The Isle of Texa is located just off the south east coast of Islay and a few miles from Port Ellen. The island is visible from Islay as well as from the Islay ferry just before you enter Port Ellen harbour. The island, 48 ha/119 acres in size and reaches a height of 157 feet (48 metres) at its highest point, Ceann Garbh), is uninhabited except for some wild goats, otters and (sea)birds.
Surprisingly enough the island wasn’t always uninhabited. People did live here and in fact Texa was an ecclesiastical settlement and a chapel was built here centuries ago. The same was the case with Nave island on the other side of Islay to the north. In 1625 there was a population of 26 people on Texa and by the late 18th century there were only 8 residents left on Texa. Later in the 19th century the island became uninhabited. There is no regular access to the island, perhaps on arrangement in Port Ellen with Islay Sea Adventures or a local fisherman.
What looks like a wee rocky hump is in fact an interesting island with a history of its own. The island has a jetty close to the chapel site and there is a renovated cottage not far from there. Evidence has been found of an agricultural settlement, and the island could support a population due to it’s own water supply, Tobar Moireig (Mary’s well). In the last centuries three ships stranded on the treacherous rocks of the island. In 1884 it was the Barque Assyria, in 1895 the steamer Gannet and in 1934 the Steamer St. Tudwal stranded close by.
Map of Texa
Isle of Texa History
Although Texa is now uninhabited, this wasn’t always the case. Texa has tentatively been identified as the Oidecha Insula written about by St Adomnan. The etymology of the name is disputed – it may represent either the Old Irish tech (house – taigh in modern Scottish Gaelic) or Oideachd/Oideachas, a word for a religious seminary. Adomnan mentions that St Cainneach (Kenneth) used ‘Oidecha Insula’ as a stopping place on his journey between Iona and Ireland. Kenneth is said to have left his crozier on Iona on this journey, so St Columba blessed it, cast it into the sea, and it washed up on Oidecha where Kenneth found it.
We are not sure whether or not Texa is ‘Oidecha Insula’ – a religious island, was, like many others round the Scottish coast, used as an ecclesiastical settlement, and the remains of a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary can still be seen. This was built, probably on the site of an older one, in the late 14th century by Raghnall/Reginald of Islay, son of Iain/John. This is commemorated today in the name bagh na h-Eaglais (Church Bay) and Tobar Moireig ([sic] Mary’s Well), which lies next to the anchorage. There are also many caves on the island, in which people who visited the island could live.
Cross Shaft on Texa
The shaft of a cross stands east of the chapel, commemorating Raghnall. It is now in a museum in Edinburgh. Older history shows that: In the 12th Century, the Norse fleet of Somerled anchored near to Texa. The island’s name has been recorded several differnet ways. John of Fordun in 1385 refers to Texa as ‘Helan ttexa’ (‘eilean/Helan’ being an island in Gaelic). In 1608, Andrew Knox, bishop of the Isles wrote from ‘Ilintexa.’ And, in 1614, it was referred to in a document as ‘Ilantasson’, and was chartered by the crown to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, confirmed by a Scottish Act of Parliament in 1626.
Lastly, the sectarian divide even reached this wee island and in 1625, Father Cornelius Ward, a Franciscan missionary reported that there were twenty nine people living on the island, and most of them were Roman Catholic. (The island was inhabited until the early 19th century.) The six who were not Catholic, he converted. The ‘Statistical Account’, a 150 years later, records that ‘formerly [the inhabitants] were wont to bury those who were of the popish religion’ in the chapel, but that no ‘Texans’ were Catholic anymore.