Kildonnan at Eigg
Eigg is one of the small isles in the Scottish Inner Hebrids. Around 600 St. Donnán or Donan, a Gaelic priest, arrived from Ireland to introduce Christianity to the Picts of Northern Scotland. According to the martyriology of Oengus St. Donnan was a friend of St. Columba, whom he followed from Ireland to Scotland toward the end of the sixth century. But while Columba chose a socalled “white martyrdom” (i.e. life of exile from his kindred) St. Donnan went for a “Red Martydom” going up further North. Seeking a solitary retreat, he and his companions settled on the island of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, which used only to pasture sheep belonging to the queen of the country. Informed of the invasion, the queen ordered the monks to be slain. Her agents, probably a marauding band of Picts, or pirates according to one account, arrived during the celebration of Mass on Easter eve 617. Being requested to wait until after Mass. Then St. Donnan and his fifty-one companions gave themselves up to the sword. According to legend St. Donnan specifically asked to be the last of his flock.
Eventually a new monastery at Kildonnan was founded from Iona, which lasted several cnturies until the Vikings settled on Eigg. Probabaly the monastery was an important and wealthy institution as is suggested by the later mentioning in the Annals of Oan, a Princeps or superior of Eigg, who died in 725 and of Cumméne, another religious who was mentioned in 752. At this time the monastery is believed to have become a royal institution. Several fragments of early Christian Crosses have been recovered from the Kildonnan graveyard and are currently displayed at “The Lodge”
Last year Eigg History Society won £17.500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out an archaeological excavation of the graveyard in order to locate the first monastery from the 7th century. According to the History Society the archaeologists have succeeded in identifying the likely oval enclosure and ditch surrounding the first settlement. Emeritus professor John Hunter based at the University of Birmingham has led the excavation. According to the Scotsman the findings have surpassed all his expectations: Pictish pottery was found in the enclosure which together with the oval form helps to date the settlement to the 7th century.
The Isle of Eigg is owned by The Eigg Heritage Trust
Read about the excavation at the dedicated Eigg Excavation Blog
Current plans for archaeological excavations on Eigg and the other Small Islands