Tiroran is ideally located for a trip to Iona – You can spend the morning on Iona, have lunch and then take the spectacular Trip to Staffa in the afternoon, returning to Tiroran in the late afternoon, early evening.
Iona has an important place in the history of Christianity in Scotland and is renowned for its tranquillity and natural beauty. Iona village lies approximately one mile from the coast of Mull, being one mile wide and 3.5 miles long with a resident population of 125.
Iona’s highest point is Dùn Ì (331 ft), an Iron Age hill fort dating from 100BC-200AD.
The Bay at the Back of the Ocean and Càrn Cùl ri Éirinn (the Hill/Cairn with its Back to Ireland) is said to be adjacent to the beach where St. Columba first landed. Saint Columba, also known as Colm Cille, was exiled from his native Ireland as a result of his involvement in the Battle of CulDreimhne, and founded a monastery on Iona with 12 companions. From there they set about the conversion of pagan Scotland and much of northern England to Christianity. Iona’s fame as a place of learning and Christian mission spread throughout Europe and it became a major site of pilgrimage. Iona became a holy island where several kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway are buried. Many believe that the Book of Kells was produced, in whole or in part, on Iona towards the end of the 8thcentury.
A series of Viking raids on the monastery on Iona began in 794, and after its treasures had been plundered many times, Columba’s relics were removed and divided two ways between Scotland and Ireland in 849 as the monastery was abandoned. A convent for the Order of Benedictine Nuns was established in 1208, with Beathag, daughter of Somerled, as first prioress. The present Benedictine abbey was built in 1203. The monastery itself flourished until the Reformation when buildings were demolished and all butthree of the 360 carved crosses destroyed.
Iona Abbey, now an ecumenical church, is of particular historical and religious interest to pilgrims and visitors alike. It is the most elaborate and best-preserved ecclesiastical building surviving from the Middle Ages in the Western Isles of Scotland. In front of the Abbey stands the 9th century St Martin’s Cross, one of the best-preserved Celtic crosses in the British Isles, and a replica of the 8th century St John’s Cross (original fragments in the Abbey museum).
The ancient burial ground, called the Reilig Odhráin, contains the 12th century chapel of St Odhrán (St Oran) – ‘Tiroran’ means ‘land of Oran’ – who was said to be Columba’s uncle, restored at the same time as the Abbey itself. It contains a number of medieval grave monuments. The abbey graveyard contains the graves of many early kings of Scotland, as well as kings from Ireland, Norway and France. Iona became the burial site for the kings of Dál Riata and their successors. Notable burials there include: King Kenneth I of Scotland King Donald II of Scotland King Malcolm I of ScotlandKing Duncan I of Scotland King Macbeth of Scotland King Donald III of Scotland In 1549 an inventory of 48 Scottish, 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish kings was recorded. None of these graves are now identifiable (their inscriptions were reported to have worn away at the end of the 17th century).
The graveyard is the final resting place of John Smith, the former Labour Partyleader, who loved Iona. His grave is marked with an epitaph quoting Alexander Pope: “An honest man’s the noblest work of God”.
Iona visitors can reach Iona by the 10-minute ferry trip across the Sound of Iona from Fionnphort on Mull. Bike hire is available at the pier, and on Mull.
Iona Nunnery survives as a series of exquisitely beautiful 12th -13th century ruins of the church and cloister, and a colourful and peaceful garden. Unlike the rest of the medieval religious buildings, the nunnery was too fragmentary to restore, though its remains are nevertheless the most complete survival of a medieval nunnery in Scotland.
Away from the historic buildings, Iona offers enjoyable walks to the north of the island, with pristine white sand beaches, and south and west to the Bay at the Back of the Atlantic. Pebbles of the famous green Iona marble, commercially mined in the 19th century (the quarry and original machinery survive) can be found on the island’s beaches.