Iona

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Iona (Scottish Gaelic: Ì Chaluim Chille) is a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was a centre of Irish monasticism for four centuries and is today renowned for its tranquility and natural beauty. It is a popular tourist destination. Its modern Gaelic name means "Iona of (Saint) Columba" (formerly anglicised "Icolmkill").

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Etymology

The Hebrides have been occupied by the speakers of at least four languages since the Iron Age, and as a result many of the names of these islands have more than one possible meaning. Nonetheless few, if any, can have accumulated so many different names over the centuries as the island now known in English as "Iona".

The earliest forms of the name enabled place-name scholar William J. Watson to show that the name originally meant something like "yew-place".[4] The element Ivo-, denoting "yew", occurs in Ogham inscriptions (Iva-cattos [genitive], Iva-geni [genitive]) and in Gaulish names (Ivo-rix, Ivo-magus) and may form the basis of early Gaelic names like Eogan (ogham: Ivo-genos).[5] It is possible that the name is related to the mythological figure, Fer hÍ mac Eogabail, foster-son of Manannan, the forename meaning "man of the yew".[6]

Mac an Tàilleir (2003) lists the more recent Gaelic names of Ì,[7] Ì Chaluim Chille and Eilean Idhe noting that the first named is "generally lengthened to avoid confusion" to the second, which means "Calum's (i.e. in latinised form "Columba's") Iona" or "island of Calum's monastery".[8][9] The possible confusion results from "ì", despite its original etymology, becoming a Gaelic noun (now obsolete) meaning simply "island".[10] Eilean Idhe means "the isle of Iona", also known as Ì nam ban bòidheach ("the isle of beautiful women"). The modern English name comes from an 18th century misreading of yet another variant, Ioua,[8][9] which was either just Adomnán's attempt to make the Gaelic name fit Latin grammar or else a genuine derivative from Ivova ("yew place").[11] Ioua's change to Iona results from a transcription mistake resulting from the similarity of "n" and "u" in Insular Minuscule.[12]

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