Arran: A History

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Arran is often called 'Scotland in Miniature' because of the way in which much of the diverse landscapes of the country are represented upon this small island: 20 miles north to south and 10 miles east to west. The island owes its origins to shifting tectonic plates: the Highland Boundary Fault divides it into rugged and often stunningly impressive mountain terrain in the north and lower lying lands to the south, much like Scotland itself.

Caressed by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, a mild climate is evident from the flourishing of palm trees, which overlook many of Arran's quiet beaches and sandy bays. Its landscapes play host to deer and pheasant, the air to eagles amongst over species of birds, and its waters to seals and otters.

Social History Archives | Isle of Arran Heritage Museum

Yet Arran is one of Scotland's most accessible islands: being one of the most southerly it is easily visited from nearby Glasgow. Isle of Arran Information. Scottish Accommodation Index. Welcome to Isle of Arran. Another reason to call Arran 'Scotland in Miniature' could be the way in which many of the important periods in Scottish history are reflected in the island's history.

Scotland's earliest people were 'island hopping' hunter gatherers who undoubtedly called on the island. As people gradually settled permanent structures were built as dwellings, fortifications and for worship.


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  • A Brief History of Arran.

One of Arran's finest examples of the skill of the island's earliest inhabitants are the Machrie Moor Standing Stones. These ancient tall red stones are arranged in a number of circles, but how exactly this site was used remains largely a mystery. When Irish nobles founded the kingdom of Dalriata, the kingdom of the Scotti tribe, on Scotland's west coast in the 5th century, one of the kingdom's major fortifications was on the site of today's Brodick Castle, on Arran's east coast.

However, by the late eighth century there was a new power in the region: the Vikings.

Arran Natural History Society

In the following centuries the Vikings, who came as raiders and later as settlers, would come into conflict with the locals and Scottish crown. Sliddery, on Arran's west coast, is said to derive its name from 'field of slaughter' in old Gaelic, as it was the site of a bloody battle in which a Viking war party was routed.

Nonetheless, Scandinavian influence on Arran can be seen in the abundance of Norse place names which survive to this day, including Brodick itself, Old Norse for 'broad bay'. By Arran had entered a long period of Viking domination and the blood of the Vikings must surely have mingled with that of the people of Arran. By Olaf the White controlled the Firth of Clyde and it is thought that the remains of the Viking ship burial at Kings Cross may have been from that period. As the years passed Arran seems to have changed hands, regularly and probably violently, between the Vikings, the Celts, the Stewarts and Somerled, Lord of the Isles and his descendants.

It was the Battle of Largs in that saw the beginning of the end of Viking domination, when the Scots under Alexander the 4th Steward of Scotland, defeated the Vikings under Haakon of Norway. This was in and in they were still feuding, and the Stewarts burnt Brodick Castle. In , the Earl of Lennox, an agent for Henry V of England, attacked Brodick Castle, and death and destruction visited the island once more.

The National Covenant, , brought more strife and, sadly, division within families. This said marquis could not have too thrilled to discover that his mother had raised troops for the Covenanters. Arran was not returned to the Hamiltons until , when the Lady Anne Hamilton, heiress to the 2nd Duke of Hamilton, married William Douglas, the Earl of Selkirk, and paid off the fines levied on her family for their part in the war.

Cromwell, worried by reports of Dutch vessels skulking around the Scottish coast, sent 80 soldiers to Arran. Arran is their resting-place as they were eventually all ambushed and killed by the Arran men for paying too much attention to the Arran women. What was possibly the first commercial ferryboat, with sails and four oars, plied the waters between Arran and Bute in , and failed because of lack of demand. A visitor in recorded that the air was temperately moist it still is!

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The Hamiltons, well established in Brodick Castle, now gained, by peaceful means, possession of the last Montgomery lands at Lochranza, including the castle, Catacol and Machrie. There were schools at Kilmory and Shiskine. The Kirk greatly influenced the behaviour of the islanders.

Breaking the Sabbath was frowned upon and transgressors were penalised by the Kirk Session. With the implementation of the Malt Duty, which discouraged brewing and therefore encouraged the drinking of spirits, smuggling proved profitable, and to the islanders the Revenue men became a new enemy. But still there was war. The Hamiltons were staunch Jacobite supporters and Brodick appears to have been a hotbed of Jacobite intrigue and Hector had previously visited Arran in order to raise troops for this cause. Hector, his descendants and namesakes feature largely in the genealogical history of Arran.

A weekly packet between Saltcoats and Arran was bringing health conscious visitors attracted by the goats milk offered at Cladach, Brodick. Huge changes were now set in motion on Arran with the arrival, in , of John Burrell, at the request of the tutors of James, 7th Duke of Hamilton. His Journal , which makes interesting reading, was reprinted in He did, however, spend money on mining work at the Cock of Arran and boring for coal at Lamlash. Tenants at Corriecravie and Tormore were relieved of the collective responsibility of debt and he also offered incentives i.

His plans were in preparation for the new land divisions planned for This made travel much easier and increased the use of wheeled vehicles as opposed to heavy wooden sledges.

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This frightening scenario probably prompted the religious revival lead by the Rev. Neil McBride. As leases expired the old runrig system began to disappear. Progress indeed. A steady trickle of islanders had been emigrating to North America over the years but it was the notorious clearances that caused the greatest exodus. Glenree had already experienced the replacement of people by sheep but it was in that the group which seems to have made the greatest impact when talking of Arran and the Clearances trudged from their homes in North Sannox, laden with everything from bibles to spinning wheels, to Lamlash, where the ships waited.

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Half their fares were paid for by the Duke of Hamilton; the men were given tobacco and the women tea. The ancestors of these people still visit Arran and their story in Canada and in Arran will never be forgotten. As the Arran immigrants arrived in Canada and began their new life, travel to Arran was becoming easier.

With each season more vessels ran to Arran. Passengers were ferried from ship to shore, probably with some upsets. It is impossible to believe that everyone had a dry landing!

Previously the southend had the greatest density but now there was a swing towards Brodick and Lamlash. A visitor to Brodick complained that it took fifteen enquiries to find accommodation and that the rents were enormous.