Dun Athad, The Oa RSPB Scotland Reserve, Islay

History and archaeology

The Oa reserve is rich in historical and archaeological remains, spanning the period from prehistory to the 20th century.

History of The Oa

The Oa was once heavily populated and it has been suggested that almost 3,000 people made a living from farming and kelping, prior to clearance of tenants in the 19th century. Many of the ruined buildings can still be seen – such as the remains of Chrasdail (Grasdale) and Lower Glenastle villages.

The West of Scotland Archaeology Service has undertaken research on the reserve and recorded 90 heritage sites – ranging from prehistoric earthworks and forts to farm buildings. Many of these can be seen from the footpaths on the reserve and are featured on our weekly-guided walks.

If after your visit to us you want to find out more about the history and archaeology of Islay, then visit the Museum of Islay Life at Port Charlotte – some of the local finds go back as early as 8,000 BC!

The Oa, Islay

Wartime tragedy

The most well-known and striking historical site is the American Memorial on the Mull of Oa, which is shaped like a lighthouse and can be seen from miles away. This was erected by the American red cross to commemorate the tragic loss of life from the sinking of the Tuscania and Otranto, the US troop ships that were torpedoed or lost due to bad weather nearby in February 1918.

Coastline of The Mull of Oa