"THE BOOK of ISLAY" by G. Gregory Smith

The Book of Islay – Documents Illustrating the History of the Island , edited by G. Gregory Smith and sponsored by Mr. Ramsay of Kildalton Castle.


Originally published privately in a single edition limited to 250 copies in 1895. This very rare work is now to be republished in a facsimile of the complete text, but in a much more manageable form - each copy of the original edition weighed 4470 grammes.

There are 92 pages of introductory text, including some 60 pages in which G. Gregory Smith sets the context for the main body of the work.

There are also 648 pages of main text including Genealogical Tables and a very detailed index. The text consists of 259 documents, with English translations as required, together with scholarly notes.

Rather than tediously list the entire Table of Contents, here is every tenth item:

I. Account of the earliest Gaelic settlers in Islay, with a description of the lands which they held there.

XI. Charter by James IV granting Torlissay in Islay and other lands to Lauchlan Maclean, 8th Oct. 1496

XXI. Commission granted by James V to his Chamberlain to uplift the Crown ferms in Islay and other Isles in the west, 11th Aug 1536

XXXI. Extract from a letter from Lord Sussex to Mary, Queen of England, describing his endeavours to reach Islay in his expedition against the Western Isles, 6th Oct. 1558

XLI. Obligation by Angus Macdonald of Dunivaig to the Bishop of the Isles relating to affairs in Islay, 29th June 1580

LI. James MacDonald appears before the Privy Council, presents a letter from his father surrendering all his lands in his favour, and hears the King's will regarding his father and himself, 8th Oct 1596

LXI. Caution for Angus Macdonald of Dunivaig and others anent the King's occupation of Dunivaig, 10th Feb 1606

LXXI. Letter from Andrew Knox, Bishop of the Isles, to the King anent the proceedings in the West, and craving remission of his duties there, 17th Sept 1608

LXXXI. Royal Letter in favour of Andrew, Bishop of the Isles, for his services in Islay and the other Isles, ordering certain rewards, including the annexation of the Abbacy of Icolmkill and the Priory of Ardchattan to his bishopric, 24th feb 1612

XCI. Letter from Sir Gideon Murray to John Murray of Lochmaben, 6th Aug. 1614

CI. Instructions from the Privy Council to the Laird of Calder for the execution of his commission in Islay, 22nd Oct 1614

CXI. Letter from Sir Oliver St. John to Sir Ralph Winwood informing him of the preparations in Ireland for investing the Castle of Dunivaig, 4th Nov 1614

CXXI. Letter from Angus Oig Macdonald to Captain Lambert, 14th Dec 1614

CXXXI. Propositions dealing with Islay affairs presented by the Secretary (?) for the consideration of the King [April;] 1615

CXLI. Letter from Sir James Macdonald to the Earl of Caithness, 3rd June 1615

CLI. Letter from the Privy Council to the King announcing Sir James Macdonald's capture of Dunivaig, and urging the immediate despatch of the Earl of Argyll, 30th June 1615

CLXI. Another letter from (Alexander Campbell, Prior of Ardchattan) to (Secretary Binning), 15th July 1615

CLXXI. Letter from Secretary Binning to the Earl of Argyll, 16th Oct 1615

CLXXXI. Charter by Andrew, Bishop of the Isles, with the consent of the Dean and Chapter of the Isles, to Mr Thomas Rollock, advocate, of the lands of the tenandry of Lossit in Islay, together with a Ratification, dated 1st March 1628, in favour of the Laird of Calder, 15th Aug. 1617

CXCI. Order by the Privy Council to John Campbell, younger of Calder, to arrest his kinsman, William Campbell, a Papist, 28th July 1626

CCI. Instrument of sasine following on the charter in favour of the fiar of Calder, 10th Nov 1627

CCXI. Charter by Neil, Bishop of the Isles, with consent of the Dean and Chapter, to John Campbell, fiar of Calder, ratifying the charter granted at Rothesay (p.235), the ratification granted by Alexander Campbell of Ardchattan (p. 359) and the precept, dated at Kinnocher, 13th August 1626 (p.374), 15th April 1635

CCXXI. Account of the expedition to Islay under Lieutenant-General Lesley, and of the surrender of Dunivaig, 1647

CCXXXI. Letter of Tack of the teinds of Islay by Robert, Bishop of the Isles, with consent of the Dean and Chapter, in favour of Sir Hugh Campbell of Calder, 16th Sept 1663

CCXLI. Authority given by Parliament to the Laird of Calder to hold two fairs annually at Killarow in Islay, 15th June 1693

CCLI. Letter from George Campbell of Octomore in Islay to Archibald Campbell, writer to the signet, about the difficulties in the island, and the prospects of the new laird, 24th May 1723


These documents are supplemented by an Appendix in 3 sections:

1.  Supplementary account of events connected with the island, derived from papers not included in the text of the volume –

A.  Annals

B. Additional papers (including Mining, Fishing, a Packet Service etc.)

2. Descriptions of the island (ranging from 1385 – 1765)

3. Rentals &c. (ranging from 1509 – 1741), with notes e.g. “Knockrinsey and Ardelistie is a good possession for stock; and has one small isle annexed to it. There is a remarkable vision said to be seen about 60 years ago upon the top of a great hill above the house of Knock of a cryple going upon stilts and a young man also, a little halting, led by an old man, and all three lowping and skipping in the tope of the hill crying Hei! Gilbert ho! Gilbert, Gilbert, mwo so, Gilbert, mwo shud!”

Here is a typical extract from the 1733 Rent Roll of Kildalton (omitting the rent etc.), where one can see that "Stromnishmore" was occupied by "Patrick McArthur, John McMath, Jas. Calder, Mal. McVorin, Mal. Smith, Dond McAlister, Neil McMath, Mal. McLintoch". Detail of this kind could provide the basis for extensive socio-economic analysis and population trends and - in some lucky cases - will help to verify genealogical information.

N.B. The original work contains a number of illustrations – please note that these have been included with considerable success.

“ The Book of Islay ” is obviously essential for any student of Islay's history, and indeed should be possessed by every household in the island. It is also a work of extraordinary interest to the social historian and genealogist, listing in its appendices many very detailed references to agricultural holdings, rentals, tenants etc. “ The Book of Islay ” will also appeal to the worldwide descendants of Islay's emigrants.

The book is now in stock at £45.00 per copy including delivery within the UK. Special arrangements must be made for overseas customers, please email byrne@colonsay.org.uk to discuss

The form is totally secure and works with any credit card. None of your account details are seen by us.

Delivery free UK only