Jura (/ˈdʒʊərə/ JOOR-ə; Scottish Gaelic: Diùra [ˈtʲuːɾə]) is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, adjacent and to the north-east of Islay. Compared with its fertile and more populous neighbour, Jura is mountainous, bare and infertile, covered largely by vast areas of blanket bog, hence its small population. In a list of the islands of Scotland ranked by size, Jura comes eighth, whereas ranked by population it comes thirty-first. It is in the council area of Argyll and Bute.


Evidence of settlements on Jura dating from the Mesolithic period was first uncovered by the English archaeologist John Mercer in the 1960s. There is evidence of Neolithic settlement at Poll a’ Cheo in the southwest of the island. The modern name “Jura” dates from the Norse-Gael era and is from the Old Norse Dyrøy meaning “beast [wild animal] island”.

In the sixth century, it is believed that Jura may have been the location of Hinba, the island to which the Irish founder of the Christian Church in Scotland Saint Columba retreated for prayer and contemplation from the monastic community which he founded on Iona.

The Vikings

The Viking occupation of the Hebrides began in the ninth century, and was formalised when sovereignty was secured in 1098. From this point, Norse rule continued until 1266, when the Hebrides, together with Kintyre and the Isle of Man, were ceded to Scotland in the Treaty of Perth. A key figure during the Norse period was the warlord Somerled, whose descendants, for around 150 years from the mid-fourteenth century, styled themselves Lords of the Isles.

The Lords of the Isles

The Lordship of the Isles was dominated by Clan Donald, whose seat was at Finlaggan on Islay. The Lordship came to an end in 1493, but Clan Donald continued to rule the southern part of Jura, through the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg. The north of the island, however, was owned by this time by Clan Maclean, whose seat was at Aros Castle in Glengarrisdale. In 1647, this was to be the site of a notable battle between the Macleans and the Campbells of Craignish. For many years in the twentieth century, a human skull stood on a ledge in a nearby cave, and it was traditionally said to have been the remains of a Maclean who had been killed in this battle.[7] The skull is no longer there, but the latest editions of Ordnance Survey maps still mark the location as ‘Maclean’s Skull Cave’.

The Campbells

The demise of the Lords of the Isles at the end of the fifteenth century was shortly followed in 1506 by the Treaty of Camas an Staca, which removed MacDonald rights on Jura and gave them to the Campbells.[8] Despite this, the sixteenth century was a period of skirmishing between the warring clans: McDonalds, Campbells, MacLeans and others. Then in 1607 the Campbells finally bought the island from the MacDonalds. This was the beginning of some three hundred years during which the island was ruled and largely owned by eleven successive Campbell lairds. The north of the island, however, remained in MacLean hands until 1737, when it was sold to Donald MacNeil of Colonsay.


From the mid-eighteenth century, long before the notorious Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century, there were a number of waves of emigration from Jura. In 1767, fifty people left Jura for Canada, and from that point the population gradually shrank from over a thousand to its twentieth century level of just a few hundred. Mercer notes [9] that although relatively few forced clearances were recorded as taking place on Jura, the emigrations were far from voluntary, and were the result of factors such as hunger and spiralling rents.


With an area of 36,692 hectares, or 142 square miles (368 km2), and only 196 inhabitants recorded in the 2011 census, Jura is much less densely populated than neighbouring Islay and is one of the least densely populated islands of Scotland. Census records show that Jura’s population peaked at 1,312 in 1831, and that, in common with many areas of western Scotland, the island’s population declined steadily over the ensuing decades. However, there has been a small increase since 2001. During the same decade Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702. Alongside the long-term decline in Jura’s population has been a decline in the number of Gaelic speakers. The 1881 census reported that 86.6% (out of 946 inhabitants) spoke Gaelic. In 1961, for the first time less than half (46.9%) spoke the language and by 2001, this figure had dropped to 10.6%.

The main settlement is the village of Craighouse on the east coast. Craighouse is home to the Jura distillery, producing Isle of Jura single malt whisky. The village is also home to the island’s only hotel, shop and church.

Between the northern tip of Jura and the island of Scarba lies the Gulf of Corryvreckan where a whirlpool makes passage dangerous at certain states of the tide. The southern part of the island, from Loch Tarbert southwards, is one of 40 National Scenic Areas in Scotland.


The isle of Jura is composed largely of Dalradian quartzite, a hard metamorphic rock which provides the jagged surface of the Paps. Throughout the western half of the island the quartzite has been penetrated by a number of linear basalt dikes which were formed during a period of intense volcanic activity in the Lower Tertiary period, some 56 million years ago. These dikes are most apparent on the west coast where erosion of the less-resistant rock into which they are intruded has left them exposed as natural walls. The west coast is also home to a number of raised beaches, which are regarded as a geological feature of international importance.


The island has a large population of red deer and it is commonly believed that the name Jura is derived from hjÇ«rtr, the Old Norse word for deer. (In Old Norse dýr was a euphemism for hjÇ«rtr, as this was a sacred and tabooed word.) Through browsing, the deer prevent the vegetation on the island from turning back to woodland, which is the natural climax community; indeed an alternative explanation of the island’s name is that it derives from ‘the great quantity of yew trees which grew in the island’ in earlier times.

Jura is also noted for its bird life, and especially for its raptors, including buzzards, golden eagles, white-tailed eagles and hen harriers. Since 2010 Jura has been designated by Scottish Natural Heritage as a Special Protection Area for golden eagles. Like many other parts of the Hebrides and western Scotland, the shores of Jura are frequented by grey seals, and the elusive otter is also relatively common here, as is the adder, the UK’s only venomous snake.


This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Jura, Scotland, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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