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Field Visit

Date May 1979

Event ID 1121896

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


Cobhan Cùilteach, Iona (NM 276 249)

This name is now attached to the remains of a small hut, although it probably applied originally to the level area where it is situated, at the foot of Cnoc nam Bradhan and about 1 km NW of Iona Abbey. Only the stone footings of the hut survive (A on plan), and these are roughly oval on plan, measuring about 4.6m from NE to SW by 3.4m transversely within walls 0.9m in thickness. There is an entrance, probably of fairly recent origin, on the SW side, and faint traces of a track leading away to the SSE are identifiable.

About 30m N of the hut an irregular-shaped enclosure (B), measuring up to 25m by 12m internally, has been formed in the lee of a massive rock outcrop which itself serves as a wall on one side. On the remaining sides the enclosure is bounded by a wall of boulders, some of which are of considerable size; the entrance appears to have been situated on the NE side. Within the enclosure there may be seen a circular setting of stones 2m in external diameter, surrounding a reed-grown depression which may have been a well (C). Within the NW corner of the enclosure there are the remains of a rectangular building of fairly recent date (D).

A tradition had attached to this site before the end of the 18th century, when the parish minister reported ‘One place in I(ona) is still called the Culdee’s Cell. It is the foundation of a small circular house, upon a receding plain. From the door of the house a walk ascends to a small hillock. There are evident traces of the walls of the walk taking a circuit around and enclosing the hillock’ (1). The name ‘Culdee's Cell’, however, was a pseudo-learned translation, inspired by the current vogue for the Culdees, of the Gaelic name recorded in 1857 as ‘Cobhan Cuildich’, meaning ‘the remote hollow’ (2). Skene makes the plausible suggestion that this may have been the 'more remote place in the wilds' to which St Columba withdrew for prayer, and from which he could see the island of Tiree. In the absence of excavation, however, it is impossible to date the hut-circle, but the enclosure B is probably a sheep- or cattle-pen of no great antiquity.

RCAHMS 1982, visited May 1979.

(1) Stat. Acct. 14 (1795), 200

(2) Adamnan, Columba (Reeves), 421; PSAS 11 (1875-6), 337.

(3) Adomnan, Columba (Anderson), 480-3

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