Colonsay has a gap, can you fillet? Richard Irvine, founder of Colonsay Smokery, oustide the converted steading where he smokes salmon bought from Mowi. He plans to give the business away to bring new blood to the island.

The salmon smokery that's an absolute giveaway

Richard Irvine founded his Mowi-supported business on Colonsay with the aim of handing it over to younger owners to help keep the community alive, and will soon begin a search for the right people


An entrepreneur who has established a smokery on the remote Scottish island of Colonsay with the help of salmon farmer Mowi is preparing for the next stage of the project – giving the business away for free.

Richard Irvine fell in love with Colonsay when he first visited the island in 1984 to install bathrooms in a hotel, and he and his wife, Pru, a journalist, food writer, and author, now have a house on the island which they intend to soon make their permanent home.

But Colonsay’s 120-strong population is ageing, and around five and a half years ago Irvine decided he wanted to create jobs that would attract new blood to the island. That was when he came up with the idea for a smokery that he could eventually pass on and approached Mowi, which has been operating a 3,500-tonne marine farm off the island’s coast for around nine years.

Samples of hot and cold-smoked salmon produced at Colonsay Smokery.

Mowi agreed to supply Irvine with salmon at a preferential rate due to the original business agreement between the company and the remote island that included provisions to support local entrepreneurship and island infrastructure.

“I discovered that during its consultation with local people about establishing a salmon farm, Mowi had said it would be keen to support any business affiliated with the farm,” recalled Irvine. “So, I got in touch with Mowi, talked to communications director Ian Roberts about it, and got Mowi’s backing. Mowi are very supportive.”

The two business units on the island were occupied, but Irvine secured premises after talking to Alex Howard, who owns most of the island. Howard had made money selling land for a community housing development which Mowi is also involved in, and was prepared to use some of it to re-roof a run-down steading on the edge of Scalasaig if Irvine agreed to rent some of the building.

“I took a lease on a third of the steading, which had been re-roofed, then spent six months building the office, painting, getting all the kit together, plumbing, etc. I did it all myself,” he said.

36 fish per fortnight

Irvine now has an established business producing small batches of hot- and cold-smoked salmon. He travels to Mowi’s Blar Mhor processing facility at Fort William once a fortnight to collect six boxes of salmon (36 fish in total).

About a third of his turnover is sold on the island to visitors, 40% is trade on the mainland, and the rest is mail order, sent in packages with chill packs and sheep’s wool insulation, which Irvine says is “way, way better” than polystyrene for keeping products at the correct temperature.

At 65 and nominally retired, he chooses to work only three days a week, but is turning a healthy profit, and there’s potential for a “young get-up-and-go” to double it by working full time, he said, pointing out that whoever takes over the smokery could earn a good living.

A sign pointing the way from the ferry quay to the smokery and few hundred yards inland.

“I don’t pay myself at all, but I’m working towards being able to pay off the director’s loan I made the business to get things set up, because the kiln was £14,000 and the fridges are £2,500 each, for example. It’s quite a lot of money.”

Once he recoups his outlay towards the end of the year, Irvine intends to give the business away – probably to a couple - and is talking to his accountant about a way to do that with safeguards to ensure that whoever gets it stays the course.

“I would retain a 'golden share' for, say, five years, because what I don’t want to do is give it someone who then three months later just sells all the kit,” explained Irvine.

“The point is to keep a business running on the island. That would be the point of the golden share. For the first five years I would hold on to that which means the person I’d given the business to couldn’t sell it.

The business is housed in part of a renovated steading.

“What we’re looking for is a young couple but because it’s my own money I’m giving away, I can decide who gets it. I can be very particular about who comes here and who can get the business. It would be whoever I thought was the best fit for the business and the island.

I’m looking for someone who has a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit and would love to live a different kind of life in a remote community

Richard Irvine

“I’m not looking for someone who simply wants a job; I’m looking for someone who has a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit and would love to live a different kind of life in a remote community. But if you don’t have a croft on this island, there’s relatively little to do, and crofts are few and far between and don’t pass over terribly often.”

Mowi will continue giving a preferential rate to whoever takes on the smokery.

“The agreement is that the advantageous arrangement will continue as long as there is a fish farm based on Colonsay, and I believe Mowi’s here for the long term," said Irvine.

Once he has found the person or people best suited for the smokery and Colonsay, he will stay on for three months to show them the ropes.