Port Wemyss was initially called Wemysshaven, named after the 8th Earl of Wemyss, father in law of Walter Frederick Campbell, the laird of Islay. It was built in 1832 near the old village of Luib, which stretched from North Crescent, (now Cromb street) to near the Village Hall. The village was designed and built to clear the people from the land and to enourage fishing. From earliest times there have been close links between Islay and Ireland. The fish caught here were cured and traded in Ireland where most of the village's goods came from. Even today many Ilich still travel to Ballycastle for the old Lammas Fair, in August.
In October 1615, Sir James McDonald, Chief of Islay made a final attempt to recover the ancient power of his family, but to no avail. English government troops and warships anchored in what is now Port Ellen. The intended attach on Sir James was thwarted however by beacons lit on the Mull of Oa, warning him in good time and allowing him to make his escape to Ireland. This was despite the pleas of 500 local Rhinnsmen at the oars, from a rock 800m east from Port Wemyss, thereafter known as Slioc Ghulartidh (The Rock of Sorrows).
Port Wemyss, pronounce port weems, lies to the east of Portnahaven and offers beautiful views towards the Mull of Oa and Kintyre. With its beautiful white washed cottages Port Wemyss is one of the most picturesque villages on the island. Port Wemyss and its close neighbour Portnahaven share one church, with separate doors for the people of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss. In earlier times, when the people of both villages were not so friendly with eachother, it sometimes gave problems. Specially with weddings when the Portnahaven people didn't want to sit in the Port Wemyss side of the church and vice versa. Due to the conversion of many properties into holiday homes and the different mix of population these "difficulties" are now history.
Just off shore of Port Wemyss sits the island of Orsay, which has the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse. The island of Orsay and the lighthouse are owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board. Standing 29 metres high the Rhinns of Islay Lighthouse was designed and built by the famous Scottish enigneer Robert Stevenson in 1825. Prior to the automation of the station in 1998 a principal lightkeeper and two assistents would carry out a period of four weeks duty at the staion. Transfer to and from the island was by helicopter from Oban, where there was a 'shorestation' for the keepers and their families. Prior to the use of helicopters, the transfer of the keepers, provisions and other light stores was by small boat.
For those who want to enjoy the lovely seaside of Port Wemyss as much as possible there is a beautiful coastal path which is very well maintained by some of the locals. A plaque halfway gives information about the coastal path and mentions that this project was possible due to the generous donations of the local residents and friends of Port Wemyss. The coastal path is called Ràthas nan Lasgairean, which is Gaelic for The Path of the Fisherman. It starts on the seaside on one end of the village and ends on the other end of the village. It's not a long track but it gives the visitor good opportunities to spot Grey Seals, and even Otters and Bottlenose Dolphins have been seen from here, swimming through the strong tidal currents. Another very interesting feature along the path is the old harbour, which is one of the nicest spots on Islay to watch a sunset. Just sit on the pier, enjoy the views and the fascinating strong tides, watch the curious seals, listen to the waves clashing gently against the rocks and the song of the seals on Orsay Island, observe the various sea birds flying by and soak up the peaceful atmosphere..
Port Wemyss Local Information: