The island of Gigha (pronounced Ghee-a) is six miles long, hardly
two wide, and has a population of about 150, mostly farmers and
fishermen. It is 120 miles by road from Glasgow plus, weather
permitting, a twenty minute ferry ride across from the coast of
Kintyre. The island's east coast has several quiet white sandy bays
but the western shore is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic
Ocean. On a clear day it is reputedly possible to see Ireland from
the top of the highest hill.
Most visitors to the island come to see the gardens of Achamore House, amongst the finest in Scotland. The creation of a former laird, Sir Thomas Horlick (of bedtime drink fame), these fifty acres contain splendid banks of rhododendrons and many other rare exotic plants. It is said the site was chosen because of the mildness of the climate, affected as it is by the Gulf Stream. The best time of year to experience the blossoms is from March to June.
Gigha has many ancient ruins and carved stones. Of particular interest is one of only two standing stones in all the Hebrides that bears an inscription in the ancient Ogham script which dates back to the early Scottish kingdom of Dalraida.
The regular ferry service from Tayinloan on the mainland arrives at the main village of Ardminish. Here is the island's only shop which doubles as the post office. The store is stocked with everything from bananas to televisions and since 1965 it has been operated by Seamus McSporran. Seaumus is also the postman, fireman and petrol pump attendant. He drives the taxi which also serves as the school bus, the ambulance and the hearse. In fact Seamus has fourteen jobs on the island. His duties include piermaster, rent collector, registrar of births, marriages and deaths, and he also hires bicycles to tourists. He sells life insurance and is also the undertaker! He and his wife Margaret also run a bed and breakfast establishment. It is said no man is an island but Seamus comes close!
Gigha is an unhurried and peaceful place, little changed by the passing centuries, yet recently it has been much in the news and has even been the subject of a television documentary. The island is actually one of the largest in the UK to be privately owned. The laird, a property tycoon who bought the island in 1989, went bankrupt as many did in the following recession, and the entire island was repossessed by a Swiss bank. The only hotel was closed and the future of the islanders and their homes was put in doubt. Gigha is now up for sale. Let us hope the new owner appreciates this special place and the islanders can continue to live undisturbed as they once did.
Since this article was written, Gigha has a new owner and the hotel is open for visitors again. In 1989 Seamus was awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to the island. And in April 2000 he was featured in the national press when he announced his intention to retire from his remaining jobs. We wish him well in his rather more relaxed new lifestyle. There is an interview with Seamus by an Australian reporter on our links page.
LATEST. October 2001. Ill health has prompted the island's Laird, a retiring businessman, to sell the island and the residents have united to gather the four million pounds necessary to secure it for themselves. There is a BBC article about the sale on our links page here
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