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Holy Island, 'monastery'

Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned), Tower (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Holy Island, 'monastery'

Classification Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned), Tower (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Arran

Canmore ID 40159

Site Number NS03SE 1

NGR NS 0529 3082

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2018.

Administrative Areas

  • Council North Ayrshire
  • Parish Kilbride
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Cunninghame
  • Former County Buteshire

Archaeology Notes

NS03SE 1 0529 3082

(NS 0529 3082) Monastery (NR) (Site of)

OS 6" map, (1924)

The Book of Clanranald states that Ranald, King of the Isles and Argyll (died about 1207) founded the monastic order of Molaise. Dean Munro, in 1549 refers to "ane monastery of friars which is decayit" on Holy Island. According to the Book of Arran, the alleged founder was probably "the good John of Islay" who died in 1380. The evidence of a house of friars here must be regarded as very doubtful, and there is no evidence of any other form of (medieval) monastic establishment. The island was associated with the Celtic Saint, Molaise (see NS02NE 4).

A Macbain and J Kennedy 1892; W M Mackenzie 1914; I B Cowan and D E Easson 1976.

Robertson notes "the remains of an old chapel, built after the Gothic taste" near the N end of Holy Island. The accepted site of the "monastery" has been under crop since 1835. Traces of mortar, and grave-slabs were seen, this having been the main burial ground of the people of Arran until about 1790. Excavations were made where the mortar had been noted. They revealed a circular foundation 22ft in diameter, 2ft below the surface. No traces of any other building were found. It is stated that Somerled erected a fortress on the Holy Isle in the 12th century An account of 1543 mentions a small defensive tower here. A fragment of this tower wall stood, supported by two old trees, until 1879 when they were blown down. Pieces of stone coated with green glass, also a fragment of a shale ornament, were found when excavating.

A Mitchell 1898; J Balfour 1909

The published site falls on a level grassy terrace near the shore; there is no surface evidene of any structure. No further information.

Visited by OS (T R G) 16 November 1977.

In 1994 a comprehensive photographic record and a plane table survey were undertaken by GUARD of the remains of a ruined building built into the cliff above the farmhouse (traditionally interpreted as a chapel of unknown date).

The site of the tower excavated by Balfour was also located.

R Harry 1994c.


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