Canna House

The Hebridean home of the late Dr John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw.

The couple dedicated their lives to capturing and preserving Hebridean culture and traditions, and Canna House is their legacy. It holds a nationally important archive of Gaelic culture and language, found in recordings, the written word, photography and a unique collection of butterflies and moths. In 1981 the island and house passed to the National Trust for Scotland. 

The house is currently closed to visitors due to extensive renovation and interpretation work, but visitors can explore the Canna House gardens and the island.

Canna House with chickens on the lawn
Canna House with chickens on the lawn

History of the house

Canna House was originally built in the 1860s by the laird, Donald MacNeill, for his young wife Isabella.

In the style of a Victorian suburban villa, this fashionable new house replaced the laird’s old seat, Coroghon House, on the foreshore. In 1881 the island and house were sold to the Clyde shipbuilder, Robert Thom. The Thom family owned Canna until 1938 when the house and island were bought by Dr John Lorne Campbell. Along with his American wife Margaret Fay Shaw, Dr Campbell promoted traditional rural farming practices balanced with nature conservation, while preserving the distinct traditions of a Hebridean cultural and religious life.

Canna House has largely been preserved intact. The interiors and collections vividly reveal the characters and history of John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw. 

Heirlooms from Dr Campbell’s family estate at Inverneill in Argyll share walls, shelves and mantelpieces with those from Margaret’s family in Pennsylvania. Historical artefacts reside alongside a vast Celtic, Gaelic, Norse and Scottish history archive, amassed by both husband and wife. Dr Campbell’s wishes were that Canna House should ‘remain a centre of Gaelic traditions in music, language and folklore’.

To accommodate this archive, which is central to the house, an archive room with controlled temperature, RH (relative humidity) and light conditions has been created. The conditions in this space now provide the best environment for the fragile archives. These conservation measures will ensure that Canna House and its important contents are preserved for the future.

The typewriter on which Compton Mackenzie's novel 'Whisky Galore' was typed, in Margaret Campbell's study.
The typewriter which typed Compton Mackenzie's novel 'Whisky Galore', in Margaret Campbell's study.


One man’s collection

​John Lorne Campbell’s Lepidoptera specimens are a collection within a collection. It is the result of a lifetime’s passion and is an invaluable record of Hebridean butterflies and moths.

Lepidoptera conservation

Following a generous donation, a 5-year project was undertaken for conservation and improved access to the collection.

Specimen highlights

Dr Graham Rotheray, entomology curator at the National Museum of Scotland, highlights four interesting specimens from the Canna House Lepidoptera collection.