Iona tradition with Pictish, Irish, Northumbrian and Celtic motifs. The cross is 2.7 metres tall and can be dated back as far as 800AD. By the latter part of the first millennium AD Scandinavian Vikings had arrived on the shores, first as raiders but later as traders and settlers. Of probable mixed Gaelic-Norse ancestry, Somerled established himself as ruler. His son Ranald took his place, naming himself as King of the Isles and Lord of Argyll. In turn, his son Donald, founder of the Clan Donald, inherited the kingdom of Islay.
Following defeat in battles against the Scots, the rule of the isles was ceded to the Scottish crown under the Treaty of Perth, signed in 1266. It was not until the MacDonalds under Angus Og, a decendant of Somerled, supported Robert Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence, that their fortunes were to rise again. The power base of the lordship was centred at Finlaggan on Islay. The lordship was ended in 1493 when the last lord, John II was found to have acted treasonably in treating with the English king against King James III of Scotland. The downfall of the MacDonalds provided opportunities for the rise of the Campbells and Islay gradually came under Mainland Scottish influence. The Cawdor Campbells were the first to rule the island but were later forced to sell their estates to the Shawfield Campbells who brought improvements and the fortunes of the island began to revive.
The majority of the roads on the island are single-track with two main roads connecting the larger villages. There is a bus service on the island and an airport located at Glenegedale. The airport has regular services to and from Glasgow. Caledonian MacBrayne, or Calmac, runs a regular ferry service from the mainland at Kennacraig to both Port Ellen and Port Askaig. The latter is also port for the Islay to Jura ferry service to Feolin.
The climate on Islay is typically a sea climate, with mild and wet winters and moderate summers, due to the presence of the Gulf Stream. Snow and frost happen only ocasionally but winter storms frequent the island more often causing delays in air and sea traffic.
Whisky and Distilleries
It is believed that the Irish monks first introduced the art of distillation to Islay, during the early fourteenth century. On Islay they found an island perfectly suited for the production of Uisge Beathe, (water of life) with unlimited supplies of peat, lochs and rivers filled with pure soft water. It was in the late 18th century that the first official distillery, Bowmore in 1779 [video
], started on the island. Before that a lot of illicit distilling took place. Nowadays eight whisky distilleries are operational on the island while the ninth, Port Charlotte Distillery, is due to open in 2010. The southern distilleries of Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig produces very strong peaty flavoured whiskies while the other distilleries on the north of the island, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman are substantially lighter.
Islay is a haven for birds and birdwatchers. Known as the Queen of the Hebrides, Islay boasts a wide variety of wonderful scenery and habitats, including wild open moorland and hills, unspoilt beaches and cliffs, mixed woodland and mudflats, all of which offer amazing birding – over 100 species being present on the island all year round. In the autumn thousands of Geese migrate from Greenland and graze on the grasslands of the island until April. This spectacle attracts many visitors to the island in the wintertime.
Besides birdwatching the island offers many other activities for tourists such as golfing [video], fishing, cycling and walking. Port Charlotte is home to the rewarded Museum of Islay Life which gives a good overview of Islay's rich history. There are several restaurants and pubs on the island, most of them in the local hotels. Other types of tourist accommodation are self catering cottages, bed and breakfasts, a youth hostel in Port Charlotte and two campsites. The island has several craft shops and a craft market which is held twice a week in the summer season in Port Ellen and Bruichladdich. Also during the summer season Visitors Welcome Evenings are held on Monday evenings at eight by the Islay and Jura Marketing Group in changing venues. Check the Islay Blog for the latest news and events and an overview of venues.