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Barra Peat Gathering

Barra Peat Gathering


The Western Isles of Scotland

The Hebrides, or Western Isles, are a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland. They are situated between 55° 35’ and 58° 30’ N. and 5° 26’ and 8° 40’ W. Formerly the term was held to embrace not only all the islands off the Scottish western coast, including the islands in the Firth of Clyde, but also the peninsula of Kintyre, the Isle of Man and the Isle of Rathlin, off the coast of Antrim. They have been broadly classified into the Outer Hebrides and the Inner Hebrides, the Minch and Little Minch dividing the one group from the other. Geologically, they have also been differentiated as the Gneiss Islands and the Trap Islands. The Outer Hebrides being almost entirely composed of gneiss the epithet suitably serves them, but, strictly speaking, only the more northerly of the Inner Hebrides may be distinguished as Trap Islands.

The chief islands of the Outer Hebrides are Lewis-with-Harris (or Long Island), North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra, the Shiants, St Kilda and the Flannan. Isles, or Seven Hunters, an uninhabited group, about 20 m. North West of Gallon Head in Lewis. Of these the Lewis portion of Long Island, the Shiants and the Flannan belong to the county of Ross and Cromarty, and the remainder to Inverness-shire. The total length of this group, from Barra Head to the Butt of Lewis, is 130 miles, the breadth varying from less than 1 mile to 30 miles.

The Inner Hebrides are much more scattered and principally include Skye, Small Isles (Canna, Sanday, Rum, Eigg and Muck), Coil, Tyree, Lismore, Mull, Ulva, Staffa, Iona, Kerrera, the Slate Islands (Seil, Easdale, Luing, Shuna, Torsay), Colonsay, Oronsay, Scarba, Jura, Islay and Gigha. Of these Skye and Small Isles belonged to Inverness-shire, and the rest to Argyllshire.

Of the total area of 1,800,000 acres, or 2812 sq. miles, only one-ninth is cultivated, most of the surface being moorland and mountain. The annual rainfall, particularly in the Inner Hebrides, is heavy (42-6 in. at Stornoway) but the temperature is high, averaging for the year 47° F. Potatoes and turnips are the only root crops that succeed, and barley and oats are grown in some of the islands. Sheep-farming and cattle-raising are carried on very generally, and, with the fisheries, provide the main occupation of the inhabitants, though they profit not a little from the tourists who flock to many of the islands throughout the summer.

The principal industries include distilling, slate-quarrying and the manufacture of tweeds, tartans and other woollens. There are extensive deer forests in Lewis-with Harris, Skye, Mull and Jura. On many of the islands there are prehistoric remains and antiquities within the Christian period. The more populous islands are in regular communication with certain points of the mainland by means of steamers fromGlasgow, Oban and Mallaig. The United Free Church has a strong hold on the poeple, but in a few of the islands the Roman Catholics have a great following. In the larger inhabited islands board schools have been established. The islands unite with the regions to which they belong in returning members to parliament.

History
The Hebrides are mentioned by Pliny under that of Hebudes, the modern spelling having, it is said. originated in a misprint. By the Norwegians they were called Sudreyj’ar or Southern Islands. The Latinized form was Sodorenses, preserved to modern times in the title of the bishop of Sodor and Man. The original inhabitants seem to have been of the same Celtic race as those settled on the mainland. In the 6th century Scandinavian hordes poured in with their northern idolatry and lust of plunder, but in time they adopted the language and faith of the islanders. Mention is made of incursions of the vikings as early as 793, but the principal immigration took place towards the end of the 9th century in the early part of the reign of Harald Fairhair, king of Norway, and consisted of persons driven to the Hebrides, as well as to Orkney and Shetland, to escape from his tyrannous rule.

Soon afterwards they began to make incursions against their mother-country, and on this account Harald fitted out an expedition against them, and placed Orkney, Shetland, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man under Norwegian government. The chief seat of the Norwegian sovereignty was Colonsay. About the year 1095 Godred Crovan, king of Dublin, Man and the Hebrides, died in Islay. His third son, Olaf, succeeded to the government about 1103, and the daughter of Olaf was married to Somerled, who became the founder of the dynasty known as Lords of the Isles. Many efforts were made by the Scottish monarchs to displace the Norwegians. Alexander II. led a fleet and army to the shores of Argyllshire in 1249, but he died on the island of Kerrera. On the other hand, Haakon IV., king of Norway, at once to restrain the independence of his jarls and to keep in check the ambition of the Scottish kings, set sail in 1263 on a great expedition, which, however, ended disastrously at Largs.

The son of Haakon, concluded in 1266 a peace with the Scots, renouncing all claim to the Hebrides and other islands except Orkney and Shetland, and Alexander III. agreed to give him a sum of 4000 merks in four yearly payments. It was also stipulated that Margaret, daughter of Alexander, should be betrothed to Eric, the son of Magnus, whom she married in 1281. She died two years later, leaving an only daughter afterwards known as the Maid of Norway.

The race of Somerled continued to rule the islands, and from a younger son of the same potentate sprang the lords of Lorne, who took the patronymic of Macdougall. John Macdonald of Islay, who died about 1386, was the first to adopt the title of Lord of the Isles. He was one of the most potent of the island princes, and was married to a daughter of the earl of Strathearn afterwards Robert II. Flis son, Donald of the Isles, was memorable for his rebellion in support of his claim to the earldom of Ross, in which, however, he was unsuccessful. Alexander, son of Donald, resumed the hereditary warfare against the Scottish crown; and in 5462 a treaty was concluded between Alexander’s son and successor John and Edward IV. of England, by which John, his son John, and his cousin Donald Balloch, became bound to assist King Edward and James, earl of Douglas, in subduing the kingdom of Scotland. The alliance seems to have led to no active operations.

In the reign of James V. another John of Islay resumed the title of Lord of the Isles, but was compelled to surrender the dignity. The glory of the lordship of the isles, the insular sovereignty, had departed. From the time of Bruce the Campbells had been gaining the ascendancy in Argyll. The Macleans, Macnaughtons, Maclachlans, Lamonts, and other ancient races had sunk before this favoured family. The lordship of Lorne was wrested from the Macdougalls by Robert Bruce, and their extensive possessions, with Dunstaffnage Castle, bestowed on the king’s relative, Stewart, and his descendants, afterwards lords of Lorne. The Macdonalds of Sleat, the direct representatives of Somerled, though driven from Islay and deprived of supreme power by James V., still kept a sort of insular state in Skye.

There were also the Macdonalds of Clanranald and Glengarry (descendants of Somerled), with the powerful houses of Macleod of Dunvegan and Macleod of Harris, McNeill of Barra and Maclean of Mull. Sanguinary feuds continued throughout the 16th and 17th centuries among these rival clans and their dependent tribes, and the turbulent spirit was not subdued till a comparatively recent period. James VI. made an abortive endeavour to colonize Lewis. William III. and Queen Anne attempted to subsidize the chiefs in order to preserve tranquillity, but the wars of Montrose and Dundee, and the Jacobite insurrections of 1715 and 1745, showed how futile were all such efforts.

It was not till 1748, when a decisive blow was struck at the power of the chiefs by the abolition of heritable jurisdictions, and the appointment of sheriffs in the different districts, that the arts of peace and social improvement made way in these remote regions. The change was great, and at first not unmixed with evil. A new system of management and high rents were imposed, in consequence of which numbers of the tacksmen, or large tenants, emigrated to North America.

The exodus continued for many years. Sheep-farming on a large scale was next introduced, and the crofters were thrust into villages or barren corners of the land. The result was that, despite the numbers who entered the army or emigrated to Canada, the standard of civilization sank lower, and the population multiplied in the islands. The people came to subsist almost entirely on potatoes and herrings; and in 1846, when the potato blight began its ravages, nearly universal destitution ensued, embracing, over the islands generally, 70% of the inhabitants. Temporary relief was administered in the shape of employment on roads and other works; and an emigration fund being raised, from 4000 to 5000 of the people in the most crowded districts were removed to Australia. Matters, however, were not really mended, and in 1884 a royal commission reported upon the condition of the crofters of the islands and mainland. As a result of their inquiry the Crofters’ Holdings Act was passed ill 1886, and in the course of a few years some improvement was evident and has since been sustained.



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