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
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.