New book tells story of Inchmarnock

IT'S less than two miles long, and never much more than a third of a mile wide, and if you asked most people to name the islands in the Firth of Clyde the chances are it'd never get a mention.

But Inchmarnock, off Bute's west coast, is a fascinating place for anyone with an interest in the archaeology or ecclesiastical history of this part of Scotland. And the painstaking effort involved in a seven-year research project on the island have now borne fruit with the publication of a major new academic work going into meticulous detail on the history of the small but significant island.

The book, Inchmarnock: An Early Historic Island Monastery and its Archaeological Landscape, written by Dr Christopher Lowe and with a host of specialist contributions, was launched at the University of the West of Scotland and reports the results of surveys and excavations at several different sites throughout the island.

A great deal of the book concentrates on the findings of surveys at the site of an old church, St Marnock's Church, located about half way down the island's eastern side and directly facing the west coast of Bute between St Ninian's Bay and Ardscalpsie.

Some of the finds from the church site date as far back as AD 600 and include a range of early historic, medieval and post-medieval artefacts as well as human remains from a neighbouring cemetery.

And while much of the book is clearly aimed at an academic audience, its findings still paint a remarkable picture of life on an island which, for many on Bute, has always been a truly 'unexplored isle'.

The study was led by Edinburgh firm Headland Archaeology, who were commissioned in 1999 by Sir Robert Smith - now Lord Smith of Kelvin - who bought Inchmarnock in March 1999 and who reached an agreement just two months later for a seven-year investigation into the island, covering pre-history, early Christian, medieval and modern times.

Lord Smith, writing in the book's foreword, said: "The discoveries have exceeded all my expectations, as has the quality of this scholarly work.

"I have learned a very great deal about the history of Inchmarnock, and grown to love it and respect it and its former inhabitants even more, if that is possible.

"The work Headland has done will be useful to historians and archaeologists throughout Scotland, and indeed the UK and Europe."

One of the people also involved in the project's fieldwork was Jessica Herriot, formerly Jessica Middleton, who was one of the last people to live on Inchmarnock, and who shared her knowledge of the island with the Headland team throughout their work.

Jessica, who left the island in 1984, told us: "We had a fantastic life on Inchmarnock, it was a great childhood for me. I used to communicate with friends on Bute and elsewhere by CB radio.

"I was educated at home by correspondence courses and didn't leave until I was about 20 when I left to work down south although the rest of the family remained for another couple of years and were working Kilmichael Farm on Bute at the same time.

"I was very sad to leave and would go back at the drop of a hat - I do

visit occasionally and suffer pangs.

"I have appreciated working with Headland Archaeology and have enjoyed passing on my knowledge of historical sites on the island.

"I have also been able to incorporate historical aspects of the island into my own art work."

See also:

Inchmarnock's page on Wikipedia

Headland Archaeology official site

Lord Smith of Kelvin - Wikipedia entry

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