|Gaelic name||Ulbha (help·info)|
|Meaning of name||Old Norse for 'wolf island' or 'Ulfr's island'|
Ulva shown within Argyll and Bute
|OS grid reference|
|Area||1,990 hectares (7.7 sq mi)|
|Area rank||35 |
|Highest elevation||Beinn Chreagach 313 metres (1,027 ft)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Council area||Argyll and Bute|
|Population rank||68 |
|Population density||0.6 people/km2|
|Largest settlement||Ulva House (once Ormaig)|
Ulva (Scottish Gaelic: Ulbha, pronounced [ˈulˠ̪u.ə]) is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, off the west coast of Mull. It is separated from Mull by a narrow strait, and connected to the neighbouring island of Gometra by a bridge. Much of the island is formed from Cenozoic basalt rocks, which is formed into columns in places.
Ulva has been populated since the Mesolithic and there are various Neolithic remains on the island. The Norse occupation of the island in the Early Historic Period has left few tangible artefacts but did bequeath the island its name, which is probably from Ulvoy, meaning "wolf island". Celtic culture was a major influence during both Pictish and Dalriadan times as well as the post-Norse period when the islands became part of modern Scotland. This long period, when Gaelic became the dominant language, was ended by the 19th-century Clearances. At its height Ulva had a population of over 800, but today this has declined to less than 20.
Numerous well-known individuals have connections with the island including David Livingstone, Samuel Johnson and Walter Scott, who drew inspiration from Ulva for his 1815 poem, The Lord of the Isles. Wildlife is abundant: cetaceans are regularly seen in the surrounding waters and over 500 species of plant have been recorded. Today there is a regular ferry service and tourism is the mainstay of the economy.
- 1 Geography
- 2 Geology
- 3 Etymology
- 4 History
- 4.1 Prehistory
- 4.2 Dál Riata
- 4.3 Norse period and Middle Ages
- 4.4 18th century
- 4.5 19th century
- 4.6 20th century and present day
- 5 Wildlife
- 6 Media and the arts
- 7 Infrastructure and economy
- 8 Structures
- 9 Folklore
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Ulva is approximately oval in shape with an indented coastline. It is aligned east-west, being 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) long, and 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) wide. Viewed on a large scale, Ulva and its neighbouring island Gometra appear to be a peninsula of the Isle of Mull, as they are separated from one another by narrow straits. Caolas Ulbha (the Sound of Ulva) at the east of the island is a narrow channel a few hundred metres across to Ulva Ferry on Mull. To its west, it is separated from Gometra by Gometra Harbour. To the south are Mull's headlands of Ardmeanach and the Ross of Mull. To the north, Loch Tuath (Loch-a-Tuath) separates it from another headland of Mull, and to the south east is Loch na Keal (Loch nan Ceall), and the island of Eorsa. There are two main bays on the south coast, Port a' Bhàta, and Tràigh Bhàn. On the north coast, there is the horseshoe bay of Lòn Bhearnuis (Bearnus lagoon), Soriby Bay and a few minor inlets.
The highest point of Ulva is Beinn Chreagach (rocky mountain), which reaches 313 metres (1,027 ft). It has a neighbour in Beinn Eoligarry whose summit is 306 metres (1,004 ft) above sea level. There is also the smaller hill of A' Chrannag in the south east at 118 metres (387 ft) high. The island has a central ridge, with the highest ground running along its lateral axis - this ridge is somewhat broken by Gleann Glas and some other valleys. The south east peninsula tends to be lower lying, with a small plain along the south coast, consisting of raised beaches.
The climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream.
Parish and region
The island is in the parish of Kilninian (Cill Ninein), which also includes Gometra, Staffa, Little Colonsay and part of the west of Mull. It was united with Kilmore on Mull, and the minister has traditionally preached in Kilninian and Kilmore on alternate Sundays. For more details, see the church section.
Gometra is a tidal island and connected to Ulva by a bridge. Little Colonsay and Inchkenneth (with Samalan Island) are to Ulva's south west and south east respectively. Further to the west are the Treshnish Isles, including the distinctive Bac Mòr, and beyond them, the larger islands of Coll and Tiree, with Gunna between them. To the south west are the islands of Staffa, of Fingal's Cave fame and Erisgeir. Much further to the south west is the island of Iona.
There are a number of islets and rocks to the south and the east of Ulva, notably Eilean na Creiche (listed as "Eilean na Craoibhe", on the island's guide's map.) between Little Colonsay and Ulva, and also Garbh Eilean ("rough island"), Eilean Bàn ("white/fair island"), Eilean an Rìgh ("island of the king"), Eilean na h-Uamh ("island of the cave"), Trealbhan, Sgeir Dhubh, Sgeir Dhubh Bheag, Sgaigean, Bogha Mòr and Eilean Reilean. There are three main islets in the Sound of Ulva: Eilean Garbh ("rough island"), Eilean a' Bhuic ("island of the buck") and Eilean a' Chaolais ("island of the kyle/straits"), as well as the smaller island of Sgeir Ruadh. At the south of the island near Mull is Sgeir a' Charraig, and there is Sgeir Dubhail off Rubha nan Gall (north coast), to the south east near Cùl a' Gheata are Sgeir nan Leac, Sgeir Bhioramuill, and Bogha MhicGuaire ("MacQuarrie's rock"). Off Port a' Bhàta are Geasgill Beag & Geasgill Mòr, between Ulva and Inchkenneth. To the south west is Sgeir na Sgeireadh, and Màisgeir due south of Gometra. Off Baligortan is Eilean a' Choire.
Ulva's interior is moorland, while the spectacular geological formations of the south coast, have been somewhat overshadowed by those of its neighbour Staffa. Nonetheless, they are still renowned in their own right. Around 60 million years ago, the region was volcanically active, with Ben More on Mull being the remnant of a volcano, and it was in this period that the famous rock formations of Staffa and the basaltic columns of "The Castles" on Ulva came into being. The lava flows are known as the "Staffa Magma Type member" and can also be seen on Mull at Carsaig, Ardtum, and near Tobermory on its east coast. They are particularly rich in silica. These were formed when the cooling surface of the mass of hot lava cracked in a hexagonal pattern in a similar way to drying mud cracking as it shrinks, and these cracks gradually extended down into the mass of lava as it cooled and shrank to form the columns which were subsequently exposed by erosion.
Much more recently, Ulva was subjected to glaciation, which dug out the fjords/sea lochs on its north and south east sides - Loch Tuath (meaning simply "north loch") and Loch na Keal, as well as softening some of its sharper edges.
The Hebridean coastline has been subject to significant post-glacial changes in sea level and the area is rising up at about 2 millimetres per annum as isostatic equilibrium is regained. The relative drop in sea-level has left the highest raised sea cave in the British Isles on Ulva at A' Chrannag. At some point, Ulva was probably a west pointing headland of Mull, connected to Gometra and Eilean Dioghlum off the latter's west coast.
"The name is supposed to be a depravation of some other; for the Earse language does not afford it any etymology.".
The English name "Ulva" is from the Scottish Gaelic, Ulbha, but this may have been corruption of Old Norse. It is debatable whether the Norse root Ulfr refers to an individual's name, or to the animal itself (possibly because of the shape of the island). The island's official website and guide book claims -
- "A scout, sent ashore from the longboat is alleged to have reported, "Ullamhdha", Viking for "Nobody home".
However ullamhdha is not Norse, but appears to be the Scottish Gaelic for "ready for it". Munro and MacQuarrie (1996) state that the scout said "ullamh dha" ([ˈulˠ̪əv ɣa]) in Gaelic, meaning the island "was ready for occupation".
The Old Statistical Account of Scotland mentions an alternative folk etymology, namely that Ulva comes from ullamh-àth ([ˈulˠ̪əv aː]) meaning 'ready ford' in Gaelic, that could refer either to the tidal stretch with Gometra, or the Sound of Ulva over which cattle were sometimes swum.
Ulva's human history goes back thousands of years. Its standing stones have been dated to 1500 BC, and a shell midden in Livingstones Cave dates to c. 5650 BC; it includes remains of flint and a human infant, as well as fauna more appropriate to the Ice Age, such as lemming and Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). The cave has been excavated since 1987 by archaeologists from the University of Edinburgh.
There are a number of dolmens and standing stones on the island, including some west of Cragaig, and one north east of Ormaig, as well as dùns such as Dùn Bhioramuill on the south east slope of A' Chrannag near Cùl a' Gheata above the cliffs, and Dùn Iosagain on the south west slope of Beinn Eolasary.
Ulva was anciently part of the border zone of the kingdom of Dál Riata, and during this period the old Gaelic language first came to be spoken here. Presumably the area formed part of the Pictish lands, but they left little evidence behind. This region was amongst the first in northern Scotland to become Christianised. This is commemorated in some of the local place names which contain the word "Cill" or "Ceall", which is frequently anglicised as "Kil-" e.g. "Loch na Keal" is Loch nan Ceall, meaning "loch of the culdee cells", and Cille Mhic Eoghainn, which means literally "Monk's cell of the son of Ewan/MacEwan", or less literally "MacEwan's Church".
The Senchus fer n-Alban lists three main kin groups in Dál Riata in Scotland, with a fourth being added later. The Cenél Loairn controlled parts of northern Argyll around the Firth of Lorne, most probably centred on Lorne but perhaps including the Isle of Mull, Morvern and Ardnamurchan, supposedly the descendants of Loarn mac Eirc. The chief place of the kingdom appears to have been at Dun Ollaigh, near Oban. The chief religious site may have been on Lismore, later the seat of the High Medieval bishop of Argyll.
Norse period and Middle Ages
Ulva later became part of the Norse Kingdom of the Isles. Rubha nan Gall ("point of the foreigners"), on the north coast of the island, may refer to the Norse.
Ulva came into the possession of the Clan MacQuarrie (an anglicised version of the surname MacGuaire ) family over a thousand years ago, and they controlled it until the mid-19th century. The name MacGuaire is also anglicised as McGuire in Ireland. The English version has many variants, for examples, a 16th-century clan chief was Donn-slèibhe MacGuaire, possibly the ancestor of the Livingstone (MacDhùn-lèibhe) family. MacKenzie mentions that his name was anglicised in the following widely differing versions - "Dunslavie McVoirich" (either MacMhuirich (which becomes Currie or MacPherson) or MacMhurchaidh), "Dulleis MacKwiddy", "Dwnsleif MacKcurra" and "Dwnsleyf MaKwra". "Dunslav" was recorded as a forename in Ulva in 1693 as well.
The Ulva Brooch was found in a pool of water in a cave in 1998. Its exact date of origin is unknown, but it is reckoned to be 16th or 17th century. The original is now in a museum in Dunoon, and a replica can be seen in Sheila's Cottage on the island. It is an engraved woman's brooch, for keeping a shawl tied together, and is believed to have been left in the cave after someone sheltered there.
The Rev. John Walker lamented the lack of commercial fishing, which he thought could provide the islanders with an additional income and food source. He noted the presence of herring, cod, and ling in the surrounding waters, but said, that there was
- "[N]o net or Long Line on the island to catch them [fish] and none of the inhabitants were acquainted with any kind of fishing, but with the Rod from Sea Rocks".
Lachlan Macquarie, was born on Ulva 31 January 1762. He is sometimes referred to as "Father of Australia". He left when he was 14, and was Governor of New South Wales from 1809–21, the longest tenure of any Australian governor. However, after his long sojourn in India, Australia and elsewhere, Lachlan Macquarie returned to his home turf - his mausoleum may still be seen at Gruline on Loch na Keal, on the Isle of Mull, within sight of his home island. The mausoleum is possibly the only site in Scotland maintained by the National Trust of Australia.
His father, who had the same name, was a cousin of the sixteenth and last chieftain of the clan. According to local tradition, he was either a miller or a carpenter. There is some argument as to where exactly he was born - Ormaig is generally stated, because he appears to have come from that branch of the clan. It has even been suggested that he was born on the near section of Mull - at either Oskamull or Lagganulva, but local tradition says he was born at Cùl a' Gheata, which is 1⁄4 mile (400 metres) south of Ulva House.
In 1787, Macquarie came back to Mull and Ulva, to try to recruit men for the British army. Few Ulbhachs had any interest, and he deemed them "ungrateful":
- "I was equally unsuccessful in the place of my Nativity, and ancient Possessions of my Ancestors, – among my own Clan and Namesakes, the Macquaries of Ulva; where every fair and Lawful Means were used by their old Chief and Master, my Relation the Laird of Macquarie, and myself; but, such is the aversion of these People to become Soldiers or to go abroad, that notwithstanding all the entreaties of their old Chief and Master, not one of his ungrateful Clan, (to whom he had been, in the days of his Prosperity, a most kind and Generous Master,) would enlist or follow me and his own Son Murdoch Macquarie, (a lad about Sixteen years of age) who voluntarily offered to follow my Fortunes, and push his own in India – as a Volunteer. — I was not much surprised, tho' at the same time I confess I was exceedingly displeased, at the ungrateful conduct [sic] of these People, who had treated their old chief exactly in the same manner, when he got his Commission in the Army in Decr. 1777 and hoped to get his whole Quota of Men among his own Clan; but in this, he was cruelly disappointed, very few indeed, having followed him to the American War: – it would appear he had lost his Power and influence over them, at the same moment he had lost the Estate of his Ancestors. Finding I had no success in the Recruiting way in Mull I determined upon setting out for the Low Country without loss of time to Recruit there".
Nonetheless, Macquarie came to be known as "Father of Australia" for some very simple reasons. He instituted penal reforms, improved relations with the natives, and set Australia on the road from being a remote British prison, to a modern state. Arguably this is what cost him his job.
Boswell and Johnson
Dr Johnson and Boswell visited The MacQuarrie on Ulva in October 1773, the year after Sir Joseph Banks brought Staffa to the English-speaking world's attention. Perhaps aware that Banks considered that the columnar basalt cliff formations on Ulva called "The Castles" rivalled Staffa's Johnson wrote:
When the islanders were reproached with their ignorance or insensibility of the wonders of Staffa, they had not much to reply. They had indeed considered it little, because they had always seen it; and none but philosophers, nor they always, are struck with wonder otherwise than by novelty.
Both men left separate accounts of the visit, Johnson in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (18 January 1775) and Boswell in Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D (1785). They arrived on Saturday, 16 October, and left the following day. Johnson wrote:
We resolved not to embarrass a family, in a time of so much sorrow, if any other expedient could he found; and as the Island of Ulva was over-against us, it was determined that we should pass the strait and have recourse to the Laird, who, like the other gentlemen of the Islands, was known to Col. We expected to find a ferry-boat, but when at last we came to the water, the boat was gone.We were now again at a stop. It was the sixteenth of October, a time when it is not convenient to sleep in the Hebrides without a cover, and there was no house within our reach, but that which we had already declined.
We were in hopes to get to Sir Allan Maclean's at Inchkenneth, to-night; but the eight miles [13 km], of which our road was said to consist, were so very long, that we did not reach the opposite coast of Mull till seven at night, though we had set out about eleven in the forenoon; and when we did arrive there, we found the wind strong against us. Col determined that we should pass the night at M'Quarrie's, in the island of Ulva, which lies between Mull and Inchkenneth; and a servant was sent forward to the ferry, to secure the boat for us: but the boat was gone to the Ulva side, and the wind was so high that the people could not hear him call; and the night so dark that they could not see a signal. We should have been in a very bad situation, had there not fortunately been lying in the little sound of Ulva an Irish vessel, the Bonnetta, of Londonderry, Captain M'Lure, master. He himself was at M'Quarrie's; but his men obligingly came with their long-boat, and ferried us over.(Boswell)
Boswell was not impressed with Macquarrie's house, but appears to have enjoyed the company:
M'Quarrie's house was mean; but we were agreeably surprised with the appearance of the master, whom we found to be intelligent, polite, and much a man of the world. Though his clan is not numerous, he is a very ancient chief, and has a burial place at Icolmkill [Iona]. He told us, his family had possessed Ulva for nine hundred years; but I was distressed to hear that it was soon to be sold for the payment of his debts.
Captain M'Lure, whom we found here, was of Scotch extraction, and properly a M'Leod, being descended of some of the M'Leods who went with Sir Normand [sic] of Bernera to the battle of Worcester, and after the defeat of the royalists, fled to Ireland, and, to conceal themselves, took a different name. He told me, there was a great number of them about Londonderry; some of good property. I said, they should now resume their real name. The Laird of M'Leod should go over, and assemble them, and make them all drink the large horn full, and from that time they should be M'Leods. The captain informed us, he had named his ship the Bonnetta, out of gratitude to Providence; for once, when he was sailing to America with a good number of passengers, the ship in which he then sailed was becalmed for five weeks, and during all that time, numbers of the fish bonnetta swam close to her, and were caught for food; he resolved therefore, that the ship he shouldnext get, should be called the Bonnetta.(Boswell)
Johnson too admired the antiquity of the family, but did not care for the landscape too much:
To Ulva we came in the dark, and left it before noon the next day. A very exact description therefore will not be expected. We were told, that it is an Island of no great extent, rough and barren, inhabited by the Macquarrys; a clan not powerful nor numerous, but of antiquity, which most other families are content to reverence [...] Of the ancestors of Macquarry, who thus lies hid in his unfrequented Island, I have found memorials in all places where they could be expected.
Great though the age of the Macquarries may have been, it appears at this point that they were considering selling it, and that the house was in a state of disrepair, despite the hospitality:
Talking of the sale of an estate of an ancient family, which was said to have been purchased much under its value by the confidential lawyer of that family, and it being mentioned that the sale would probably be set aside by a suit in equity, Dr Johnson said, 'I am very willing that this sale should be set aside, but I doubt much whether the suit will be successful; for the argument for avoiding the sale is founded on vague and indeterminate principles, as that the price was too low, and that there was a great degree of confidence placed by the seller in the person who became the purchaser. Now, how low should a price be? or what degree of confidence should there be to make a bargain be set aside? a bargain, which is a wager of skill between man and man. If, indeed, any fraud can be proved, that will do.'
When Dr Johnson and I were by ourselves at night, I observed of our host, aspectum generosum habet. Et generosum animum, he added. For fear of being overheard in the small Highland houses, I often talked to him in such Latin as I could speak, and with as much of the English accent as I could assume, so as not to be understood, in case our conversation should be too loud for the space.We had each an elegant bed in the same room; and here it was that a circumstance occurred, as to which he has been strangely misunderstood. From his description of his chamber, it has erroneously been supposed, that his bed being too short for him, his feet, during the night, were in the mire; whereas he has only said, that when he undressed, he felt his feet in the mire: that is, the clay-floor of the room, on which he stood before he went into bed, was wet, in consequence of the windows being broken, which let in the rain.(Boswell)
Johnson heard later on that the island had been sold to Capt. Dugald Campbell of Achnaba, and wrote to him:
Every eye must look with pain on a Campbell turning the MacQuarries at will out of their sedes avitae, their hereditary island.
Mercheta Mulierum was an ancient custom persisting in the island, a relique of the punluan right:
Inquiring after the reliques of former manners, I found that in Ulva, and, I think, no where else, is continued the payment of the Mercheta Mulierum; a fine in old times due to the Laird at the marriage of a virgin. The original of this claim, as of our tenure of Borough English, is variously delivered. It is pleasant to find ancient customs in old families. This payment, like others, was, for want of money, made anciently in the produce of the land. Macquarry was used to demand a sheep, for which he now takes a crown, by that inattention to the uncertain proportion between the value and the denomination of money, which has brought much disorder into Europe. A sheep has always the same power of supplying human wants, but a crown will bring at one time more, at another less. (Johnson)
Boswell says "I suppose, Ulva is the only place where this custom remains.", and Sir William Blackstone says in his Commentaries, that "he cannot find that ever this custom [Borough English] prevailed in England".
Walter Scott claims that mercheta mulierum persisted at the time of his visit.
The main remnants of Clan MacQuarrie's chiefs fell at the battles of Malda and Waterloo. Their mother Marie was given a medal by King George IV with the slogan Màthair nan Gaisgich - "mother of heroes" on it.
Until the mid-19th century its main industry was kelp collection and export. At the turn of the 19th century, the kelp industry supported a large amount of the population. It was seasonal work, with collection taking place in the months of May, June and July, when it was considered possible to dry it outdoors. The dried kelp would usually then be burnt, and the ash used to produce various products, including fertiliser (mostly soda ash) and iodine. The ruined kiln on the south shore may have been used for this. Between 1817 and 1828, no less than 256 tonnes of kelp were collected in Ulva. Kelpers collected on average, a wage of two shillings a week, and a stone of wheat.
Scott, Hogg and other visitors
Boswell and Johnson were not the only famous non-Highland visitors to the island. Walter Scott and James Hogg also visited the islands some decades later. In 1810 Scott discussed the prospect of a visit, which he describes as a "jaunt":
Among all my hopes & fears the uppermost thought is that you will be down this year. I have a prospect of a nice jaunt to the Hebrides with a light sloop & eight men belonging to Staffa, MacDonald, who would be delighted to receive you at Ulva — The ladies could remain at Oban if they were afraid of the Sea. But you must wipe your minds eye pull up the breeches of your resolution and set forth as soon as possible for we must get to the Hebrides early in July unless we mean to encounter long nights & tempestuous weather 
Scott was struck by the contrast between Ulva and the nearby island of Inchkenneth:
"... a most beautiful islet of the most verdant green, while all the neighbouring shore of Greban, as well as the large islands of Colinsay and Ulva, are as black as heath can make them. But Ulva has a good anchorage, and Inchkenneth is surrounded by shoals."
By the time, Scott visited the "mean" house of Boswell's journal was gone, and replaced by one from a design by Robert Adam. This in turn has been destroyed, and the current Ulva House is on its site.
Hogg wrote some graffiti on the wall of Ulva Inn, now lost due to its burning down in 1880:
- I've roamed around the creeks and headlands of Mull,
- Their fields are uncultured and cussedly weedy,
- Their hard lands are bare and their havens dull,
- Their folks may be brave, but they're cussedly greedy.
Naturally, the locals were slightly upset by this, and the Minister of Ulva, Rev. MacLeod wrote the following reply, with a sly pun referring to Jesus' Discourse on holiness from the Sermon on the Mount:
- Ho! Shepherd of Ettrick,
- Why sorely complain,
- Though the boatman be greedy for grog?
- The beauties of Staffa,
- by this we proclaim,
- Are like pearls cast away on a Hogg
The famous Scottish missionary and explorer of Africa, David Livingstone recounted how his ancestors had originally come from Ulva.
Livingstone recounted how Ulva had a great store of folklore, and legends, which his grandfather told them:
"Our grandfather was intimately acquainted with all the traditionary legends which that great writer [Walter Scott] has since made use of in the Tales of a Grandfather and other works. As a boy I remember listening to him with delight, for his memory was stored with a never-ending stock of stories, many of which were wonderfully like those I have since heard while sitting by the African evening fires. Our grandmother, too, used to sing Gaelic songs, some of which, as she believed, had been composed by captive islanders languishing hopelessly among the Turks [i.e. Moroccan pirates].
"Grandfather could give particulars of the lives of his ancestors for six generations of the family before him; and the only point of the tradition I feel proud of is this: One of these poor hardy islanders was renowned in the district for great wisdom and prudence; and it is related that, when he was on his death-bed, he called all his children around him and said,
- Now, in my lifetime, I have searched most carefully through all the traditions I could find of our family, and I never could discover that there was a dishonest man among our forefathers. If, therefore, any of you or any of your children should take to dishonest ways, it will not be because it runs in our blood: it does not belong to you. I leave this precept with you: Be honest."
If, therefore, in the following pages I fall into any errors, I hope they will be dealt with as honest mistakes, and not as indicating that I have forgotten our ancient motto. This event took place at a time when the Highlanders, according to Macaulay, were much like the Cape Caffres [kaffirs], and any one, it was said, could escape punishment for cattle-stealing by presenting a share of the plunder to his chieftain. Our ancestors were Roman Catholics; they were made Protestants by the laird coming round with a man having a yellow staff, which would seem to have attracted more attention than his teaching, for the new religion went long afterward, perhaps it does so still, by the name of “the religion of the yellow stick”.
Like many Gaels in the 19th century, Livingstone's grandfather was forced to emigrate to the Lowlands for work:
"Finding his farm in Ulva insufficient to support a numerous family, my grandfather removed to Blantyre Works, a large cotton manufactory on the beautiful Clyde, above Glasgow; and his sons, having had the best education the Hebrides afforded, were gladly received as clerks by the proprietors, Monteith and Co. He himself, highly esteemed for his unflinching honesty, was employed in the conveyance of large sums of money from Glasgow to the works, and in old age was, according to the custom of that company, pensioned off, so as to spend his declining years in ease and comfort."
Andrew Ross says David Livingstone was the second son of Neil Livingston (known as "Niall Beag", wee Neil, or "Niall MacDhun-lèibhe"), who was born on Ulva in 1788, who was in turn the son of another Neil. He also claims that the family stories do not quite fit, and that it is unlikely that he was a descendant of a Culloden combatant. A Mull legend also says that Neil (grandfather) may have been driven from his house by redcoats in the middle of a snowstorm. However, there is no evidence for this. He also notes that Neil's church on Ulva had given the following letter of recommendation of their parishioner, something no doubt David was proud of.
- "The bearer, Neil Livingstone, a married man in Ulva, part of the parish of Kilninian, has always maintained an unblemished moral character, and is known for a man of piety and religion. He has a family of four songs, the youngest of which is three years, and three daughters, of which the youngest is six years of age. As he proposes to offer his services at some of the cotton-spinning manufactories, he and his wife Mary Morrison, and their family of children is hereby recommended for suitable encouragement.
- "Given at Ulva, this eighth day of January, 1792, by
The Clearances come to Ulva
Mr Francis William Clark bought the island in 1835 and began a brutal clearance of two-thirds of the inhabitants within a few years. Sometimes those who were to be evicted were given no warning, and had the thatch of their houses set on fire by the factor. The Clark family owned the island well into the 20th century. FW Clark also bought, and cleared, the islands of Gometra and Little Colonsay.
In 1837, there were sixteen villages/townships, with shoe makers, wrights, boat builders, merchants, carpenters, tailors, weavers and blacksmiths. In 1841, the population of Ulva and Gometra was 859, but by 1848 this had plummeted to 150 thanks to a combination of the Highland potato famine and Clark's evictions. By 1889, the population of the two islands had fallen further to 83, with 53 on Ulva by itself.
MacKenzie records at Aird Glas, near Ardalum, the now abandoned row of houses was nicknamed "Starvation Terrace":
- "...Where the old and feeble folk cleared from their crofts were placed by Clark, to exist as best they could on shellfish & seaweed till they died."
He thinks however, that the plan may not have been to starve them, but to create fishing stations of the type which Walker lamented the lack of. This is certainly what was attempted in Sutherland. Opinions on Clark, still remain divided. The island's guidebook claims:
- "Clark's high hopes for this thriving community were shattered when the kelp market collapsed, and he was left with a great surplus of tenants. His greatest concern would have been for the people and their livelihoods."
One of Clark's neighbours did not think much of his concern, and is reported to have shouted "Francis William Clark, there's a smell of your name all over Scotland".
- "In an era in which large-scale evictions were commonplace — those of Torloisg and Glengorm for example — this Francis William Clark gained a notoriety that matched or exceeded that of the [other] evicting landlords of his time. 'Notorious', 'ruthless', 'cruel', 'callous' are some of the epithets attached to his name."
MacKenzie further notes, that unlike in Sutherland, where the Clearances are most remembered, there was no factor or middle man to provide a buffer between the tenants and the landlord, like the notorious Patrick Sellar, and that Clark did a lot of the evicting himself. In evidence to the Napier Commission, Alexander Fletcher recounted that Clark moved people from one piece of land to a small one, repeatedly "then to nothing at all, and when they would not clear off altogether, some of them had the roofs taken off their huts."
Fletcher also claimed that Clark bullied the sick and the elderly: "In another case, there was a very sick woman... Notwithstanding the critical condition of the woman, he [F. W. Clark] had the roof taken down to a small bit over the woman's bed." Another recorded that a woman fetching water at a well was so terrified of him, that she "ran away, and left her kettle at the well, which Mr Clark took hold of and smashed to pieces."
F. W. Clark was still alive at the time of the reports to the Napier Commission, and never made any attempt to refute these accusations. His son, of the same name, disagreed vocally with his father's behaviour and said, "he would rather have a cailleach (old woman) to light his pipe in every ruined house than all the sheep... of Ulva".
Here is a list of some of the cleared townships, and their current state.
|Name/location||1841 census||State in 1918-21|
|Cragaig||57||1 family (Now a camping bothy)|
|Cill MhicEòghainn (Kilvikewan)||32||Ruins|
|Glac na Gallan||35||Ruins|
|Baile Ghartan (Ballygarten)||32||Ruins|
|Bearnus (Berniss)||25||1 family|
|Fearann Ard-àirigh (Ferinardry)||54||Ruins|
|Ardalum (Ardellum)||46||2 families|
|Sàilean Ruadh (Salen)||?||1 family (at Croit Phàraig)|
|Caolas (Sound of Ulva)||23||1 family|
|Uamh (Cave) & Sound Islands||at least one family||1 family (Ulva House)|
(Notes: All information from MacKenzie (2000).)
Meanwhile, Clark had a memorial built to himself, and his family on top of the Iron Age fort at Dùn Bhioramuill. A huge marble slab to F. W. Clark was "accidentally" lost in the mire, on its way to be placed here. Some say this was deliberate, but according to local folklore, this was due to the "weight of evil on it". The other parts of the memorial may still be seen.
20th century and present day
In The Scottish Field (September, 1918), there is a description by Angus Henderson of how the cattle were driven to "mainland" Mull.
- "The handsome herds of Ulva were 'floated' across the ferry on their way to the Oban sales... The cattle are driven into the water, and forced to swim to a small island, there they are allowed to rest for a few minutes and then they are made to complete their swim to Mull. Men in boats guide them to the right landing places."
During the 20th century, the population of Ulva, continued to fall. In 1981 it dropped to 13, the lowest point in recorded history at that point. By 1991 however, it had risen to 30, mostly due to incomers working on the island. In 2001 the usually resident population was 16 but by 2011 it had declined again to 11. During the same period Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702.
The Clarks owned the island for the best part of a century, selling it in 1945, to Edith, Lady Congleton. Her family, the Howards have owned it ever since, with her daughter Jean Howard owning it, and her grandson James Howard as estate manager. Under the Howards, the population has fluctuated, rather than the continuous fall under the Clarks.
In 2000, D. W. R. MacKenzie wrote As It Was/Sin Mar a Bha: A Ulva Boyhood, which is a combination of autobiography and a potted history of the island. His father was a Kirk minister, who moved there from Rothesay, where he had been in charge of the Gaelic church there. MacKenzie describes as a child, his early impressions of the island in the 1920s, and how the minister's children slowly began to recognise the landscape of eviction:
- "We saw ruins of houses (tobhtaichean) roofless and windowless, and near them neglected green patches that had obviously been cultivated at one time. We saw overgrown ridges and furrows that once had been the lazybeds (feannagan) on which former inhabitants had grown their potatoes and cereals. When returned home from our explorations, to recount our discoveries, we learned, over the years, that the Ulva of 1827, when the church and the manse were built was very different from the Ulva we came to know a hundred years later."
Ulva is known for its wildlife, which is usual for many Scottish islands, includes many varieties of seabirds. A number of raptors breed on the island including buzzards, golden eagles and sea eagles. Game birds include snipe, grouse, pheasant, and woodcock. White-tailed eagles, which were reintroduced in the nearby Island of Rùm have migrated to Mull, where they now have a stronghold - they can occasionally be seen on Ulva, but are not known to nest there. Ravens also breed here. Puffin, black-legged kittiwakes, shag, common and Arctic tern, gannets, eider ducks, oystercatchers, curlews, redshanks, red-breasted mergansers and gulls nest on the island and the surrounding waters provide a livelihood for numerous seabirds. Occasional visitors (usually not breeding) include - house martins, Leach's storm petrel, corncrakes (which are rare in the British Isles), peregrine falcons and spotted flycatchers.
Land mammals that can be found on the island, include red deer, rabbits, and mountain hares. Stoats and hedgehogs are occasionally sighted on the island as well. In 1986 the island's otters were studied by experts from the University of Leeds - in the six weeks that they were there, they sighted the otters every evening. In regard to canids, there are no foxes on the island, although it has been suggested that the name "Ulva" - wolf isle - meant that wolves lived on the island in the Norse period.
There is only one known kind of reptile on the island, the pseudo-snake slow worm, but no true snakes have been reported. The name "Ormaig", however, is probably a corruption of the Norse Ormrsvi, which means "bay of the worm" - this may refer to a snake.
Cetaceans that can be seen in the surrounding waters include minke whales, porpoises, dolphins, and pilot whales. Whales occasionally get beached on the island, more recent examples including 1966 (pilot), 1987 (pilot) and 1991 (two sperm whales). Grey seals and basking shark also frequent the area.
More than 500 species of plant have been recorded on Ulva.
Much of the island is treeless, but there are substantial stands in some places, especially near the island's small reservoir.
However, in the areas where trees grow, there is a surprising diversity. There are at least 43 varieties and/or species of broadleaf trees on the island, and over a dozen types of conifer. Amongst the coniferous trees are silver and noble firs, juniper, European and Japanese larch, Sitka spruce, and Scots pine. The broadleafs include laburnum, wych elm, three types of oak, four kinds of cherry tree, alder, sycamore, sweet chestnut, walnut and various other fruit trees.
Media and the arts
A piper named MacArthur set up a famous piping school here. He himself was trained by the great MacCrimmon dynasty of Skye, whose piping skills were legendary in Gaeldom. The MacArthurs themselves were said to be amongst the greatest bagpipers to come out of Scotland. Allen writes:
The MacCrimmons and the MacArthurs were said to have been the finest pipers and exponents of the piobaireachd and history relates great rivalry between the families for supremacy. Both the MacCrimmons and the MacArthurs had colleges for piping students; the former on the farm of Boreraig, eight miles [13 km] south west of Dunvegan Castle on Skye, the latter at Ulva near Mull. For the MacCrimmon pupils seven years study was necessary in their apprenticeship. The pupils had a solitary designated area of open space in which to practice the scales and tunes on the chanter, the Small Pipes and Piob Mhòr before being allowed to perform for their Master Tutor. The college at Ulva had four rooms; one for cattle, one for guests to stay, one for practice and one specifically for the use of students. In both cases the countryside was preferred for practice as was, and still is, deemed correct for the Piob Mhòr.
Lord Ullin's Daughter
- A CHIEFTAIN to the Highlands bound
- Cries, "Boatman, do not tarry!
- And I'll give thee a silver pound
- To row us o'er the ferry!"
- "Now who be ye would cross Lochgyle,
- This dark and stormy water?"
- "O I'm the chief of Ulva's isle,
- And this, Lord Ullin's daughter.
After his visit, Walter Scott used Ulva as material for various works, for example, in his 1815 poem, Lord of the Isles (Canto 4)
- And Ulva dark, and Colonsay,
- And all the group of islets gay
- That guard famed Staffa round.
The Colonsay referred to here, is probably nearby Little Colonsay rather than Colonsay itself. In Tales of a Grandfather, Scott tells the story of "Alan-a-Sop" (an anglicisation of the Gaelic for "Alan of the straw", so called because he was born "on a heap of straw") who was born the illegitimate son of the Maclean of Duart in the 16th century. In his youth, Alan-a-Sop was treated badly by his stepfather, one Maclean of Torloisk. He grew up to be a pirate and eventually took a bloody revenge on Torloisk with the help of MacQuarrie of Ulva.
Moladh Ulbha (In Praise of Ulva) is a song written by the Ulbhach, Colin Fletcher (Cailean Mac an Fhleisdeir). It was transcribed by the Rev. MacKenzie. This is the first verse.
- Mi 'nam shuidhe 'n seo leam fhèin
- Smaoinich mi gun innsinn sgeul
- Na làithean sona bh' agam fhèin
- Nuair bha mi òg an Ulbha
- (Trans.: Me sitting here by myself
- I thought I'd tell a story,
- The happy days I had myself
- When I was young in Ulva)
The Rev. Donald MacKenzie (Dòmhnall MacCoinnich), father of the author of As It Was, was a noted Gaelic-language author in his own right. He was born in Lewis, and his ancestors were from Harris, but he spent a number of years in Ulva itself, from June 1918 onwards. He was formerly minister in Rothesay. Amongst his achievements was a large number of translations of the poems of Robert Burns. He was the last minister on the island.
John MacCormick (Scottish Gaelic: Iain MacCormaig; 1870–1947), the author of the first full length Scottish Gaelic novel, Dùn Aluinn (1912)  was an occasional visitor to the island. He wrote a number of short stories, non-fiction and a novella. He came from Mull, and was a distant relative of the politician of the same name and Neil MacCormick
English children's writer, Beatrix Potter (1866–1943) also visited Ulva from time to time. She was a relative of the Clark family, and The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912) is dedicated to F.W. Clark (III - grandson of the man who bought the island). The dedication says rather cryptically: "FOR FRANCIS WILLIAM OF ULVA — SOMEDAY!"  Curiously, although the main characters of the book are a fox (tod) and a badger (brock), neither species can be found on Ulva.
Infrastructure and economy
None of the island's roads are tarmacked or numbered, due to the low population, and there are no fewer than six fords on the length of the southern road. There is however a bridge to Gometra, which can also be reached dry-shod at low tide. Like certain other islands, e.g. Sark, there are no cars, but quad bikes and tractors are used.
A ferry sails from Ulva to the hamlet of Ulva Ferry on Mull, on request. Ulva Primary School is in fact on Mull at Ulva Ferry. There are ruined school buildings still to be seen at Glac na Gallan and Fearann Àrd-àirigh.
Ulva's main industry now is tourism. Other industries on the island include sheep and cattle farming, and fish farming (salmon at Soriby Bay). There is also a small sawmill. There is no hotel on the island, but there is a locked bothy at Cragaig which can be rented and camping is also possible. At Ardalum, there is a former shooting lodge, which is now a self-catering unit, and was also workers' accommodation for a while.
Many structures on Ulva are in ruins, such as the former water mill between Ormaig and Cragaig, and if not in ruins, they have been incorporated into other buildings, e.g. Bracadale Steadings, which includes bits of the old Ulva House which Boswell and Johnson stayed in.
In the early 19th century, an unflattering report stated: "No district was more deficient in the means of religious instruction than Ulva" and that "Divine service was little frequented in winter."
A small church was built at Ardalum between 1827 and 1828. It cost £1,500 and was designed by Thomas Telford. It was restored in 1921. the original church did not have a proper floor, and its floor boards were laid on top of the earth.
The Certificate of Complete of the Ulva Church and Manse is dated 14 March 1828, and it was conveyed by Charles MacQuarie. There was a budget of £1,500 pounds for the construction and the actual cost came to £1,495 14/1.
It is still used, partly as a community centre, and with a wing for worship. It is claimed that in 1847 (Statistical Account), everyone on the island attended services in it including one Roman Catholic and one atheist. Dr Johnson was probably speaking of the old church at Cille Mhic Eòghainn when he said: "Ulva was not neglected by the piety of ardent times: it has still to show what was once a church." Ulva Church is dedicated to St Eòghann of Ardstraw, possibly the same person.
The last resident minister, Rev. MacKenzie left in 1929.
"Sheila's Cottage" is a thatched but-and-ben, which was restored in the 1990s. It is named for Sheila MacFadyen (Sile NicPhaidein), who lived in the cottage between the turn of the 20th century and the early 1950s. Sheila was originally a milkmaid at Ulva House, but she spent her later years, after her son predeceased her, garnering a scanty living by gathering and selling winkles for sale locally. One room, the "but" was for livestock, and the other, the "ben" was her living space, where all activities took place.
The cottage contains a box bed, dresser, and a life size model of Sheila herself.
The Inn at Ulva was popular with visitors to Staffa. However, although it called itself a "temperance inn", its keeper was charged three times with breach of licence. It burnt down in 1880 - the buildings were thatched, and the guest book, which contained many famous signatures was destroyed with it. It reopened, but was finally closed in 1905.
There are several ruined kilns on the island for a number of different purposes. At Baligartan, there is the remains of a kiln for drying grain, and on the south shore, in a gully (GR173378), there is another, which was probably used in the island's old kelp industry.
It may be presumed that much of the island's folklore disappeared with the island's population. The story of "Allan-a-Sop", adapted by Scott would have formed part.
Bradley's Cave (G 439398) is named for an Irish itinerant who used to visit in the 19th century. Bradley, or O' Brolligan (as his name is sometimes recorded) was a retired sailor, who took to the roads as a pedlar, and when on Ulva, he was said to live in this cave. Though there is little evidence of his existence, during the 20th century, buttons and a coin dated 1873 were found in here.
Cairistiona's Rock near Ormaig has a more gruesome story attached to it. Cairistiona accused, probably falsely, her sister of stealing a large hunk of cheese, and tried to extract a confession from her, by lowering her off a cliff with a plaid tied round her neck. The plaid slipped, and ended up strangling her sister, which she had never intended to do. Wracked with remorse, she confessed to the accident, but this was not enough for the islanders, who decided to drown her, by throwing her in a sack and laying her on the rock, which still bears her name.
- Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
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- Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 102-05
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- The island's guidebook records this as "Charistiona's Rock" - however this is the name in the vocative case, and probably results from a botched translation attempt.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ulva, Scotland.|
- The Isle of Ulva "A world apart"
- Now who be ye, would cross Loch Gyle? (Ulva) John Hannavy visits Ulva, a tiny island off the west coast of Mull Published in Scotland Magazine Issue 31 on 16/02/2007
- Mullmagic.com Isle of Ulva
- Images of archaeological sites in Mull and Ulva, Clive Ruggles, University of Leicester.