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Spanglefish Gold Status Expired 05/04/2012.

About Canna

Canna is the western most of the group known as the Small Isles. The other islands are Rum, Eigg and Muck. We are situated between Skye and the Western Isles. Approximately five miles long and a mile wide, the school is actually  on the low-lying little

island of Sanday, separated from Canna by a narrow tidal channel.  You can get to Canna by ferry from Mallaig.



History of Canna

Canna has probably been inhabited for at least 5000 years but its earliest historical association is with Saint Columba (ca. 521-597 AD), patron saint of the island after whom the Roman Catholic church is named.  There are traces of two early Christian sites on the island, at Keill (where the cross dates from the eighth- or ninth-century) and Sgorr nam Bàn Naomh, know locally as "The Nunnery".  Canna remained technically the property of the Abbey of Iona until 1627.


Like the rest of the Hebrides, Canna was affected by Norse settlement from (probably) the ninth century. This left its traces in place-names like Sanday and Tarbert and also the site traditionally known as 'Uamh Rìgh Lochlainn', the King of Norway's grave (though there is no archaeological evidence that this is actually a burial).


As Norse rule ended and the Lordship of the Isles emerged (C12th-C14th) Canna became part of the territory of Clanranald, a branch of the ruling MacDonald dynasty.  Later the Chiefs were among the staunchest supporters of the Stuart side during the Civil Wars, and embroiled their people along with them. They were prominent in Montrose's victories at Inverlochy and Kilsyth in 1645; a century later Canna men certainly enlisted with Bonnie Prince Charlie, whilst the island itself was subjected to reprisals by government troops.


The failure of the rising brought changed times and by the early nineteenth century the Clanranalds, deeply in debt, had been forced to sell most of their lands including Canna. The island suddenly had to be made to pay, at a time when its population had peaked at over 400. The result was a series of clearances, with most of the population initially moved to poorer land on Sanday. Their plight was exacerbated by crop failures and the decline of the kelp industry; they were unable to support themselves, and a process of depopulation began which continued throughout the twentieth century.


In 1880 the island was purchased by Robert Thom, a Glasgow industrialist. The Thom family used the island as a summer retreat but they also carried out some modernisation work including the construction of the first pier in 1892. They also built Tighard (now a guest house) and gave permission to the Marquis of Bute to build St Edwards RC church on Sanday. For a while Canna then became a herring-curing station; later, because of its central position in the Minch, it was an important haven for the ring-net fleets. The arrival of the railway to Mallaig marked the decline of Canna as a herring-curing station, but it is still an occasional stopping-off point for fishing boats in the area.


From 1938 to 1981 Canna was the property of noted Gaelic folklorists John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw Campbell. In 1981 they transferred ownership to the National Trust for Scotland.  Dr.Campbell died in 1994.  Mrs Campbell lived on the island until her death on 11th December 2004 at the age of 101.  She lived at Canna House, where there is a substantial archive of traditional Gaelic material gathered in the Hebrides.


Today the main island is operated by the Trust as a single livestock farm, with conservation in mind and particularly the encouragement of rare species like corncrakes and sea eagles. Sanday is crofted by some of the inhabitants. The population of the island currently stands at 21.

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