Holy Island, Firth of Clyde

The Holy Island or Holy Isle (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean MoLaise) is one of a number of islands in the United Kingdom which go under the name "Holy Island". It is located in the Firth of Clyde, off the west coast of central Scotland, inside Lamlash Bay on the larger Isle of Arran. The island is around 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) long and around 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) wide. Its highest point is the hill Mullach Mòr.

Holy Island
Gaelic nameAn t-Eilean Àrd or Eilean MoLaise
Meaning of name"the high island" or "Laisren's island" in Gaelic.

Holy Island from Lamlash
Holy Island
Holy Island shown within North Ayrshire
OS grid referenceNS063297
Coordinates55.53°N 5.07°W / 55.53; -5.07
Physical geography
Island groupFirth of Clyde
Area253 ha (0.98 sq mi)
Area rank95[1]
Highest elevationMullach Mòr 1,030 ft (314 m) (a Marilyn)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaNorth Ayrshire
Population rank58[1]
Population density12 people/km2[2][3]
References[3][4] [5]
Mullach Mòr
Highest point
Elevation1,030 ft (310 m)
Prominence1,030 ft (310 m)
Coordinates55°31′30″N 5°04′20″W
English translationBig hill
Language of nameGaelic
PronunciationScottish Gaelic: [ˈmul̪ˠəx ˈmoːɾ]
LocationFirth of Clyde, Scotland
OS gridNS063297
Topo mapOS Landranger 69
Holy Isle Outer Lighthouse
Pillar Rock Point
Holy Isle Outer Lighthouse
LocationHoly Island
Isle of Arran
North Ayrshire
United Kingdom
Coordinates55.517299°N 5.060764°W / 55.517299; -5.060764
Year first constructed1905
Constructionmasonry tower
Tower shapequadrangular tower with balcony and lantern
Markings / patternwhite tower, black lanter, ochre trim
Tower height23 metres (75 ft)
Focal height38 metres (125 ft)
Light sourcesolar power
Range25 nautical miles (46 km; 29 mi)[7]
CharacteristicFl (2) W 20s.
Admiralty numberA4330
NGA number4320
ARLHS numberSCO-100
Managing agentSamyé Ling Buddhist Community [8]
Holy Isle Inner Lighthouse
Wee Donald
Holy Isle Inner Lighthouse
LocationHoly Island
Isle of Arran
North Ayrshire
United Kingdom
Coordinates55.512218°N 5.070168°W / 55.512218; -5.070168
Year first constructed1877
Constructionmasonry tower
Tower shapecylindrical tower with balcony and lantern
Markings / patternwhite tower, black lanter, ochre trim
Tower height14 metres (46 ft)
Focal height17 metres (56 ft)
Light sourcesolar power
CharacteristicFl G 3s.
Admiralty numberA4332
NGA number4328
ARLHS numberSCO-101
Managing agentSamyé Ling Buddhist Community [9]


The island has a long history as a sacred site, with a spring or holy well held to have healing properties, the hermit cave of 6th century monk St Molaise, and evidence of a 13th-century monastery. An old Gaelic name for the island was Eilean MoLaise, Molaise's Island; this is the origin (via Elmolaise and Limolas) of "Lamlash", the name of the village on Arran that faces Holy Island.

Some runic writing is to be found on the roof of St Molaise's cave and a Viking fleet sheltered between Arran and Holy Isle before the Battle of Largs.

In 1549, Dean Monro wrote of the "little ile callit the yle of Molass, quherin there was foundit by Johne, Lord of the iles, ane monastry of friars, which is decayit."[10]

Present day

In 1992, the island was in the possession of Kay Morris, a devout Catholic who reportedly had a dream in which the Virgin Mary instructed her to give ownership of the island to the Samyé Ling Buddhist Community, who belong to the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism[11]. The settlements on the island include the Centre for World Peace and Health, founded by Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, on the north of the island. This is an environmentally designed residential centre for courses and retreats which extends the former farm house. It has solar water heating and a reed-bed sewage treatment system. The approach from the ferry jetty is decorated with Tibetan flags and stupas. On the southern end of the island lives a community of nuns who are undertaking three year retreats.

The remainder of the island is treated as a nature reserve with wild Eriskay ponies, Saanen goats, Soay sheep and the replanting of native trees. The rare Rock Whitebeam tree is found on the island, an essential link in the evolution of the Arran Whitebeam species, Sorbus arranensis, Sorbus pseudofennica and Sorbus pseudomeinichii. These are indigenous and unique to Arran.

There is a regular ferry service from Lamlash, and the island is popular with holiday makers staying on Arran. The usually resident population was recorded as 31 in 2011,[2] an increase from 13 in 2001.[12]

See also


  1. Area and population ranks: there are c.300 islands over 20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  3. Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  4. Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 69 Isle of Arran (Map). Ordnance Survey. 2014. ISBN 9780319229644.
  5. Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Ainmean-àite/Placenames. (pdf) Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  6. Lighthouses holyisland.org
  7. Holy Island Outer Light Lighthouse Explorer
  8. Holy Isle Outer (Pillar Rock) The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 15 May 2016
  9. Holy Isle Inner (Lamlash) The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 15 May 2016
  10. Monro (1549) "Molass" no. 5
  11. Holy Isle Buddhists fight power plant by Martin McLaughlin The Scotsman 29 July 2019
  12. General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.

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