If you saw Monty Halls visiting the Monach Isles on television recently and thought
you’d quite fancy going there yourself, you’re in luck as the Islands Book Trust
is organising a trip to the islands on Saturday 12th June.
The Monachs, or Heisker as they are known locally, is a group of six islands, the
three largest of which are linked at low tide. Of the six, Ceann Ear, Ceann Iar,
Shivinish, Deasker, Stocaigh and Shillay, the latter is probably the most well known,
as it is home to the famous lighthouse built in 1864 by the Stevensons.
The lighthouse was manned until 1942, and in 1947 a rumour that the light was going
to be brought back into service was not met with universal enthusiasm, as this extract
from a letter shows: ‘As a lightkeeper’s wife who suffered there for 33 years, I
sincerely hope it will never be reopened.’ The lighthouse was permanently decommissioned
in 1948 and in 1997 a new automatic light was built.
The islands were populated from about 1000AD until 1942. There are remains of a
nunnery on Ceann Ear and a monastery on Shillay. Interestingly, the monks kept a
light for the benefit of passing shipping. In 1810 there was a mass exodus, due
to a storm which destroyed the over grazed land and covered the village with sand.
However, by 1841 people had returned and in 1891 there was a population high of 135.
In common with many other islands, the numbers declined throughout the twentieth
century, and the census of 1951 shows that the islands were no longer inhabited.
The main village on Ceann Ear is now ruined but there is a school house which has
been restored and houses an exhibition about the history of the islands.
The unfortunate Lady Grange was held prisoner on Heisker for two years in 1732-34
before she was sent off to St Kilda, but things are not so dramatic nowadays. The
islands are a National Nature Reserve and are famous for their grey seal colony which
is one of the largest in the world, with about 10,000 animals a year coming ashore
If you would like to join the Islands book Trust trip on 12 June, please phone 01851
820946 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Prior booking is essential.