The island of Iona is an enchanting, magical, and very special place. Today some 140,000 people make their way here each year. In doing so, they follow in the footsteps of pilgrims who have been coming to Iona since not long after St Columba's arrival in AD563: and of tourists who have been visiting for over three hundred years. In his introduction to "The Book of Iona: An Anthology", Robert Crawford calls Iona "an island of lives and afterlives". It would be equally possible to describe it as a place in which the normal four dimensional universe is distorted. The three dimensions that describe space and place are constrained by the physical limits of an island that is less than four miles long and one and a half miles wide, and whose highest point is only 100m above sea level. In many ways it is the fourth dimension, time, which does most to make Iona such a unique place. The problem that gives most visitors is that while Iona's sheer depth of history can be felt, and in places glimpsed, much of it is difficult to appreciate fully.
"The Book of Iona: An Anthology" by Robert Crawford fills the gap. It shows how novelists, poets, saints and sinners have, over centuries, written about Iona (and nearby Staffa and Erraid). The result is a wonderful melange, a book that rewards the casual dipper as amply as it does the systematic reader. Within a collection of some ninety distinct elements are many new stories and poems about Iona that have been specially commissioned for this volume. Also included are a series of contributions from Adomnán of Iona, the abbot of the monastery here in the years around 700, and the author of the Life of Columba; and a poem attributed to St Columba himself. The intervening millennium and a half is covered by a wealth of accounts in fiction and non-fiction. We have to admit to being great fans of the writings of early travellers to Scotland. Within this book are accounts of (perhaps inevitably) Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, alongside those of John Keats and Queen Victoria (who visited Staffa on 17 August 1847) amongst others.
There are books which, once read, are easily discarded and forgotten. "The Book of Iona" is certainly not one of them. It is a book which deserves a permanent home on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in Scotland, and in particular in Scotland's islands. The contributions are so wide ranging and varied, and so beautifully assembled, that we see it as a book we will wish to return to time and again.