Cnoc a Chalmain


Use the tabs above to navigate the site.                                 

Good News

Recently, when we announced that Sister Jean is leaving, we asked for your prayers as we sought for her replacement. We are very pleased to tell you your petitions have been answered and we have appionted Miss Maureen Connell in the post of Warden. We look forward to welcoming her to the House of Prayerin mid-July. We are delighted that she is joining the team.

Sr Jean Lawson - A Farwell

It is with real sadness that I must tell you that Sr Jean will be leaving us in the summer, having been recalled by her Order. Since her appointment, heartily approved by the founder, Mary Burn Murdoch, in 2002 , Sr Jean has welcomed hundreds of visitors to the House and, if you have visited, you will know that her hospitality is second to none. The combination of devout spirituality and common sense practicality in this House of Prayer has certainly made the job of the Trustees a much lighter task. Sr. Jean has managed Cnoc a Chalmain in the way that had been envisaged from the beginning. She is an excellent housekeeper and cook. She has kept a sense of humour and positive attitude whatever has been thrown at her in her position as warden. She will be greatly missed on the island as well as at the House. We pray for her health and happiness as she moves into her new position. We ask for your prayers as we now advertise and seek her successor.

Judith Spellman - An Appreciation

It is with great sadness that the Trustees record the death of Judith Spellman of Lochdon on Mull, who served as a Trustee from January 2002 until 2007. Judith was a person of great dedication and commitment to the Church. Having retired to Mull with her husband Alan she became fully involved in the life of the island’s Catholic congregation in Tobermory and Craignure. She was a member of the Third Order of Franciscans and her deep spirituality informed everything she did. She was especially committed to the House of Prayer and to Mary Burn-Murdoch’s vision for its work for ecumenism on Iona. Judith took a great interest in the development of the House from 1997 and joined the Trust Board at a time when there were many far-reaching decisions to be made. She was particularly involved in planning the initial conversion of the roof space to provide self-contained accommodation for the Warden and additional guest rooms. When there were Catholic children on Iona Judith assumed responsibility for preparing them for Confirmation and First Communion, as she also did on Mull. After Judith retired from the Board of Trustees in 2007 she continued to support Sister Jean and the House, attending Mass and other celebrations as often as she could. Her unfailing loyalty, friendship and kindness will be greatly missed.

By Edward Watson

New for 2015

During the winter of 2014-2015, work has been carried out to create en-suite shower and toilet facilities for each of the two single rooms upstairs. This conversion means that every room in the house now has en-suite facilities, fully meeting the expectations and preferences of our guests. Shared bathrooms are now a thing of the past - it's an improvement that will be much appreciated.

Single Room   En-Suite

En-Suite   Single Room

Driveway upgraded

Driveway   Driveway

Driveway   Driveway

Work was carried out during August 2013 to resurface the driveway between the House and the farm track. The project involved bringing over a heavy digger to level the driveway and excavate the realigned drainage channels as well as using a hot tar vehicle to lay the new tarmac. The construction company were TSL Contractors Ltd of Torosay on Mull.

Mary Burn-Murdoch - A Tribute

Mary as Patron

It is with great sadness that the Colmcille Trust has to record the death of its founding Trustee, Mary Burn-Murdoch, at St Joseph's House, Gilmore Place, Edinburgh on 29th April 2012. The Funeral Mass was held in St Joseph's House on Monday 7th May at 11 am, followed by cremation at Mortonhall.

As described on the History page and in a recent booklet written by her brother, it was Mary's vision for a permanent Catholic presence on Iona that came to such wonderful fruition in the building of Cnoc a' Chalmain in 1996-1997. In the fifteen years that have elapsed since the official dedication and opening of the House it has been possible to see not only the many benefits to Catholics and Christians of all denominations coming to Iona but also the working out of God's purposes, furthering the growth of ecumenical relations on the island and ultimately advancing the cause of Christian unity.

Mary with Sister Jean Mary's work has touched so many lives, not only through the spiritual dimension of Cnoc a' Chalmain as a centre for individual retreats, but also at a deeply personal level. Her intrepid, energetic manner and her positive and joyful personality enabled Mary to communicate successfully with all kinds and conditions of people, from fishermen and teachers to architects and archbishops. It was her sheer drive and determination to see possibilities where others saw only difficulties that resulted in the establishment of Cnoc a' Chalmain and all the spiritual blessings shared there by so many.

Shortly after Cnoc a' Chalmain opened, Mary moved to Pennyghael on Mull and for the next eight years was directly involved in its running. She eventually moved to a small house near the pier on Iona in July 2005, but owing to ill-health left Iona in May 2006 and after a short stay in hospital went into permanent care at St Joseph's Edinburgh. Despite her impaired memory and limited mobility she attended daily Mass there and we can be certain that everyone involved with Cnoc a' Chalmain was constantly in her prayers. The award of the Papal Benemerenti medal in 2010 was a particular delight for her.

Mary's faith and vision will remain an inspiration. May she rest in the peace of Christ.

After the celebration of a Memorial Mass on 11th August her ashes were interred in the garden at Cnoc a' Chalmain.

Edward Watson

Memorial plaque for Mary Burn-Murdoch

“In Memory Of
Mary Burn-Murdoch
Her Belief Made This Place A Reality”

Room upgrading project completed for Spring 2012

Single Room   Twin Room

Extensive work was undertaken during the winter of 2011-2012 to upgrade the guest accommodation. Three of the existing rooms have now been converted with en-suite toilet and shower facilities. A separate disabled toilet has been created on the ground floor, replacing the bathroom. The old ground-floor shower room has become the sacristy.

First Floor Corridor   Hospitality Area

The hospitality area adjacent to the rear entrance has been extended and provided with natural light, making this a very pleasant area for guests to make drinks etc.

Mary Burn-Murdoch awarded Benemerenti medal

Bishop Toal presents the medal

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has awarded the Benemerenti medal to Mary Burn-Murdoch in recognition of her work in founding the Colmcille Trust and establishing the House of Prayer on Iona. The medal and certificate were presented to Mary by Bishop Joseph Toal during Mass at St Joseph's, Gilmore Place, Edinburgh on Monday 27th December 2010. The Trustees are delighted that Mary's vision has been honoured in this way.


Benemerenti Medal
The Benemerenti ("to a well-deserving person") medal is conferred by the Pope on individuals who have merited special recognition by the Holy See for their exceptional accomplishment and service.

Pope Paul VI redesigned the traditional decoration. The Benemerenti medal depicts the image of Christ on a gold Greek cross. The Saviour, depicted in glory, has His hand raised in blessing. On the left of the transverse arm of the cross is a modern depiction of the papal tiara and crossed keys; to the right, the shield of Benedict XVI and his motto. On the reverse is the word Benemerenti. The insignia is suspended from a ribbon of the papal colours, yellow and white.


Have you heard about easyfundraising yet? It’s the easiest way to help raise money for The Colmcille Trust! If you already shop online with retailers such as Amazon, Argos, John Lewis, Comet, iTunes, eBay or HMV, then we need you to sign up for free to raise money while you shop! Full details are on our Home page.

Fund-raising event achieves £900 for House of Prayer


The concept of a holding a fund-raising event for the House of Prayer was arrived at by Kath Hughes and Rozanne Evans whilst driving back from Iona last September. The idea grew from holding a small coffee morning into the following Dinner event, held at Kath & Charlie Hughes’ house near Chichester on 17th April for 32 people.

The evening began with a ‘Welly Wheeching’ competition at £1 per go.

Dinner (Taste of Scotland)

  • Amuse-bouche of haggis blinis with redcurrant jelly
  • Bradan rost with oatcakes and dill sauce
  • Venison Casserole with new potatoes, carrots, swede, red cabbage with apple
  • Apple tart (donated) or Cranachan
  • Trio of Scottish Cheeses (donated)
  • Tablet, chocolates (donated) and coffee


A silly game of "stand up/ sit down", in which guests donated a note to take part, ended the evening. A 'Cerutti' designer handbag (donated) was the prize.

Tickets were £21.50 per person and £900 was raised.

Everyone had a lovely time and the whole evening was a great success as well as raising a lot of money. Thank you to all who participated and to those who contributed.

New requirements for visiting priests

Priests from outside Scotland who wish to celebrate Mass at the House of Prayer must provide a Testimonial Letter signed and sealed by their Bishop or Superior. The required form can be downloaded here. The completed Testimonial must be sent to the Warden prior to arrival. Please note that production of a Celebret is no longer sufficient.

The Reverend Harold Troup - an appreciation

Many friends of the House of Prayer will already know that the Revd Harold Troup died peacefully at St Vincent's Hospice in Johnstone on 25th September. Having been ill since late May, he was unable to return to his beloved Iona for the summer, and was admitted to hospitals in Oban and Glasgow before moving to the hospice.

Always a larger-than-life figure, Harold had been part of the Iona scene since the 1920s when his parents met on Iona and later bought the house at Tighshee. A distant cousin of Mary Burn-Murdoch, Harold took enormous interest in her vision for a permanent Catholic presence on Iona. When the project to establish Cnoc a' Chalmain took shape, Harold was closely involved, and he took every opportunity to assist the Trustees in the practical decisions which had to be made as the building progressed.

Harold was hugely proud to become a Patron of the House of Prayer. Whilst firmly rooted in his Scottish Presbyterian tradition, he always encouraged ecumenical understanding, growth and co-operation. It was a pleasure for him that the weekly ecumenical prayer meeting which he had established eventually found a permanent base at Cnoc a' Chalmain. He also took delight in being introduced to a visiting Moderator of the Church of Scotland as the “Ecumenical Patriarch of Iona”!

Harold Troup at the keyboard There are so many ways in which Harold will be remembered at Cnoc a’ Chalmain. His keen participation at Mass in the Oratory while playing the keyboard which he himself donated; his inspired writing of new hymn tunes, each of which displayed the same directness, strength and purpose that was typical of Harold himself; his practical assistance with the plans to convert the roof space into additional accommodation; his numerous stories of the sea and of Highland life, which regularly entertained our guests when he came for lunch or evening meal; his infectious enthusiasm at the kitchen sink in the days before the dishwasher when washing-up was a shared duty. Above all Harold never failed to communicate the depth of his faith and the reality of his commitment to ministry, which he always traced back to his wartime experiences.

After the funeral at St Stephen's Church, Comely Bank, Harold's body was laid to rest with his wife Sheila and baby daughter in the Grange cemetery, Edinburgh. A Service of Thanksgiving for Harold's life was held in Iona Parish Church on 7th April 2010. There will always be a special place for him in the hearts of all who knew him on Iona and at Cnoc a' Chalmain.

Edward Watson

The New Kitchen

Photo by David Trainer Photo by David Trainer

Work to upgrade the existing kitchen was completed in 2008. The installation of new kitchen units, worktops, lighting and flooring has created a space which is much more pleasant to work in as well as more efficient. Health and Safety considerations necessitated the removal of the doorway giving direct access to the kitchen from the main passageway, but this enabled a useful separate space to be created where guests can make hot drinks.

Future Projects

Under consideration by the Trustees as a "Wish List", for implementation if funds become available, are the following:

  • renovation of the existing storage shed.
This item would cost in the region of £600.

Catriona Allan

The former Warden of the House of Prayer, Catriona Allan, entered the Community of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus under the Rule of St Benedict at Tyburn in London in December 2002. She made her first profession on 25th June 2005 as Sister Mary Colmcille. She later moved to Rome and spent two years with four other Sisters at Monastero Madonna dell'Eucaristia, a new community house on the Via Aurelia near the Vatican. She returned to Scotland in December 2008 and after a few weeks with the community of Tyburn Sisters at the Benedictine convent in Largs, Ayrshire, returned to Tyburn, where she made her final monastic profession on 10th March 2009, supported by members of her family, Sister Jean and other friends from Iona. In the summer of 2009 she moved back to the convent in Largs. She is now at St Benedict's Priory, Cobh, County Cork, Ireland.

Tenth Anniversary

In April 2007 the House of Prayer celebrated the 10th Anniversary of its Opening and Dedication.

Mass was celebrated in Iona Abbey by Right Revd Ian Murray, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, on 13th April at 12 noon. Fr Donald MacKay of Oban Cathedral, Fr Angus McLaughlin OP and Fr Chris O'Brien OSM concelebrated. Eighty people were present at the Mass, including the present Trustees, friends and many island people. It was a great pleasure to see Mary Burn-Murdoch who had made the journey specially from Edinburgh with her sister.

Anniversary Mass     Revd Harold Troup at the organ

The Mass was accompanied on the organ by Revd Harold Troup from Iona, who played the opening Easter hymn "At the Lamb's high feast we sing" and his own "Hymn of St Columba", and by Elvyn Blomfield of Mull, who played the Celtic Liturgy setting for the Mass, the Offertory hymn "Christ be near at either hand", the Communion hymn "Be still, for the presence of the Lord" and the concluding "Regina Caeli". The music also included the beautiful Gaelic hymn "O Iosa, bi'n comhnaidh" sung by Morag MacNeil.

In his homily Bishop Murray spoke of the significance to Christians of making pilgrimage. Before the final hymn Kathleen Hughes, the present Chair of Trustees, spoke of the original vision of Mary Burn-Murdoch which led to the founding of the Trust, and of other individuals particularly the Hon. Frances Shand-Kydd who had given so generously of their talents to help make the House of Prayer a reality.

After the Mass everyone present at the Mass enjoyed a sumptuous buffet lunch at the Martyrs' Bay Restaurant, taking the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and to recall all the events of the ten years since The House of Prayer was dedicated.

Mary cuts the cake     Warden, Trustee and Patron

Margaret, David, Caroline and Edward