Canna House

Canna House was built around 1863 by Donald Macneil, the owner of the island at that time. He was persuaded to build the house by his wife, after she had returned from visiting wealthy relatives in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove and thought that they deserved a house of similar stature and comfort. The house and the island were then sold to Robert Thom, a shipowner from Greenock, in 1881. He lived there with his extensive family until he sold the island to John Lorne Campbell in 1938.

John and his wife, American musician Margaret Fay Shaw, lived there until their respective deaths in 1996 and 2004. They gifted the house and the island to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981, but continued to live there, devoting their time from then on to cataloguing and publishing their extensive folklore research and developing the Canna House Library and Archives.

Although Canna House is not an architecturally unique building, the collection it holds is of international importance. Within the sturdy Victorian walls is a substantial cultural archive of Gaelic folk songs and tales, Celtic and Norse Studies, philology, music, literature and Scottish history, as well as the furnishings, artworks and personal belongings of John and Margaret. The Canna Archives contain Margaret’s extensive photographic collection of over 6,000 images from the early 20th century in the Hebrides, John’s 1,700 sound recordings, his Hebridean Lepidoptera collection and all of their research writings amassed over the course of 60 years.

The house has been closed to the public for some time due to the need for building conservation. The current project activity is focusing on the conservation of Canna House, collections management and collections review, in preparation for opening to the public in spring 2025. The project includes improved archive and collections storage, a staff office, welfare facilities and a research reading room.