Hellisay (Scottish Gaelic: Theiliseigh) is a currently uninhabited island It is one of ten islands in the Sound of Barra, a Site of Community Importance for conservation in the southern Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The narrow Sound of Gighay lies between Hellisay and its neighbouring island.

Scottish Gaelic nameTheiliseigh
Meaning of nameOld Norse: island of the caves
The Sound of Gighay looking northwest from Càrais on Hellisay
The Sound of Gighay looking northwest from Càrais on Hellisay
Hellisay is located in Outer Hebrides
Hellisay shown within the Outer Hebrides
OS grid referenceNF756040
Coordinates57°01′N 7°21′W / 57.01°N 7.35°W / 57.01; -7.35
Physical geography
Island groupUists and Barra
Area142 hectares (0.55 sq mi)
Area rank127= [1]
Highest elevationMeall Meadhonach 79 metres (259 ft)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaNa h-Eileanan Siar

Geography and geologyEdit

Bàgh Hintis looking west

Hellisay is one of ten islands in the Sound of Barra, a Site of Community Importance for conservation in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. of a string of islands in the Sound of Barra, Hellisay lies close to its neighbour Gighay, with a narrow channel, the Sound of Gighay, between.

The bedrock is mainly gneiss with quartz veins.[3]

There are several peaks on the island including Beinn a' Chàrnain in the west (mountain of the small cairn; 73 metres (240 ft)), Meall Meadhonach (middle rounded hill; 79 metres (259 ft)) and Meall Mòr (east of Meall Meadhonach and south of the peninsula of Càrais; 76 metres (249 ft)).


Along with a variety of seabirds, raptors including falcons and golden eagles have been seen on Hellisay.[3] The island has a profusion of sea thrift[3] and the Sound of Gighay has been described as a "quiet secret place of wild irises and marshmallows".[5]


The island's name is Old Norse in origin. It possibly means "island of the caves", which appears to be confirmed by the name Rubha na h-Uamh (headland of the cave) in the east of the island. However, Blaeu's map has "Hildesay", which suggests that the name may derive from the Norse for "Hilda's Island".[3]

Hellisay from Gighay

The island's settlement was at Buaile Mhòr (anglicised to Bualavore and meaning "the big fold") near Eilean a' Ghamhna in the north west of the island. The remains of a sheep pen and a well can still be seen.

Like so many other islands in the region, Hellisay was badly affected by the Highland Clearances. Firstly, refugees from clearances in neighbouring islands swelled the population, and latterly the island's inhabitants themselves were evicted, and many went to live on Eriskay. The population peaked at 108 in 1841, and the island was cleared in the 1840s - however it continued to have some inhabitants up until 1890.[3]

Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's stories reveal a rich folklore and mythology extant on the island, possibly only a fraction of which has been preserved.[3]

In MediaEdit

Franciscan priest, specialist in mystical theology and author Rayner Torrington wrote a book describing how he was influenced by meeting a hermit called Peter Calvay who lived on Hellisay for a number of years in the first half of the twentieth century. [6] The book titled ‘Peter Calvay, hermit: A personal rediscovery of prayer’ was first published in 1977 and has had at least eleven reprintings. Torkington’s book ‘Wisdom from the Western Isles: the making of a mystic’, published in 2008, also describes the author’s meetings with Peter Calvay whilst the author was staying on the nearby island of Barra. [7]

See alsoEdit


  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland's Inhabited Islands" (PDF). Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland Release 1C (Part Two) (PDF) (Report). SG/2013/126. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 226-28
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey. OS Maps Online (Map). 1:25,000. Leisure.
  5. ^ "Best of Scotland's islands". (9 August 2013) Highland News. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  6. ^ Rayner Torkington (1991). Peter Calvay, Hermit: A Personal Rediscovery of Prayer. Mercier. ISBN 978-0-85342-969-2.
  7. ^ David Torkington (30 January 2015). Wisdom from the Western Isles: The Making of a Mystic. John Hunt Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78535-017-7.

Coordinates: 57°01′N 7°21′W / 57.017°N 7.350°W / 57.017; -7.350