Burial on the island is a rare honour. Usually, only islanders and their descendants are interred at the site of Scotland's earliest Christian settlement, where St Columba landed in 563 to found a monastery that became the centre of Celtic Christianity.
Argyll and Bute District Council met yesterday and agreed to a request from the late Labour leader's family for a plot in Reilig Odhrain cemetery 'as a mark of respect for a great man from Argyll'. Mr Smith grew up in Ardrishaig, Argyllshire, about 30 miles from Iona. He and his wife, Elizabeth, used to spend summer holidays on the island.
Iona, one mile long and with a population of about 100, is best known as the burial ground of the Celtic kings, whose coffins were carried across the water from the mainland by boat. The remains of Macbeth are said to lie near the 13th- century abbey. For centuries a focus for pilgrims, the island is now the home of an ecumenical community.
After a funeral service in Edinburgh on Friday, attended by the Prime Minister and dignitaries from around the world, Mr Smith's coffin will be carried by ferry to Mull and on to Iona, where he will be buried in a private ceremony.
The Rev George Munro, who led prayers for Mr Smith last Sunday and will conduct Friday's service in Cluny parish church, said yesterday: 'Mrs Smith requested that John be buried on Iona. He loved the island, which is a magical, sacred place and I am sure it would be his wish to be laid to rest there.'
Mr Munro said he hoped Friday's 'simple, straightforward' service would 'bring comfort and hope' to the family. It would, he said, be 'more of a thanksgiving than a memorial for the life of a man who brought so much to the people of Edinburgh, of Scotland and of Britain. John was one of us and there is nothing wrong with saying how very proud we are of who he was and what he gave.'
The service will be relayed by loudspeaker to thousands of people who are expected to gather outside the church.Reuse content