There's evidence of human presence on Islay and Jura as far back as 10,000BC, and various archaeological finds and structures including brochs, crannogs and cairns tell us a little about how people lived on these islands in prehistoric times.

Islay and Jura's historical significance grew from 500AD onwards, when early Christians came to the islands, built churches and established a number of religious sites which remain today, including those at Kilnave and Kidalton on Islay. There is documentary evidence of St Columba's missionaries having been on Islay, and it's even thought that the Isle of Jura may be 'Hinba', the island to which Columba withdrew from Iona. The islands were an important part of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata.

Dál Riata was eventually destroyed, and the islands - like most of western and northern Scotland - were under the control of Norse settlers and became part of the area known as Argyle.

In the 12th century, Somerled took control of the southern Hebrides (including Islay and Jura), and later the rest of the Scottish isles. He built Claig Castle in a strategic location on an island south of Jura, which allowed him to establish control of sea traffic in the Sound of Islay. Somerled's descendants retained control of Islay and most of Jura after his death, and by the mid-13th century there were three distinct families - the MacDougalls, the MacDonalds and the MacRory. Islay and much of Jura were initially under MacDougall control, however after Robert the Bruce gained the throne, his supporters - the MacDonalds and the MacRory - were awarded the MacDougall territories.

By the mid-14th century, John MacDonald of Islay had become the self-styled "Lord of the Isles", with control of the Hebrides and much of the west of the Scottish mainland. Loch Finlaggan on Islay, which can still be visited today, was the seat of power of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, and its strategic and political significance was substantial. Clan chiefs were formally proclaimed there, and the influential advisory Council of the Isles had its meeting place on a small island in the loch. Following significant expansion and attempts to increase their independence from the Scottish crown, the Lords eventually had to cede control of Skye and most of the Hebrides, leaving just Islay and Jura as part of the Lordship.

The 16th and 17th century were characterised by power struggles and the establishment of strongholds such as Dunyvaig Castle on Islay. These disputes eventually led to the Campbell family taking control of Islay and Jura from the MacDonald heirs. The Campbells' home, Islay House, can still be visited today and is now a hotel.

Campbell control of the islands ceased following changes in the law after the Jacobite uprisings in 1745/6, although they remained as landlords. Trade increased in the 19th century and Port Askaig harbour was constructed on Islay, which led to an expansion in the population of Islay, although Jura's population was more variable even prior to the Highland Clearances. Estate owners in the 19th century forced the eviction of tenant farmers to make way for more lucrative uses of the land, which led to hundreds having no choice but to leave the islands, many even heading overseas. According to census data, the population of Islay halved between the mid 18th century and the end of the 19th century.

At the end of the 19th century, the establishment of counties across Scotland resulted in Islay and Jura being designated part of Argyll, which remains the case today.

The fascinating history of the islands is best explored by visiting the Museum of Islay life in Port Charlotte, and exploring the various landmarks and historic attractions which litter the islands, the most significant of which is the former centre of the Lordship of the Isles, Finlaggan. Knowledgeable staff at the information centre on site do a wonderful job of bringing the history of this very important place to life.