A SCOTTISH island hotel has been urged to publicly acknowledge its historic links with slavery.

St Columba Hotel on Iona – an island off the south-west tip of Mull in the Inner Hebrides – should commemorate how money gained through slavery funded its construction in the 19th century, according to Reverend Yousouf Gooljary.

Gooljary, who belongs to the 40,000-member Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), has raised the issue directly with the hotel after seeing a board explaining its history had been put up while on a visit to Iona last week.

The National: Reverend Yousouf Gooljary said the board outlining the history of the St Columba Hotel had a piece missing Reverend Yousouf Gooljary said the board outlining the history of the St Columba Hotel had a piece missing (Image: YG)

The board outlining the hotel’s history states: “It all began as a Free Church Manse constructed in 1846-1847.”

It says that manse became a hotel in 1868, going on: “Since 1902 the hotel has been through a near constant process of building and upgrading, though the original manse still forms the centre of the building.”

Gooljary has said “there is a piece missing” from the story.

He explained that in 1845, after its split with the Church of Scotland in 1843, the Free Church “raised £3000* from slave plantation owners” in the US: “So, unfortunately, all the buildings and manses built after that split were tainted with that legacy of slavery.”

He added: “The thing about the Columba is it’s so directly connected to that money. It was built in 1846, they raised the money in 1845.”

In a statement, the St Columba Hotel thanked Gooljary for bringing to its attention a potential link to slavery of which it had been unaware.

READ MORE: How anti-slavery titan Frederick Douglass fell in love with Scotland

Management said it had enlisted local historians to help better understand the full story of the manse, and “asked the Free Church of Scotland to do the same”.

Reverend Gooljary said that the legacy of the slave trade was not unique to the St Columba Hotel and its current proprietors should not feel guilty.

“It’s a story for the whole of Scotland … for Scotland to grapple with its history in a real sense,” he said. “It’s worth it for the people of Scotland to know what happened and from where the money came.”

Gooljary said that sites which “acknowledge the money” would echo calls made by the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass during his visit to Scotland in 1846: “Send back the money.”

He added: “Columba would approve.”

The National: Anti-slavery titan Frederick Douglass

Speaking in Britain in 1846, Douglass (above) said the Free Church had “made itself responsible for slavery” by accepting donations from US plantations relying on slave labour.

Gooljary praised the Iona Cathedral Trust (ICT), which was founded in 1899, for acknowledging its connections to slavery in the history section of its website.

The ICT notes that “some wealth derived from the slave economy was used for funding work on the Abbey in the 1870s and again in the 1890s, prior to the Abbey being gifted to the trustees”.

It also includes a link to a report entitled Iona Cathedral and Historic Slavery which was produced by the trust in 2021.

Gooljary said: “I am calling on Historic Environment Scotland to take note of the trustees’ version of events and display the facts in their publicity in the abbey on Iona.”

Iona is just 1.5 miles across by three miles long, but enjoys widespread fame as the “cradle of Christianity” in Scotland.

Around 130,000 visitors, many of whom are pilgrims, make the journey to the island each year, according to the Welcome to Iona website.

READ MORE: All Scottish churches must reveal historic links to slavery, clergyman says

The St Columba Hotel said in a statement: “We have just been made aware this week of a potential link between plantation owners in the US who profited from slavery and the original builders of the manse, in 1847, that now forms part of the St Columba hotel building. With the aid of local historians, we are currently looking into this, and have asked the Free Church of Scotland to do the same.

“We would like to thank the Rev Yousouf Gooljary for bringing this to our attention. Regardless of what the various investigations reveal, the current owners and management of the St Columba Hotel would like to take this opportunity to express our absolute abhorrence at the slave trade, and all practices associated with it.

“While we await the results of these investigations, we have taken down the history sign at our front gate and put a statement on our website.”

A HES spokesperson said it would be publishing the results of a project looking at links between its properties and the British Empire and the transatlantic slave trade in the coming months.

They went on: "We believe that it is extremely important to showcase all aspects of our history and heritage and that includes the parts that are less well-known to ensure that all of Scotland’s people are represented.

“This research will also be used to inform decision-making on future updates to our interpretation at sites and our Statements of Significance.”

*UPDATE: 15/08/2023. The figure quoted in this article, of £3000 raised by the Free Church from slavery-linked plantations in the US, is disputed. Some historians think it may have been $3000, which would have been the equivalent of £600.