IONA: An island of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, separated from the Ross of Mull by Iona Sound. It forms a part of Argyllshire, and lies from 35 to 40 miles to the westward of Oban, from which it is reached by steamer. The name should be Ioua, the form with n having arisen from a mistaken reading of u. In Irish it occurs as I-Columcille, "the Island of Columba." The popular name at present is Eecholuim-cille. The island is about three and a half miles long from northeast to southwest, and from a mile to a mile and a half in breadth. It is rocky and sandy, with boggy hollows between the hills, the highest of which rises to 330 feet. Its area is estimated at from 1,600 to 2,000 acres, less than half of it arable, and not more than a third actually under cultivation. The pastures on the sides of the knolls and ravines support a few hundred sheep and a smaller number of cattle. The population in 1901 was 213, engaged in agriculture and fishing.
Iona owes its fame to its association with Columba and the monastery founded there by him in 563. The Irish annals state that the island was given to him by his kinsman, Conall, king of the Dalriad Scots. Bede, however, says he received it from the Picts as a result of his successful missionary labor among them. Bedes statement is the more probable, but possibly both accounts are true, as Iona was debatable ground between the Scots and the Picts. For Columbas work there and the earlier history of the monastery, see the articles COLUMBA; CELTIC CHURCH IN BRITAIN AND IRELAND; ADAMNAN. The island was repeatedly ravaged by the Danes during the ninth and tenth centuries; on one of these occasions (806) sixty-eight monks suffered martyrdom. The ruined buildings were restored again and again with remarkable pertinacity. Between 814 and 831 the monastery was rebuilt with stone and a shrine was erected to St. Columba. In 878 the shrine and relics were taken to Ireland. Queen Margaret rebuilt the monastery between 1059 and 1093. A Benedictine abbey and nunnery were established in the island in 1203. The remains still existing date mostly from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, although the chapel of St. Oran (Odhrain) may be of the time of Queen Margaret. It is of red granite, and has as its western doorway a Norman arch with beak-headed ornament, and stands in the Reilig Odhrain, the ancient burial-place of the monastery, said also to have been the burial-place of the Scottish and Pictish kings till the time of Malcolm III. (d. 1093), as well as of certain English, Irish, and Norwegian kings. North of this cemetery are the remains of the thirteenth-century Benedictine abbey. In connection with the cloisters is a Norman arcade of somewhat older date. The Church of St. Mary, commonly called the Cathedral, dates probably from the thirteenth century. It is built of red granite, in cruciform shape, with nave, transept, and choir, and has a central tower seventy-five feet in height.