Tiree Summary



Principal Sources


Monro, Acts of the Lords of the Isles pp 5-7 (1354 Indenture) & p 17

ER XIII pp 216-7 (a rental) of 1509

ER XVII pp 614-5 (an assessment) & pp 647-8 (an assessment + a rental) of 1541

RMS I App II 653, 859

RMS II (2201) 1493-4, (2264) 1495, (2329) 1496, (3440) 1510

RMS III (699) 1528, (2065) 1539-40

RMS V (1491) 1587-8, (1997) 1591

RMS VII (663) 1612, (1386) 1616, (1628) 1617

RMS VIII (815) 1625, (1610) 1630,

RMS IX (828) 1638, (1068) 1642

RSS I (3559) 1526

RSS vol 57 f59 or CRA pp161-179, 1587-8

AS I (585) 1674

AS II (235, 236) 1628, (690) 1642

Argyll Retours (7) 1603, (56) 1635, (67) 1662, (93) 1695

N. Campbell ‘An old Tiree Rental of 1662’ in SHR (1911-1912)

HP I  p 252 ff, 1672

HP I  p 288 ff, 1674 Rental

Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections Vol II pp 217-9

Skene Celtic Scotland Vol III p 437

Argyll Valuation Roll  (1751)

Argyll & Bute Archives, FH 233, Tiree Rental 1663


RHP 6795 Map of c. 1680

RHP 8862/2 Map & Description of Tiree by J Turnbull, 1768-9

RHP 13174 Sketch of Cornaig


N.M. Brownlie, Townships and echoes from Tiree, Glendaruel, 1995

E. Cregeen (ed) Argyll Estate Instructions, SHS, 1964

A Johnston, ‘Norse settlement patterns in Coll & Tiree’ in B Crawford (ed), Scandinavian Settlement in Northern Britain, Leicester, 1995.

Sir William Purves, Revenue of the Scottish Crown, London, 1897

R Cochrane, Report of the Excursion of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, Dublin, 1900. (= Cambrian Scotch Excursion).



Tiree was the most fertile isle in the Hebrides and had the highest assessment in relation to its size. Its land-assessment system is explained by a rental of 1662 which states that ‘A Tirung is a 6 merkland and is divydit into 48 malies or 20d. The extent of Tirie is 20 tirungs or 120 merkland and 5 shillings more’. Our earliest sources are the assessments and rentals in the Exchequer Rolls for 1509 and 1541. The total in 1509 was 130¾m or about 22 tirungs. The total in 1541 was 147¼m which is almost 25 tirungs. Towards the end of the same century Skene’s source (Celtic Scotland Vol III p 437) says of Tiree. “It is 140 merk land …. It was callit in all tymes McConnells girnell” (ie Macdonald’s granary). Purves (p 182) gives a rental of the Isles dating to about 1500 where Tiree is also given as 140m. At 6m per tirung this would make 23⅓ tirungs. I find 150¼m which is just over 25 tirungs(150m). I think therefore that the valuation of Tiree was 25 tirungs or ouncelands.


The 1662 rental also sets out another system of reckoning in terms of ‘malies’ or mail-lands. In the Hebrides these are only found on the neighbouring islands of Coll and Tiree. In 1587-8 the Reddendo for 6m (1 tirung) of Kirkapoll was 48 ‘malleas farine avenatice’ (oatmeal) or 3s 4d per ‘mallia’ (CRA p 171). The editor identifies this (p 173) with the ‘male, a measure of grain of Scandinavian origin, formerly much used in Orkney’. Certainly the name of the measure chimes with the land-assessment unit as do the amounts to be rendered. 48 ‘malleas’ from 48 mail-lands is what we might expect to have been the original assessment. (In Scottish terms though the rent now worked out at 2m per merkland – 48 x 3s 4d = 12m).


(It is worth drawing a parallel between Tiree, where 48 mail-lands made a tirung, and mainland Inverness-shire, where 48 bolls made a davach).


In 1751 the Argyll Valuation Roll gives 992 mail-lands in Tiree. At 48 mail-lands per tirung this makes almost 21 tirungs.  In Argyll Estate Instructions is a map with figures for mail-lands drawn from Turnbull’s report of 1768-9. The total for Tiree is 986 mail-lands. On pp 35-9 of the same volume are figures for 1794 which also total 986 mail-lands. Smith, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Argyll, 1798, p 318, claims that Tiree had 1006 mail-lands. (1008 would be 21 ouncelands).


The presence of mail-lands in Tiree and Coll but their absence elsewhere in the Hebrides, calls for some explanation. We have two saga references which may be helpful. In Njal’s Saga we learn of an Earl Gilli of Coll who married the sister of Earl Sigurd of the Orkneys towards the end of the tenth century. In Orkneyinga Saga, after some trouble in Orkney (c. 1135-6), the bishop sends Svein Asleifarson:


to Tiree in the Hebrides to a man called Holdbodi Hundason, a great chieftain.


It seems perfectly possible that either Earl Gilli or Holdbodi Hundason were powerful enough to establish the mail-land system on their own estates. Both had strong links with Orkney, each resided in one of the only two Hebridean islands to support mail-lands. Of the two men I am inclined to favour Earl Gilli. Pennylands were probably not introduced until after the first Hiberno-Norse coins were minted c. 995. If pennylands had been established first in Tiree I think some trace of them would have survived in the local toponymy. Possibly an already existing mail-land system prevented Tiree and Coll from being divided into pennylands except within a purely conceptual context. The system became embedded deeply enough to remain a basis for agricultural division for several hundred years but was not effective beyond Tiree and Coll. Both Gilli and Holdbodi had powerful political connections with the Northern Isles and it seems that the Orkneys are the most likely source for this particular type of land-assessment.


A good deal of Tiree was held by religious institutions. We have J Fraser’s account (c. 1680) in Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections II pp 217-9:

Here are small cheapells [chapels] of no great account, the lairgest pairte of the Iland being Churchland.


OSA Vol XIV No 12 p 201 for Kilfinichen & Kilviceuen (Mull) in 1795 states:

The fertile island of Tirii once did, [i.e. belong to Iona] as the name indicates, and the divisions of it being still called Monk’s portions.


It wasn’t just Iona monastery. Ardchattan Priory held Gott, Iona nunnery held Scarinish, and the churches of Duror and Glencoe seem to have had some ‘free lands’ in Tiree in 1354.


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