Hebrides (/ˈhɛbrɪdiːz/), also known as the Western Isles
(Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Siar [nə ˈhelanən ˈʃiəɾ] or Na
h-Eileanan an Iar [nəˈhelanən əˈɲiəɾ]), Innse Gall ("islands
of the strangers") or the Long Isle or the Long Island (Scottish
Gaelic: An t-Eilean Fada), is an island chain off the west coast of
mainland Scotland.[Note 1] The islands are geographically coextensive
with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, one of the 32 unitary council areas of
Scotland. They form part of the Hebrides, separated from the Scottish
mainland and from the Inner
Hebrides by the waters of the Minch, the
Minch and the Sea of the Hebrides.
Scottish Gaelic is the
predominant spoken language, although in a few areas English speakers
form a majority.
Most of the islands have a bedrock formed from ancient metamorphic
rocks and the climate is mild and oceanic. The 15 inhabited islands
have a total population of 26,900 and there are more than 50
substantial uninhabited islands. From
Barra Head to the Butt of Lewis
is roughly 210 kilometres (130 mi).
There are various important prehistoric structures, many of which
pre-date the first written references to the islands by Roman and
Greek authors. The
Western Isles became part of the Norse kingdom of
the Suðreyjar, which lasted for over 400 years until sovereignty was
Scotland by the
Treaty of Perth in 1266. Control of the
islands was then held by clan chiefs, principal of whom were the
MacLeods, MacDonalds, Mackenzies and MacNeils. The Highland Clearances
of the 19th century had a devastating effect on many communities and
it is only in recent years that population levels have ceased to
decline. Much of the land is now under local control and commercial
activity is based on tourism, crofting, fishing, and weaving.
Sea transport is crucial and a variety of ferry services operate
between the islands and to mainland Scotland. Modern navigation
systems now minimise the dangers but in the past the stormy seas have
claimed many ships. Religion, music and sport are important aspects of
local culture, and there are numerous designated conservation areas to
protect the natural environment.
1.1 Flora and fauna
2.1 Uninhabited islands
7.1 Norse control
7.2 Scots rule
7.3 British era
9 Politics and local government
Scottish Gaelic language
11.1 Bus na Comhairle
12 Religion, culture and sport
13 See also
17 External links
Nicolson's Leap on the east coast of South Uist. In the background are
Beinn Mhòr at left, and Hecla on the right.
Main article: List of Outer Hebrides
The islands form an archipelago whose major islands are
Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra.
Lewis and Harris
has an area of 217,898 hectares (841 sq mi) and is the
largest island in
Scotland and the third largest in the British Isles,
after Great Britain and Ireland. It incorporates
Lewis in the north
and Harris in the south, both of which are frequently referred to as
individual islands, although they are connected by land. The island
does not have a single name in either English or Gaelic, and is
referred to as "
Lewis and Harris", "
Lewis with Harris", "Harris with
The largest islands are deeply indented by arms of the sea such as
Loch Seaforth and Loch nam Madadh. There are also more than
7,500 freshwater lochs in the Outer Hebrides, about 24% of the total
for the whole of Scotland. North and
South Uist and
particular have landscapes with a high percentage of fresh water and a
maze and complexity of loch shapes. Harris has fewer large bodies of
water but has innumerable small lochans.
Loch Langavat on
Lewis is 11
kilometres (7 mi) long, and has several large islands in its
midst, including Eilean Mòr. Although Loch Suaineabhal has only 25%
of Loch Langavat's surface area, it has a mean depth of 33 metres
(108 ft) and is the most voluminous on the island. Of Loch
North Uist it has been said that "there is probably no
other loch in Britain which approaches Loch Scadavay in irregularity
and complexity of outline." Loch Bì is South Uist's largest loch
and at 8 kilometres (5 mi) long it all but cuts the island in
Much of the western coastline of the islands is machair, a fertile
low-lying dune pastureland.
Lewis is comparatively flat, and
largely consists of treeless moors of blanket peat. The highest
eminence is Mealisval at 574 m (1,883 ft) in the south west.
Most of Harris is mountainous, with large areas of exposed rock and
Clisham, the archipelago's only Corbett, reaches 799 m
(2,621 ft) in height. North and
South Uist and Benbecula
(sometimes collectively referred to as The Uists) have sandy beaches
and wide cultivated areas of machair to the west and virtually
uninhabited mountainous areas to the east. The highest peak here is
Beinn Mhòr at 620 metres (2,034 ft).
The Uists and their
immediate outliers have a combined area of 74,540 hectares
(288 sq mi). This includes the Uists themselves and the
islands linked to them by causeways and bridges.
Barra is 5,875
hectares (23 sq mi) in extent and has a rugged interior,
surrounded by machair and extensive beaches.
Flora and fauna
The open landscapes of Benbecula
Bàgh Mòr, Grimsay
Much of the archipelago is a protected habitat, including both the
islands and the surrounding waters. There are 53 Sites of Special
Scientific Interest of which the largest are Loch an Duin, North Uist
(15,100 hectares (37,000 acres)) and North Harris (12,700 hectares
Loch Druidibeg on
South Uist is a national nature reserve owned and
managed by Scottish Natural Heritage. The reserve covers 1,677
hectares across the whole range of local habitats. Over 200
species of flowering plants have been recorded on the reserve, some of
which are nationally scarce.
South Uist is considered the best
place in the UK for the aquatic plant Slender Naiad, which is a
European Protected Species.
There has been considerable controversy over hedgehogs on the Uists.
Hedgehogs are not native to the islands, but were introduced in the
1970s to reduce garden pests. Their spread posed a threat to the eggs
of ground nesting wading birds. In 2003 Scottish Natural Heritage
undertook culls of hedgehogs in the area, but these were halted in
2007; trapped animals are now relocated to the mainland.
Nationally important populations of breeding waders are present in the
Outer Hebrides, including common redshank, dunlin, lapwing and ringed
plover. The islands also provide a habitat for other important species
such as corncrake, hen harrier, golden eagle and otter. Offshore,
basking shark and various species of whale and dolphin can often be
seen, and the remoter islands' seabird populations are of
international significance. St Kilda has 60,000 northern gannets,
amounting to 24% of the world population; 49,000 breeding pairs
of Leach's petrel, up to 90% of the European population; and
136,000 pairs of puffin and 67,000 northern fulmar pairs,
about 30% and 13% of the respective UK totals.
Mingulay is an
important breeding ground for razorbills, with 9,514 pairs, 6.3%
of the European population.
Bombus jonellus var. hebridensis is endemic to the
Hebrides and there are local variants of the dark green fritillary and
green-veined white butterflies. The
St Kilda wren
St Kilda wren is a subspecies
of wren whose range is confined to the islands whose name it
Lews Castle, Stornoway
The islands' total population was 26,502 at the 2001 census, and the
2011 figure was 27,684. During the same period Scottish island
populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702. The largest
settlement in the Outer
Stornoway on Lewis, which
has a population of about 8,100.
In addition to the major North Ford (Oitir Mhòr) and South Ford
causeways that connect
North Uist to
Benbecula via the northern of the
Grimsays, and another causeway from
Benbecula to South Uist, several
other islands are linked by smaller causeways or bridges. Great
Bernera and Scalpay have bridge connections to
Lewis and Harris
respectively, with causeways linking
Baleshare and Berneray to North
Eriskay to South Uist; Flodaigh,
Fraoch-Eilean and the southern
Grimsay to Benbecula; and
Vatersay to Barra. Thus means
that all the inhabited islands are now connected to at least one other
island by a land transport route.
Geographic distribution of Gaelic speakers in
2011 Gaelic speakers
Lewis and Harris
Ceann a Tuath nan Loch
Uibhist a Deas
60% (1,888 incl. Benbecula)
Uibhist a Tuath
Beinn nam Fadhla
60% (1,888 with South Uist)
View of the
Barra Isles from Heaval. The village of
Castlebay is in
the foreground, with Vatersay, and the uninhabited islands of Sandray,
Mingulay and Berneray beyond.
There are more than fifty uninhabited islands greater in size than 40
hectares (99 acres) in the Outer Hebrides, including the
Flannan Isles, Monach Islands, the
Shiant Isles and the islands of
Loch Ròg. In common with the other main island chains of
Scotland, many of the more remote islands were abandoned during the
19th and 20th centuries, in some cases after continuous habitation
since the prehistoric period. More than 35 such islands have been
identified in the Outer
Hebrides alone. On
Barra Head, for
Scotland have identified eighty-three archaeological
sites on the island, the majority being of a pre-medieval date. In the
18th century the population was over fifty, but the last native
islanders had left by 1931. The island became completely uninhabited
by 1980 with the automation of the lighthouse.
Some of the smaller islands continue to contribute to modern culture.
Mingulay Boat Song", although evocative of island life, was
written after the abandonment of the island in 1938 and Taransay
BBC television series Castaway 2000. Others have played a
part in Scottish history. On 4 May 1746, the "Young Pretender" Charles
Edward Stuart hid on
Eilean Liubhaird with some of his men for four
Royal Navy vessels patrolled the Minch.
Smaller isles and skerries and other island groups pepper the North
Atlantic surrounding the main islands. Some are not geologically part
of the Outer Hebrides, but are administratively and in most cases
culturally, part of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 73 kilometres
(45 mi) to the west of
Lewis lies St Kilda, now uninhabited
except for a small military base. A similar distance to the north
North Rona and Sula Sgeir, two small and remote islands.
While Rona used to support a small population who grew grain and
Sula Sgeir is an inhospitable rock. Thousands of
northern gannets nest here, and by special arrangement some of their
young, known as gugas are harvested annually by the men of Ness.
The status of Rockall, which is 367 kilometres (228 mi) to the
North Uist and which the Island of
Rockall Act 1972 decreed to
be a part of the Western Isles, remains a matter of international
Geological map of the Hebridean Terrane
Most of the islands have a bedrock formed from Lewisian gneiss. These
are amongst the oldest rocks in Europe, having been formed in the
Precambrian period up to three billion years ago. In addition to the
Outer Hebrides, they form basement deposits on the Scottish mainland
west of the Moine Thrust and on the islands of
Coll and Tiree.
These rocks are largely igneous in origin, mixed with metamorphosed
marble, quartzite and mica schist and intruded by later basaltic dykes
and granite magma. The gneiss's delicate pink colours are exposed
throughout the islands and it is sometimes referred to by geologists
as "The Old Boy".[Note 3]
Granite intrusions are found in the parish of
Barvas in west Lewis,
and another forms the summit plateau of the mountain
Harris. The granite here is anorthosite, and is similar in composition
to rocks found in the mountains of the Moon. There are relatively
small outcrops of
Triassic sandstone at Broad Bay near Stornoway. The
Shiant Isles and St Kilda are formed from much later tertiary basalt
and basalt and gabbros respectively. The sandstone at Broad Bay was
once thought to be
Torridonian or Old Red Sandstone.
Hebrides have a cool temperate climate that is remarkably
mild and steady for such a northerly latitude, due to the influence of
North Atlantic Current. The average temperature for the year is
6 °C (44 °F) in January and 14 °C (57 °F) in
summer. The average annual rainfall in
Lewis is 1,100 millimetres
(43 in) and sunshine hours range from 1,100 to 1,200 per year.
The summer days are relatively long and May to August is the driest
period. Winds are a key feature of the climate and even in summer
there are almost constant breezes. According to the writer W. H.
Murray if a visitor asks an islander for a weather forecast "he will
not, like a mainlander answer dry, wet or sunny, but quote you a
figure from the Beaufort Scale." There are gales one day in six at
Butt of Lewis
Butt of Lewis and small fish are blown onto the grass on top of
190 metre (620 ft) high cliffs at
Barra Head during winter
The Callanish Stones
Hebrides were originally settled in the
Mesolithic era and have a
diversity of important prehistoric sites.
Eilean Dòmhnuill in Loch
North Uist was constructed around 3200–2800 BC and may be
Scotland's earliest crannog (a type of artificial island). The
Callanish Stones, dating from about 2900 BC, are the finest example of
a stone circle in Scotland, the 13 primary monoliths of between one
and five metres high creating a circle about 13 metres (43 ft) in
Cladh Hallan on South Uist, the only site in
the UK where prehistoric mummies have been found, and the impressive
Dun Carloway broch on
Lewis both date from the Iron
The "Old Boy" — the gneiss cliffs of Sloc na Bèiste,
the southernmost point of the Outer Hebrides
[ə ˈxõ.ərˠʎə] ( listen)
An t-Eilean Fada
[əɲ tʰʲelan fat̪ə] ( listen)
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
[ˈkʰõ.ərˠʎə nə ˈɲelan ˈʃiəɾ] ( listen)
[ˈkukə] ( listen)
[ˈĩːʃə ˈkaulˠ̪] ( listen)
Na h-Eileanan A-muigh
[nə ˈhelanən əˈmuj] ( listen)
Na h-Eileanan an Iar
[nə ˈhelanən ə ˈɲiəɾ] ( listen)
Na h-Eileanan Siar
[nə ˈhelanən ˈʃiəɾ] ( listen)
[ˈɔʰtʲɪɾʲ ˈvoːɾ] ( listen)
Sloc na Béiste
[ˈs̪lˠ̪ɔʰk nə ˈpeːʃtʲə] ( listen)
The earliest written references that have survived relating to the
islands were made by
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, where he
states that there are 30 Hebudes, and makes a separate reference to
Dumna, which Watson (1926) concludes is unequivocally the Outer
Hebrides. Writing about 80 years later, in 140–150 AD, Ptolemy,
drawing on the earlier naval expeditions of Agricola, also
distinguished between the Ebudes, of which he writes there were only
five (and thus possibly meaning the Inner Hebrides) and Dumna.
Dumna is cognate with the Early Celtic dumnos and means the "deep-sea
isle". Pliny probably took his information from
Massilia who visited Britain sometime between 322 and 285 BC. It is
Ptolemy did as well, as Agricola's information about the
west coast of
Scotland was of poor quality. Breeze also
suggests that Dumna might be
Lewis and Harris, the largest island of
Hebrides although he conflates this single island with the
name "Long Island". Watson (1926) states that the meaning of
Ptolemy's Eboudai is unknown and that the root may be pre-Celtic.
Murray (1966) claims that Ptolemy's Ebudae was originally derived from
Old Norse Havbredey, meaning "isles on the edge of the sea". This
idea is often repeated but no firm evidence of this derivation has
Other early written references include the flight of the
from Ireland to Domon, which is mentioned in the 12th-century Lebor
Gabála Érenn and a 13th-century poem concerning Raghnall mac
Gofraidh, then the heir to the throne of Mann and the Isles, who is
said to have "broken the gate of Magh Domhna". Magh Domhna means "the
plain of Domhna (or Domon)", but the precise meaning of the text is
Irish mythology the islands were the home of the Fomorians,
described as "huge and ugly" and "ship men of the sea". They were
pirates, extracting tribute from the coasts of Ireland and one of
their kings was Indech mac Dé Domnand (i.e. Indech, son of the
goddess Domnu, who ruled over the deep seas).
In modern Gaelic the islands are sometimes referred to collectively as
An t-Eilean Fada (the Long Island) or Na h-Eileanan a-Muigh (the
Outer Isles). Innse Gall (islands of the foreigners or strangers)
is also heard occasionally, a name that was originally used by
mainland Highlanders when the islands were ruled by the Norse.
The individual island and place names in the Outer
Hebrides have mixed
Gaelic and Norse origins. Various Gaelic terms are used
Origin and meaning
generally from the Norse øy meaning "island"
bheag, bige, bhige, beaga, bheaga
dhearg, deirge, dheirge, deirg, dheirg, dearga, dhearga
dhubh, duibh, dhuibh, duibhe, dhuibhe, dubha, dhubha
ghlas, glais, ghlais, glaise, ghlaise, glasa, ghlasa
from the Norse eyland meaning "island"
mhòr, mòire, mhòire , mòra, mhòra, mòir, mhòir
skerry; often refers to a rock or rocks that lie submerged at high
There are also several islands called Orasaigh from the Norse
Örfirirsey meaning "tidal" or "ebb island".
In Scotland, the Celtic
Iron Age way of life, often troubled but never
extinguished by Rome, re-asserted itself when the legions abandoned
any permanent occupation in 211 AD. Hanson (2003) writes: "For
many years it has been almost axiomatic in studies of the period that
the Roman conquest must have had some major medium or long-term impact
on Scotland. On present evidence that cannot be substantiated either
in terms of environment, economy, or, indeed, society. The impact
appears to have been very limited. The general picture remains one of
broad continuity, not of disruption ... The Roman presence in
Scotland was little more than a series of brief interludes within a
longer continuum of indigenous development." The Romans' direct
impact on the
Highlands and Islands
Highlands and Islands was scant and there is no evidence
that they ever actually landed in the Outer Hebrides.
Iron Age inhabitants of the northern and western Hebrides
were probably Pictish, although the historical record is sparse.
Hunter (2000) states that in relation to King
Bridei I of the Picts
Bridei I of the Picts in
the sixth century AD: "As for Shetland, Orkney,
Skye and the Western
Isles, their inhabitants, most of whom appear to have been Pictish in
culture and speech at this time, are likely to have regarded Bridei as
a fairly distant presence." The island of Pabbay is the site of
the Pabbay Stone, the only extant Pictish symbol stone in the Outer
Hebrides. This 6th century stele shows a flower, V-rod and lunar
crescent to which has been added a later and somewhat crude cross.
Main article: History of the Outer Hebrides
Location of the
Kingdom of the Isles
Kingdom of the Isles at the end of the eleventh
Viking raids began on Scottish shores towards the end of the 8th
century AD and the
Hebrides came under Norse control and settlement
during the ensuing decades, especially following the success of Harald
Fairhair at the
Battle of Hafrsfjord
Battle of Hafrsfjord in 872. In the Western
Ketill Flatnose was the dominant figure of the mid 9th century,
by which time he had amassed a substantial island realm and made a
variety of alliances with other Norse leaders. These princelings
nominally owed allegiance to the Norwegian crown, although in practice
the latter's control was fairly limited. Norse control of the
Hebrides was formalised in 1098 when Edgar, King of
signed the islands over to Magnus III of Norway. The Scottish
acceptance of Magnus III as King of the Isles came after the Norwegian
king had conquered Orkney, the
Hebrides and the
Isle of Man
Isle of Man in a swift
campaign earlier the same year, directed against the local Norwegian
leaders of the various islands petty kingdoms. By capturing the
islands Magnus imposed a more direct royal control, although at a
price. His skald Bjorn Cripplehand recorded that in
Lewis "fire played
high in the heaven" as "flame spouted from the houses" and that in the
Uists "the king dyed his sword red in blood". Thompson (1968)
provides a more literal translation: "Fire played in the fig-trees of
Liodhus; it mounted up to heaven. Far and wide the people were driven
to flight. The fire gushed out of the houses".
Hebrides were now part of Kingdom of the Isles, whose rulers were
themselves vassals of the Kings of Norway. The Kingdom had two parts:
the Suðr-eyjar or South Isles encompassing the
Hebrides and the Isle
of Man; and the Norðr-eyjar or North Isles of
Orkney and Shetland.
This situation lasted until the partitioning of the
Western Isles in
1156, at which time the Outer
Hebrides remained under Norwegian
control while the Inner
Hebrides broke out under Somerled, the
Norse-Celtic kinsman of the Manx royal house.
Following the ill-fated 1263 expedition of Haakon IV of Norway, the
Hebrides along with the Isle of Man, were yielded to the Kingdom
Scotland a result of the 1266 Treaty of Perth. Although their
contribution to the islands can still be found in personal and
placenames, the archaeological record of the Norse period is very
limited. The best known find from this time is the
which date from the mid 12th century.
Kisimul Castle, the ancient seat of Clan MacNeil, Castlebay, Barra
As the Norse era drew to a close the Norse-speaking princes were
gradually replaced by Gaelic-speaking clan chiefs including the
Lewis and Harris, the MacDonalds of the Uists and MacNeil
of Barra.[Note 4] This transition did little to relieve the
islands of internecine strife although by the early 14th century the
MacDonald Lords of the Isles, based on Islay, were in theory these
chiefs' feudal superiors and managed to exert some control.
The growing threat that
Clan Donald posed to the Scottish crown led to
the forcible dissolution of the Lordship of the Isles by James IV in
1493, but although the king had the power to subdue the organised
military might of the Hebrides, he and his immediate successors lacked
the will or ability to provide an alternative form of governance.
The House of Stuart's attempts to control the Outer
Hebrides were then
at first desultory and little more than punitive expeditions. In 1506
the Earl of Huntly besieged and captured
Stornoway Castle using
cannon. In 1540 James V himself conducted a royal tour, forcing the
clan chiefs to accompany him. There followed a period of peace, but
all too soon the clans were at loggerheads again.
In 1598 King James VI authorised some "Gentleman Adventurers" from
Fife to civilise the "most barbarous Isle of Lewis". Initially
successful, the colonists were driven out by local forces commanded by
Murdoch and Neil MacLeod, who based their forces on
Bearasaigh in Loch
Ròg. The colonists tried again in 1605 with the same result but a
third attempt in 1607 was more successful, and in due course Stornoway
became a Burgh of Barony. By this time
Lewis was held by the
Mackenzies of Kintail, (later the Earls of Seaforth), who pursued a
more enlightened approach, investing in fishing in particular. The
historian W. C. MacKenzie was moved to write:
At the end of the 17th century, the picture we have of
Lewis that of a
people pursuing their avocation in peace, but not in plenty. The
Seaforths ..., besides establishing orderly Government in the
island.. had done a great deal to rescue the people from the slough of
ignorance and incivility in which they found themselves immersed. But
in the sphere of economics their policy apparently was of little
service to the community.
The Seaforth's royalist inclinations led to
Lewis becoming garrisoned
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Wars of the Three Kingdoms by Cromwell's troops, who
destroyed the old castle in
Stornoway and in 1645 Lewismen fought on
the royalist side at the Battle of Auldearn. A new era of
Hebridean involvement in the affairs of the wider world was about to
Abandoned school house, Mingulay
With the implementation of the
Treaty of Union
Treaty of Union in 1707 the Hebrides
became part of the new Kingdom of Great Britain, but the clan's
loyalties to a distant monarch were not strong. A considerable number
of islandmen "came out" in support of the Jacobite
Earl of Mar
Earl of Mar in the
"15" although the response to the 1745 rising was muted.
Nonetheless the aftermath of the decisive Battle of Culloden, which
effectively ended Jacobite hopes of a Stuart restoration, was widely
felt. The British government's strategy was to estrange the clan
chiefs from their kinsmen and turn their descendants into
English-speaking landlords whose main concern was the revenues their
estates brought rather than the welfare of those who lived on them.
This may have brought peace to the islands, but in the following
century it came at a terrible price.
Highland Clearances of the 19th century destroyed communities
Highlands and Islands
Highlands and Islands as the human populations were
evicted and replaced with sheep farms. For example, Colonel Gordon
of Cluny, owner of Barra,
South Uist and
Benbecula evicted thousands
of islanders using trickery and cruelty and even offered to sell Barra
to the government as a penal colony. Islands such as Fuaigh Mòr
were completely cleared of their populations and even today the
subject is recalled with bitterness and resentment in some areas.
The position was exacerbated by the failure of the islands' kelp
industry, which thrived from the 18th century until the end of the
Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and large scale emigration became
endemic. For example, hundreds left
North Uist for Cape Breton, Nova
Scotia. The pre-clearance population of the island had been
almost 5,000, although by 1841 it had fallen to 3,870 and was only
2,349 by 1931.
For those who remained new economic opportunities emerged through the
export of cattle, commercial fishing and tourism. During the summer
season in the 1860s and 1870s five thousand inhabitants of
be found in Wick on the mainland of Scotland, employed on the fishing
boats and at the quaysides. Nonetheless emigration and military
service became the choice of many and the archipelago's
populations continued to dwindle throughout the late 19th and 20th
centuries. By 2001 the population of
North Uist was only
The work of the
Napier Commission and the Congested Districts Board,
and the passing of the
Crofting Act of 1886 helped, but social unrest
continued. In July 1906 grazing land on
Vatersay was raided by
landless men from
Barra and its isles. Lady Gordon Cathcart took legal
action against the "raiders" but the visiting judge took the view that
she had neglected her duties as a landowner and that "long
indifference to the necessities of the cottars had gone far to drive
them to exasperation". Millennia of continuous occupation
notwithstanding, many of the remoter islands were abandoned —
Mingulay in 1912,
Hirta in 1930, and
Ceann Iar in 1942 among them.
This process involved a transition from these places being perceived
as relatively self-sufficient agricultural economies to a view
becoming held by both island residents and outsiders alike that they
lacked the essential services of a modern industrial economy.
There were gradual economic improvements, among the most visible of
which was the replacement of the traditional thatched blackhouse with
accommodation of a more modern design. The creation of the Highlands
and Islands Development Board and the discovery of substantial
North Sea oil
North Sea oil in 1965, the establishment of a unitary
local authority for the islands in 1975 and more recently the
renewables sector have all contributed to a degree of economic
stability in recent decades. The
Arnish yard has had a chequered
history but has been a significant employer in both the oil and
renewables industries. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local
authority, employs 2,000 people, making it the largest employer in the
Outer Hebrides. See also the "Innse Gall area plan 2010" and
the Comhairle's "Factfile – Economy".
Modern commercial activities centre on tourism, crofting, fishing, and
weaving including the manufacture of Harris tweed. Some of the larger
islands have development trusts that support the local economy and, in
striking contrast to the 19th and 20th century domination by absentee
landlords, more than two thirds of the
Western Isles population now
lives on community-owned estates. However the economic
position of the islands remains relatively precarious. The Western
Isles, including Stornoway, are defined by Highlands and Islands
Enterprise as an economically "Fragile Area" and they have an
estimated trade deficit of some £163.4 million. Overall, the area is
relatively reliant on primary industries and the public sector, and
fishing and fish farming in particular are vulnerable to environmental
impacts, changing market pressures, and European legislation.
There is some optimism about the possibility of future developments
in, for example, renewable energy generation, tourism, and education,
and after declines in the 20th century the population has stabilised
since 2003, although it is ageing.
Politics and local government
Main article: Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Sir Edward Scott Secondary School, Tarbert, Isle of Harris
From the passing of the
Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889
Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 to 1975
Lewis formed part of the county of
Ross and Cromarty
Ross and Cromarty and the rest of
the archipelago, including Harris, was part of Inverness-shire.
Hebrides became a unitary council area in 1975, although in
most of the rest of
Scotland similar unitary councils were not
established until 1996. Since then, the islands have formed
one of the 32 unitary council areas that now cover the whole country,
with the council officially known by its Gaelic name, Comhairle nan
Eilean Siar under the terms of the Local Government (Gaelic Names)
(Scotland) Act 1997. The council has its base in
Stornoway on Lewis
and is often known locally simply as "the Comhairle" or a'
Chomhairle. The Comhairle is one of only three Councils in
Scotland with a majority of elected members who are independents. The
other independent-run councils are
Shetland and Orkney.
Moray is run
by a Conservative/Independent coalition.
The name for the British Parliament constituency covering this area is
Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the seat being held by
Angus MacNeil MP since
2005, while the
Scottish Parliament constituency for the area is Na
h-Eileanan an Iar, the incumbent being
Alasdair Allan MSP.
Scottish independence referendum
Scottish independence referendum has led some islanders to call
for a debate on the constitutional position of the Western Isles,
linked with similar initiatives in
Orkney and Shetland.
Scottish Gaelic language
Hebrides have historically been a very strong Scottish
Gaelic (Gàidhlig) speaking area. Both the 1901 and 1921 census
reported that all parishes were over 75% Gaelic speaking, including
areas of high population density such as Stornoway. However, the
Education (Scotland) Act 1872 mandated English-only education, and is
now recognised as having dealt a major blow to the language. People
still living can recall being beaten for speaking Gaelic in
school. Nonetheless, by 1971 most areas were still more than 75%
Gaelic speaking – with the exception of Stornoway,
South Uist at 50-74%.
In the 2001 census, each island overall was over 50% Gaelic speaking
South Uist (71%), Harris (69%),
North Uist (67%),
Lewis (56%) and
Benbecula (56%). With 59.3% of Gaelic speakers or a
total of 15,723 speakers, this made the Outer
Hebrides the most
strongly coherent Gaelic speaking area in Scotland.
Most areas were between 60-74% Gaelic speaking and the areas with the
highest density of over 80% are Scalpay near Harris,
Kildonan, whilst Daliburgh, Linshader, Eriskay, Brue, Boisdale, West
Harris, Ardveenish, Soval, Ness, and
Bragar all have more than 75%.
The areas with the lowest density of speakers are
Melbost (41%), and
The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act was enacted by the Scottish
Parliament in 2005 to provide continuing support for the
language. However, by 2011 the overall percentage of Gaelic
speakers in the Outer
Hebrides had fallen to 52%.
Caledonian MacBrayne ferry MV
Hebrides leaving Lochmaddy, North Uist
en route for Skye
Scheduled ferry services between the Outer
Hebrides and the Scottish
Mainland and Inner
Hebrides operate on the following routes:
Lochboisdale on South Uist
Skye to Tarbert on Harris
Lochmaddy on North Uist
Stornoway on Lewis
Tiree to Castlebay,
Barra (summer only).
Other ferries operate between some of the islands.
National Rail services are available for onward journeys, from
stations at Oban, which has direct services to Glasgow. However,
parliamentary approval notwithstanding, plans in the 1890s to lay a
railway connection to
Ullapool were unable to obtain sufficient
There are scheduled flights from Stornoway,
Benbecula and Barra
airports both inter-island and to the mainland. Barra's airport is
claimed to be the only one in the world to have scheduled flights
landing on a beach. At high water the runways are under the sea so
flight times vary with the tide.
Bus na Comhairle
Bus na Comhairle (meaning "Bus of the Council") is the council-owned
local bus company of the
Western Isles of Scotland. The company serves
Lewis and Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist,
HMS Iolaire (HMS Iolaire)]]
The archipelago is exposed to wind and tide, and lighthouses are sited
as an aid to navigation at locations from
Barra Head in the south to
Butt of Lewis
Butt of Lewis in the north. There are numerous sites of
wrecked ships, and the
Flannan Isles are the location of an enduring
mystery that occurred in December 1900, when all three lighthouse
keepers vanished without trace.
Annie Jane, a three-masted immigrant ship out of
Liverpool bound for
Montreal, Canada, struck rocks off the West Beach of
Vatersay during a
storm on Tuesday 28 September 1853. Within ten minutes the ship began
to founder and break up casting 450 people into the raging sea. In
spite of the conditions, islanders tried to rescue the passengers and
crew. The remains of 350 men, women and children were buried in the
dunes behind the beach and a small cairn and monument marks the
The tiny Beasts of Holm off the east coast of
Lewis were the site of
the sinking of HMS Iolaire during the first few hours of
1919, one of the worst maritime disasters in United Kingdom
waters during the 20th century.
Calvay in the Sound of
the inspiration for Compton Mackenzie's novel Whisky Galore after the
SS Politician ran aground there with a cargo of single malt in
Religion, culture and sport
Main article: Religion in the Outer Hebrides
Christianity has deep roots in the Western Isles, but owing mainly to
the different allegiances of the clans in the past, the people in the
northern islands (Lewis, Harris, North Uist) have historically been
predominantly Presbyterian, and those of the southern islands
(Benbecula, South Uist, Barra) predominantly Roman Catholic.
At the time of the 2001 Census, 42% of the population identified
themselves as being affiliated with the Church of Scotland, with 13%
Roman Catholic and 28% with other Christian churches. Many of this
last group belong to the Free Church of Scotland, known for its strict
observance of the Sabbath. 11% stated that they had no
religion.[Note 5] This made the
Western Isles the Scottish council
area with the smallest percentage of atheists in the population. There
are also small Episcopalian congregations in
Lewis and Harris
Lewis and Harris and the
Hebrides are part of the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles in both
the Episcopalian and Catholic traditions.
Gaelic music is popular in the islands and the
Lewis and Harris
Traditional Music Society plays an active role in promoting the
Fèis Bharraigh began in 1981 with the aim of developing
the practice and study of the Gaelic language, literature, music,
drama and culture on the islands of
Barra and Vatersay. A two-week
festival, it has inspired 43 other feisean throughout Scotland.
Lewis Pipe Band was founded in 1904 and the
Lewis and Harris
Piping Society in 1977.
Outdoor activities including rugby, football, golf, shinty, fishing,
riding, canoeing, athletics, and multi-sports are popular in the
Western Isles. The Hebridean Challenge is an adventure race run in
five daily stages, which takes place along the length of the islands
and includes hill and road running, road and mountain biking, short
sea swims and demanding sea kayaking sections. There are four main
sports centres: Ionad Spors Leodhais in Stornoway, which has a 25 m
swimming pool; Harris Sports Centre; Lionacleit Sports Centre on
Castlebay Sports Centre on Barra. The
Western Isles is
a member of the International Island Games Association.
South Uist is home to the Askernish Golf Course. The oldest links in
the Outer Hebrides, it was designed by Old Tom Morris. Although it was
in use until the 1930s, its existence was largely forgotten until 2005
and it is now being restored to Morris's original design.
I Know Where I'm Going!
I Know Where I'm Going! is a 1945 British drama/romance film set
mostly in the Outer Hebrides, depicting local lifestyles and speech.
Hebridean Myths and Legends
List of places in the Western Isles
List of rulers of the Kingdom of the Isles
List of islands of Scotland
Category A listed buildings in the Western Isles
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar election, 2012
Constitutional status of Orkney,
Shetland and the Western Isles
Solar eclipse of 1 May 1185
^ Murray (1973) notes that "Western Isles" has tended to mean "Outer
Hebrides" since the creation of the Na h-Eileanan an Iar or Western
Isles parliamentary constituency in 1918. The phrase can also be used
to refer to the
Hebrides in general. Murray also notes that "Gneiss
Islands"—a reference to the underlying geology – is another name
used to refer to the Outer
Hebrides but that its use is "confined to
^ This tidal isle is at (grid reference NF860580) and the evidence of
Ordnance Survey maps and photographs (e.g. "Houses on Seana
Bhaile" Geograph. Retrieved 10 August 2009) indicates a resident
population. There is even a name, Seana Bhaile (English: "Old Town")
for the main settlement. However, neither the census nor the main
reference work (Haswell-Smith 2004) refer to the island. Its
population is presumably included in nearby
Grimsay by the census.
^ Lewisian gneiss is sometimes described as the oldest rock found in
Europe, but trondhjemite gneiss recently measured at Siurua in Finland
has been dated to 3.4–3.5 Ga.
^ The transitional relationships between Norse and Gaelic-speaking
rulers are complex. The Gall-Ghàidhels who dominated much of the
Irish Sea region and western
Scotland at this time were of joint
Gaelic and Scandinavian origin. When
Somerled wrested the southern
Hebrides from Godred the Black in 1156, this was the beginnings
of a break with nominal Norse rule in the Hebrides. Godred remained
the ruler of Mann and the Outer Hebrides, but two years later
Somerled's invasion of the former caused him to flee to Norway. Norse
control was further weakened in the ensuring century, but the Hebrides
were not formally ceded by Norway until 1266. The transitions
from one language to another are also complex. For example, many
Scandinavian sources from this period of time typically refer to
individuals as having a Scandinavian first name and a Gaelic
^ The 2001 census statistics used are based on local authority areas
but do not specifically identify Free Church or Episcopal adherents.
4% of the respondents did not answer this census question and the
total for all other religions combined is 1 per cent.
^ "Standard Area Measurements (2016) for Administrative Areas in the
United Kingdom". Office for National Statistics. 1 February 2017.
Retrieved 9 February 2017.
^ a b Thompson (1968) p. 14
^ a b "Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales,
Northern Ireland, Mid-2016". Office for National Statistics. 22 June
2017. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
^ Murray (1973) p. 32.
^ a b Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 289
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 262
^ a b Thompson (1968) p. 13
^ "Botanical survey of Scottish freshwater lochs" SNH Information and
Advisory Note Number 4. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
^ Murray and Pullar (1910) "Lochs of Lewis" Volume II, Part II
p. 216. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
^ Murray and Pullar (1910) "Lochs of North Uist" Volume II, Part II
p. 188. Retrieved 20 December 2009.
^ a b "Get-a-map". Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 1–15 August 2009.
^ Murray (1966) pp. 171, 198
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 236–45
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 206
^ Rotary Club (1995) p. 106
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 218–22
Western Isles Transitional Programme Strategy". Comhairle nan
Eilean Siar. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 19
^ Rotary Club (1995) p. 10
^ "Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve: Where Opposites Meet".
(pdf) SNH. Retrieved 29 July 2007.
South Uist and
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^ "Higher plant species: 1833 Slender naiad" JNCC. Retrieved 29 July
^ "Statutory Instrument 1994 No. 2716 " Office of Public Sector
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^ "Campaign to stop the slaughter of over 5000 Hedgehogs on the Island
of Uist". Epping Forest Hedgehog Rescue. Archived from the original on
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^ Ross, John (21 February 2007). "Hedgehogs saved from the syringe as
Uist cull called off". The Scotsman. Edinburgh.
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^ Benvie (2004) pp. 116, 121, 132–34
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original on 22 June 2006. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
^ Thompson (1968) p. 21
^ Maclean (1972) p. 21
^ a b c "Statistical Bulletins". "2011 Census: First Results on
Population and Household Estimates for
Scotland - Release 1C (Part
Two)" (PDF). National Records of Scotland. 15 August 2013.
^ Factfile - Population of Outer Hebrides
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^ "Scotland's 2011 census: Island living on the rise".
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^ "Factfile:Population". Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Retrieved 20 July
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^ Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 296
^ "Fleet Histories" Caledonian MacBrayne. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 205, 253
^ "Crìonadh mòr sa Ghàidhlig anns na h-Eileanan" [A significant
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^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 206, 262
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) various pages
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 207–209
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^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 282–83
^ Thompson (1968) pp. 187–89
^ Thompson (1968) pp. 182–85
^ "Oral Questions to the Minister of Foreign Affairs". Dáil Éireann.
1 November 1973. Archived from the original on 22 August 2006.
Retrieved 17 January 2007.
^ MacDonald, Fraser (2006). "The last outpost of Empire:
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^ Gillen (2003) p. 44
^ McKirdy et al. (2007) p. 95
^ a b Murray (1966) p. 2
^ Lalli, Katja and Huhma, Hannu (2005). The oldes (sic) rock of Europe
at Siurua (PDF). Fifth International Dyke Conference. Rovaniemi,
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^ Gillen (2003) p. 42
^ McKirdy et al. (2007) p. 94
^ Thompson (1968) pp. 24–26
^ Murray (1973) p. 79
^ Murray (1973) pp. 79–81
^ Armit (1998) p. 34
^ Crone, B.A. (1993) "Crannogs and chronologies" Proceedings of the
Society of Antiquarians of Scotland. 123 pp. 245–54
^ Li (2005) p. 509
^ Murray (1973) p. 122
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^ a b c Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith
and Banks (2002) pp. 11–13
^ a b c d Watson (1926) pp. 40–41
^ Watson (1926) p. 38
^ Murray (1966) p. 1
^ Watson (1926) pp. 41–42 quoting
Lebor na hUidre
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^ a b Mac an Tàilleir (2003) various pages.
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^ Hanson (2003) p. 216
^ Hunter (2000) pp. 38–39
^ Hunter (2000) pp. 44, 49
^ Miers (2008) p. 367
^ Hunter (2000) p. 74
^ Rotary Club (1995) p. 12
^ Hunter (2000) p. 78
^ a b Hunter (2000) p. 102
^ a b Thompson (1968) p 39
^ "The Kingdom of Mann and the Isles" thevikingworld.com Retrieved 6
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^ Rotary Club (1995) pp. 27, 30
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^ Downham (2007) pp. 174–75.
^ Gammeltoft, Peder "Scandinavian Naming-Systems in the Hebrides: A
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^ Hunter (2000) pp. 127, 166
^ Hunter (2000) p. 143
^ Thompson (1968) pp. 40–41
^ Rotary Club (1995) pp. 12–13
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 312
^ Thompson (1968) p. 41. It is not clear from the text which of
MacKenzie's five books quoted in the bibliography spanning the years
1903–52 the quote is taken from.
^ a b Thompson (1968) pp. 41–42
^ Hunter (2000) p. 212
^ Rotary Club (1995) p. 31
^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 306–07
^ Hunter (2000) pp. 247, 262
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Outer Hebrides.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Outer Hebrides.
Western Isles at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Stornoway Port Authority
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
2001 Census Results for the Outer Hebrides
Hebrides.com Photographic website from ex-Eolas Sam Maynard
Western Isles Tourist Board site from Reefnet
Virtual Hebrides.com Content from the VH, which went its own way and
became Virtual Scotland.
hebrides.ca Home of the Quebec-Hebridean Scots who were cleared from
Lewis to Quebec 1838–1920s
Prehistoric Western Isles
Other Neolithic Sites
Clach an Trushal
Iron Age Sites
Dun an Sticir
Inhabited islands of the Hebrides
Eilean dà Mhèinn
Isle of Ewe
Lewis and Harris
Islands of Scotland
Islands of the Clyde
Islands of the Forth
Heart of Neolithic
Orkney World Heritage Site:
Ness of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar
Standing Stones of Stenness
Iron Age Shetland:
Broch of Mousa
Prehistoric Western Isles
Rubha an Dùnain
Kingdom of the Isles
Rulers of the Kingdom of the Isles
Bishop of the Isles
Lordship of the Isles
Treaty of Perth
Treaty of Ardtornish-Westminster
Earldom of Orkney
18th and 19th Century
Description of the
Western Isles of
A Description of the
Western Isles of
A Journey to the Western Islands of
The Journal of a Tour to the
Scottish island names
Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba
Community Energy Scotland
Highlands and Islands
Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Scottish Islands Federation
Peerie Willie Johnson
Shetland Amenity Trust
Up Helly Aa
George Mackay Brown
Peter Maxwell Davies
F. Marian McNeill
Kirkwall Ba game
Orkney Heritage Society
St Magnus Festival
Free Church of Scotland
Iain Crichton Smith
West Highland Free Press
Shetland Islands Council
Orkney Islands Council
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Argyll and Bute
Fair Isle wren
St Kilda field mouse
St Kilda wren
North Ronaldsay sheep
Geology of Orkney
Yesnaby Sandstone Group
Great Estuarine Group
Lorne plateau lavas
Moine Thrust Belt
Islands of the Clyde
Highland Boundary Fault
Council areas of Scotland
Argyll and Bute
Dumfries and Galloway
Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles)
Perth and Kinross
List by area, population, density
ISNI: 0000 0000 8692 9806