The Garvellachs, in Scottish Gaelic: An Garbh Eileaicha, the ‘rough islands’ or Isles of the Sea are a chain of four small islands lying north of Isle of Jura at the entrance to the Firth of Lorne, An Linne Latharnach, and situated between the Isle of Lunga to the southeast and Mull to the north, and about four miles west of the Isle of Luing. Garbh Eileach is owned by Lord Richard Sandys. Besides birds and a small herd of deer there is no other significant wildlife to be found on these islands.
The best-known island of the Garvellachs is the most southerly in the group, Eileach an Naoimh, Scottish Gaelic for Isle of the Saints. Here, the ruined remains of an ancient Celtic monastery believed to have been founded by St Brendan in 542 AD can be seen. Due to its remoteness, the ruins are well preserved. The site is in the care of Historic Scotland.
The other islands of the Garvellachs are A’Chuli, Garbh Eileach, and Dun Chonnuill. Formed in the Precambrian Age, the islands are approximately one billion years old. The isles have steeply angled sides when viewed from the north-east, and present vertical cliffs to the north-west. To the landward side, they appear as green islets, full of wildflowers among the pink quartz and limestone boulders. The Garvellachs contrast with the black slatey profiles of Belnahua and Lunga nearby, where derelict slate quarries reflect the sunshine. The Garvellach islands are uninhabited, except for visits by graziers to check their livestock, and visitors to the monastery ruins. Highest point of The Garvellachs is on Garbh Eileach with 110 metres with almost vertical cliffs tumbling down to the sea below. The group of islands is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and The Garvellachs are also part of the Firth of Lorn SAC, Special Area of Conservation.
The Garvellachs – Isles of the Sea
The southern island of the Garvellach chain, Eileach an Naoimh, meaning the Isle of the Saints shelters early ecclesiastical buildings of the Celtic church. This 9th century monastery with its ‘bee-hive’ corbelled stone cells is believed to have been originally established in 542AD by Irish Saint Brendan the Navigator, a Brother from Tralee, County Kerry who was a famed explorer. Brendan was known for his extensive voyages to Iceland and possibly to North America. The original early monastic buildings may have been destroyed by Norse invaders in the 7th century and later rebuilt in the 9th century, possibly by disciples from Iona.
The Grey Dog tidal flow
With the tidal race between nearby Scarba and Lunga, known as the ‘Grey Dog’ ripping furiously through the sea, the streaming waters are a dramatic visual element in the scenery. The ‘Grey Dog’ tidal race reaches 8 knots in full flood.
The spirituality of the 6th century Irish Christian missionaries seems to have been embedded in their lives, with religious practices built into their daily routines and also into their politics, plans and laws. While the missionaries and anchorite saints were building their cells and byres and chapels, they were also constructing seats of learning and prayer. Reputedly, St Columba came to Eileach an Naoimh as a retreat, for solitude from the demands of Iona. A roughly carved stone overlooking the monastery is said to mark the grave of Columba’s mother, Eithne.
In about 1350 Good John, a MacDonald Lord of the Isles, was briefly held prisoner in a fortress on Dún Chonnuill by two brothers of the Clan MacLean. While the MacDonald was captive, MacLeans forced Good John to ‘reorganise’ his household, by assassinating John?s notable supporters. During the time Good John was held in the steep inaccessible Dùn Chonnuill, the MacLeans plotted changes in the government of the Isles. Lachlan MacLean would benefit from all of these, including his marriage with Good John’s daughter. So began the rise of the MacLeans. The current chief of Clan MacLean still lives in Duart Castle, Isle of Mull.
The Garvellachs Cliffs
Visiting the Garvellachs is only possible by using local charter boat trips or by sailing/kayaking to the islands. A good view of the Garvellachs’ western coastal sea-cliffs can be had from the CalMac ferry on it’s Wednesday sailings from Islay to Oban.
SeaFari Adventures operates RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) trips from the village of Easdale on Easdale Island, south of Oban, to the Garvellach islands, and has written permission from the landowner to take passengers ashore onto Eileach an Naoimh. Contact Sea Fari Adventures on Tel: 01852 300003 or web at www.seafari.co.uk. Check the cruises and charters page for more operators in the area. For Oban Tourist Office call 0870 7200630, for Oban & Lorn Tourism Association check out www.oban.org.uk
The Garvellachs North Face
Garvellachs Pictures – Image gallery of the Garvellachs
image copyright beehive cell donald macdonald, garvellachs and north face richard knights, cliffs christopher bruce,licensed for reuse creative commons licence