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Quick facts | Did you know? | Local heroes | Well-known landmarks | Local specialities | Best time to visit | What's on | Learn Online

Quick facts

Argyll and Bute – Earra-Ghàidheal agus Bòd


The region of Argyll and Bute has a population of approximately 90,000.

Twin Towns

Oban is the main town in Argyll and Bute. It is twinned with Laurinburg, North Carolina, in the USA, and Gorey, County Wexford, in Ireland.

Gaelic place names near Argyll and Bute

Argyll is where the people from Ireland, who became known as the Gaels, originally lived in Scotland. This means that, despite heavy Norse influence, the overwhelming majority of place names come from Gaelic.

The name Argyll comes from the old Gaelic word ‘Earraghail’, meaning ‘coastline of the Gaels’; Oban is called ‘an t-Òban’ in Gaelic, meaning little bay; Iona is called ‘Ì Chaluim Chille’, which means ‘St Columba’s Island’.

The Paps of Jura are three dominating hills on the island of Jura. They are called Beinn an Oir, Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn a’ Chaolais. These names mean ‘Mountain of Gold’, ‘Holy Mountain’ and ‘Mountain of the Kyle’ respectively.

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Did you know?

Including the islands, there are more than 3,000 miles of coastline in the region of Argyll and Bute, which is approximately the same as the whole of France!

Dunadd, which is in Argyll, was once the capital of Scotland. It was abandoned as the centre of the Scots’ kingdom due to increasing pressure from Viking raids.

The population of Oban is 12,000, but in the summer months tourists can more then double the number of people in the town.

The island of Jura has around 180 people living on it. They are far out numbered by the 6,000 deer that also live on the island.

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Local heroes

Rob Roy MacGregor

Robert Roy MacGregor is more commonly known as Rob Roy. He was born in Glengyle, at the head of Loch Katrine, in 1671, and was baptised on the 7th of March. His father was clan chief, and as such Rob Roy was well-educated, being able to read and write in both his native Gaelic and in English. He was also taught swordsmanship and war tactics.

He was a successful cattleman, hiring out his services to protect cattle from raiders. As Rob himself was often the one raiding cattle, his protection was particularly effective. This meant that his reputation grew, and he was hired by noblemen as well.

He would make money buying cattle and selling them for profit in England. He once borrowed £1,000 for a venture, from James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose. This money was stolen by his chief herdsman. Unable to pay the money back, he was branded an outlaw.

He went to the Highlands, rather than face imprisonment. He continued to evade capture, and during his time gained a reputation for helping the poor, and was seen as somewhat of a ‘Robin Hood’ character.

He continued to raid the lands of Montrose, and was eventually captured. However, he escaped on the way to Stirling. The Duke of Atholl then tricked Rob, breaking a promise of safety, and Rob was once again captured. However, while in Dundee he bribed the guards and escaped once again.

The latter years of his life were considerably more peaceful, and he died on December 28, 1734. He was made famous in his own lifetime by a fictionalised account of his life written by Daniel Defoe. More recently, his story has been told in the 1995 film ‘Rob Roy’.

James MacPherson

James MacPherson, born in Ruthven in October 1736, is now regarded as one of the most famous literary hoaxers of all time. He published a book in 1760 (Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland) based on poems he claimed to be able to recite from memory and on manuscripts that he said had been collected in the Highlands and Islands.

In 1761, after a tour of the islands researching and collecting lore, he claimed to have uncovered an epic poem composed by Ossian, about Ossian’s father Fingal, a legendary mythological warrior (Fionn Mac Cumhaill). The material was published with a very snappy title: Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language.

Further books appeared in 1763 (Temora) and 1765 (The Works of Ossian), but there were plenty of people who challenged their authenticity, including the famous English writer Dr Samuel Johnson.

MacPherson died in 1796, and the sources of his material will probably never be confirmed, but he is now being regarded with more affection as a writer. Translations of his work were beloved by figures as famous as Napoleon.

St. Columba

St Columba was born on the 7th of December, 521 in Donegal, Ireland. He is said to have been descended from Royalty on both sides of his family, and received a religious education from a priest.

Columba later founded monasteries at Derry, Durrow and Kells. Columba fell out of favour with King Diarmit, after the king had one of Columba’s family members killed. The king also forbade Columba from keeping a copy of a Psalter he had. It is said that Columba then raised an army, and defeated the King in battle. He felt so guilty that he decided to convert someone for every man killed in the battle.

With twelve companions, he sailed across the sea to Iona. It was there that he established a monastery; the only centre of learning in the area.

He journeyed all over Scotland, converting people to the Christian faith and building monasteries. He travelled to Inverness and converted King Bridei of the Picts. He also travelled as far east as Aberdeenshire, and south as far as Glasgow.

By this time, Iona had become a destination for pilgrims, and a major centre for learning. The importance of the area is highlighted by the fact that 48 Scottish kings are buried on the island. Columban monks continued to spread the word of Christianity among the Picts long after his death.

The Tartan Pimpernel

The Rev Donald Caskie was born on the Isle of Islay in 1902. Following his study in Arts and Divinity at Edinburgh University, he was appointed to Gretna, before becoming the minister for the ‘Scots Kirk’ in Paris. The church is the only congregation of the Church of Scotland in France.

When France was invaded in 1940, he denounced the evils of Nazism from the pulpit, and had to escape Paris. Despite being advised to return to Scotland, he headed south to Marseille, on the French coast.

There he set up a refuge for stranded Britons, and would send telegrams to the offices of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, to inform them of the number of people who had escaped. With help from Lt-Cmdr Pat O'Leary RN, local clergyman Pastor Heuzy, the American consular and several others, he was able to help people escape France, usually through Spain.

He came under suspicion from the German authorities, and many people, including Pastor Heuzy, were executed. Caskie himself was only given a suspended prison sentence and received orders to leave Marseille; his ability to speak Gaelic allowing him to confuse his interrogators.

He then travelled to Grenoble, acting as a chaplain for captured British soldiers. All British-born civilians were to be interned in Germany. He took a risk, and managed to persuade the Italian camp commandant to allow the civilians to be liberated. For this, he was arrested and sentenced to death.

He asked to see a pastor while awaiting the firing squad. The pastor, Hans Helmut Peters, then went to Berlin to appeal on Caskie’s behalf. Instead of being executed, he spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp.

After the war, he returned to the Scots Kirk. It had fallen into disrepair, and to help pay to have it fixed, he published his autobiography, ‘The Tartan Pimpernel’. It is thought that during the war, he helped 2,000 allied sailors, soldiers and airmen.

He returned to Scotland in 1961, retired around ten years later, and died in 1983. He is buried at Bowmore, on the Isle of Islay.

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Well-known landmarks

Kilmartin Glen

The Kilmartin Glen is found near the town of Kilmartin, in Argyll. It is home to over 350 ancient monuments within a six mile radius of the town, with 150 of those being prehistoric. It really is an area of incredible historical interest and importance.

There are standing stones, a henge monument, many cists and much more! One chambered cairn, which is thought to be around 5000 years old, could have been as much as 40 metres in diameter and four metres tall.

The ‘Temple Wood’ is an ancient site in the Kilmartin Glen. It consists of stone circles, with stones as tall as 4 metres, and a burial cist at its centre. ‘Ballmeanoch’ is another site. It, too, features a circle of standing stones, with a burial cist at its centre, but also has avenues of standing stones.

The whole Glen is full of incredible sites of history, and is well worth a visit.

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage castle is 3 miles north-east of Oban, and is partially ruined. It was built in the 13th century, and as such is one of the oldest castles in Scotland. It was built by the MacDougalls, and has been held by the Campbells since the 15th century.

It is said that the ‘Stone of Destiny’ was held here, after it was brought from Ireland. Many people do not believe this, thinking Iona and Dunadd are both more likely, given their importance at the time.

The castle is surrounded by a great wall, which is 16 metres high and 3 metres thick in places. There are towers at three of its four corners. There was a chapel very close to the castle, although it, too, is now in ruins.

McCaig’s Tower

Also known as McCaig’s folly, McCaig’s Tower is the most eye-catching structure in Oban, and could well remind you of the Colosseum in Rome. This would not be all together surprising though, as the design was inspired by the Colosseum.

The folly was erected by wealthy financier John Stuart McCaig between 1895 and 1902, when he died. He ordered the building to provide work for the local stonemasons during the winter months, and also as a lasting monument to his family.

He had planned to have a tower added to the centre of the building, with plans for an art gallery and museum as well. However, construction halted when he died, leaving only the outer walls complete. Money was left in his will to complete the construction, but his family did not want this to happen, and successfully contested it.

The building is used today to house a public garden within its walls.

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Local specialities


The Isle of Islay is famous for whisky, and is home to eight separate distilleries. The distilleries along the southern edge of the island, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, have a particularly strong peaty taste. Caol Ila, at the north-east of the island, also produces a peaty whisky. The other distilleries tend to produce whiskies in a variety of styles.


One of the biggest tourist attractions on Islay is bird watching. The main attraction is a migrating colony of barnacle geese, which are to be found on the island around February. There are also a number of other birds to be seen, including the chough, hen harrier, Eurasian oystercatcher and the great cormorant.

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Best time to visit

The summer months offer the best weather, but also attract the largest number of people to the area. If you’re looking for a quiet time away, the winter may be a better time to go.

The weather on Islay is usually much better then the rest of Scotland, being more influenced by the Gulf Stream. Good weather can be expected from spring right through to autumn. Things are a bit more windy in winter, with flights and ferries often being postponed. Having said that, February is a great time for bird watchers, with a migrating colony of barnacle geese visiting the island.

If you prefer more musical pursuits, come over to Islay in September for the Jazz Festival.

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What's on

What's on


Here is a pick of upcoming events that our characters would like to recommend for the month ahead!


Permaculture Design Course

17/11/07 – 18/11/07 - Kilmartin House Museum


Views, Visions, Voices

1/11/07 – 30/11/07 - Kilmartin House Museum

Arainn Shuaineirt Book Festival

23/11/07 – 24/11/07 - Ardnamurchan High School, Strontian


Only the Men

11/11/07 - Aros Hall, Tobermory, Isle of Mull


National Tree Week: Tree Planting Workshops

21/11/07 – 02/12/07 - Auchendrain Museum, Inverary


Christmas Craft Exhibition

01/11/07 – 30/11/07 - Gallimaufry Gallery, Blairmore, By Dunoon

For further information about Highland 2007 including events and external links please visit

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Learn Online

Learn Online

Learn Gaelic at BBC Alba

The BBC offers an array of online learning tools for the Gaelic beginner. They have their “Beag air Bheag” online course, they have Colin and Cumberland games and they also have an online version of “Litir Bheag” from Radio nan Gàidheal.


learndirect Scotland

learndirect scotland has a range of interesting online courses. These include, among others, a series of online basic Gaelic and Scottish History and Geography Courses:

Gaelic (Gàidhlig):

1. Gaelic for Arts and Festivals

2. Gaelic for Food Services

3. Gaelic for Managers

4. Gaelic for Marketing

5. Gaelic for Outdoor Workers

6. Gaelic for Parents

7. Gaelic for Receptionists

8. Gaelic for Retail Workers

9. Gaelic for TIC Workers

10. Gaelic for Travel Workers

11. Scottish History and Geography

Contact: 0808 100 9000


Learn in the Community

Comhairle nan Sgoiltean Àraich (CNSA)

CNSA run a series of “Gàidhlig san Dachaigh” (Gaelic in the Home) courses throughout the Isle of Skye. The classes are total immersion classes whereby the tutor only converses in Gaelic. There are classes throughout the Highlands in Inverness and Skye areas and also in Argyll.

Contact: CNSA Main Office

Tel: 01463 225 469

Clì Gàidhlig

Clì Gàidhlig run various Gaelic classes in communities throughout Scotland. They run various courses for learners of the language including conversation classes and grammar classes. They have also begun a series of Gaelic Awareness classes.

Contact: DJ MacIntyre

Tel: 01463 226710



Learn Full-Time

Cùrsa Comais – Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

The Cùrsa Comais or Immersion Course is a full-time residential course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic college. It is aimed at those wishing to obtain fluency in the language and can contribute to the first year of a degree course.

Contact: 01471 888 000



Cùrsa Comais is Cùrsaichean Ceum – Lews Castle College

This course is designed for Gaelic learners who are not yet fluent. You will develop your language skills and learn about the history of the Highlands and Islands. This course can also contribute as the first year of the degree program.

Contact: 01851 770459



Learn Part-Time

Short Courses – Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

The Gaelic college on Skye also offers weekly residential courses for beginners and intermediate beginners. A full timetable of courses usually runs during the Easter holidays and also throughout the summer months.

Contact: 01471 888 000



Short Courses – Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle

The Gaelic centre on Islay offers a short course programme. These courses are for all levels of learners.

Contact: 01496 810 818


Cùrsa Inntrigidh - Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

The Cùrsa Inntrigidh is a distance-learning course based at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. The course is about gaining the confidence to use your Gaelic practically, with priority given to speaking and listening skills. It takes advantage of new technology to reach those people who are too far away or whose schedule makes it impractical to attend existing courses. Workbooks and accompanying CDs allow students to work at any time of day or night that suits them. Weekly conversation classes through teleconferencing offer the opportunity to chat to tutors and practice with others on the course. Weekend schools held at the College offer the opportunity to consolidate and put into practice what has been learned, as well as the chance to get to know students and tutors in a convivial Gaelic atmosphere.

Contact: 01471 888 000



Learn Gaelic Abroad

Comunn Gàidhlig Astràilia

Comunn Gàidhlig Astràilia Comunn Gàidhlig Astràilia (The Scottish Gaelic Association of Australia) is a non-profit organisation which supports the language and culture of Scottish Gaels in Australia, and is the primary source of information regarding Gaelic classes and workshops in Australia and New Zealand.



An Comunn Gàidhealach America

An Comunn Gàidhealach America (The Gaelic Society of America) strives to promote and preserve the Gaelic language and culture by supporting Gaelic language study and interest in Gaelic literature, song, music, art and history in North America and the world.



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