The friendly folk on Islay, a little over 3,200 at the latest census, are known as an Ileach. However, there are many Ileachs living in other parts of the world too. During the clearances many Islay People migrated to Canada and Australia. And later on many Ileachs left the island for the Scottish mainland or other parts in the world.
Often descendants from the island visit Islay to trace back their roots and family history. You can consider the Islay People living on Islay “locals” but beware… Incomers are not seen as locals, not even after many many years ?
A small part of the Islay People speak Gaelic which is still educated in some of the Primary Schools. For instance Bowmore Primary has a Gaelic unit. It’s mostly the elderly generation who have a good knowledge of Gaelic and speak it regularly or as their main language. Islay Gaelic differs somewhat from Scottish Gaelic, they have their own dialect. The Gaelic Centre in Bowmore is the only higher education school on Islay who teach Gaelic. Islay also has its own Gaelic Choir who usually do very well at the Annual Mod.
Clans and Surnames
During the reign of the Lordship of the Isles it was Clan Donald who ruled the island. The name MacDonald is still very present on the island. Same is the case for the name Campbell. The MacKays, the MacBraynes and the MacFarquhars were considere lesser clans. The name MacEachern dates back to the Lords of the Isles too. Other frequently found surnames are MacArthur, MacLellan and Mcewan.
Population in Decline
There was a time when Islay had around 15,000 inhabitants. Nowadays the number has dropped to a little over 3,200. Worrying aspect is that Islay’s population is in decline. Over the last 20 years the Islay Population has dropped almost 7%, from 3,457 to 3,228 in 2011. The number of resident households were 1541 twenty years ago and it was 1479 in 2011.
Well known Islay People
A few well known islanders are for instance George Robertson, a former secretary-general of NATO. Alistair Carmichael is known in Scottish Politics and Glenn Campbell is a reporter for the BBC who has his roots on Islay. Jim McEwan is a true ambassador of Islay and its whiskies, he worked for Bowmore Distillery and later for Bruichladdich.
A Personal View on Islay People
Having lived on Islay for six years I have met many people from all over the island, both Ileachs and incomers. Quite a few of the incomers “Retired to Islay” from England, others built their new life here. Besides being very friendly and welcoming almost all folk on Islay are very easy going. And as tight knit communities are, they all know each other and help when someone is ill or has a problem. No questions asked. That’s a great quality nowadays.
Door is Always Open
Coming from another country we were used to locking the doors when we left. Not on Islay. From the start we left the door open so the postie could drop the mail on the kitchen table. And sometimes Jean left the ordered fish in our fridge. There is trust among the islanders and therefore it’s safe. It makes life easy and carefree. Often I noticed cars parked in Port Charlotte and elsewhere unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Such is island life!