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The Outer Hebrides is a chain of more than 100 islands and small skerries located about 70 kilometres (43 mi) west of mainland Scotland. There are 15 inhabited islands in this archipelago, which is also known as the Western Isles and archaically as the Long Isle (Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Fada).[Note 1]
Lewis and Harris 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 joined by a land border.[Note 2] The largest settlement in Lewis and in the Outer Hebrides is Stornoway.
To the south across the Sound of Harris lie the Uists and Benbecula, which were joined by a series of causeways constructed between 1940 and 1960 to improve transport links. Further south are Barra and the smaller Barra Isles, whose southernmost extremity is Barra Head. There are other outliers with cultural links to the Outer Hebrides that are not part of the archipelago itself. These include the St Kilda group, which are quite distinct geologically and no longer inhabited, Sula Sgeir and North Rona to the north and isolated Rockall, which is 367 kilometres (228 mi) to the west of North Uist.[Note 3]
The islands of Scotland's west coast are known collectively as the Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides are separated from the Inner Hebrides by The Minch to the north and the Sea of the Hebrides to the south. The Outer Hebrides are administered by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and had a population of 26,502 in 2001. The Outer Hebrides have historically been a strong Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) speaking area. Despite recent declines, in the 2001 census more than 50% of the resident population in each island was able to speak Gaelic, for an overall total of 15,842 speakers throughout the archipelago. The modern economy centres on tourism, crofting, fishing, and weaving, the latter of which includes the manufacture of Harris tweed. The archipelago is exposed to wind and tide, and there are numerous lighthouses as an aid to navigation.
The definition of an island used in this list is that it is "land that is surrounded by seawater on a daily basis, but not necessarily at all stages of the tide, excluding human devices such as bridges and causeways".[Note 4]
The highest peaks of the islands have names deriving from both Gaelic and Old Norse indicating the historical importance of these two cultures. The archeological record for the period of Viking domination during the Early Historic period is however very limited, the Lewis chessmen being an exception.
In addition to the North Ford (Oitir Mhòr) and South Ford causeways that connect North and South Uist, Benbecula and the northern of the two Grimsays in the southern part of the island chain, several other islands are now connected by causeways and bridges. Great Bernera and Scalpay have bridge connections to Lewis and Harris respectively, Baleshare and Berneray are linked to North Uist, Eriskay to South Uist, Flodaigh, Fraoch-eilean and the southern Grimsay to Benbecula, and Vatersay is connected to Barra by a causeway. This means that all of the inhabited islands are now connected to at least one other island by a land transport route.
|Island||Gaelic name||Group[Note 5]||Area (ha)||Population||Highest point||Height (m)[Note 6]|
|Baleshare||Am Baile Sear||Uists and Benbecula||910||58||12|
|Benbecula||Beinn nam Fadhla||Uists and Benbecula||8,203||1,303||Ruaval||124|
|Berneray||Beàrnaraigh||Uists and Benbecula||1,010||138||Beinn Shleibhe||93|
|Eriskay||Èirisgeigh||Uists and Benbecula||703||143||Ben Scrien||185|
|Flodaigh||Flodaigh||Uists and Benbecula||145||[Note 7]7||20|
|Fraoch-eilean||Fraoch-eilean||Uists and Benbecula||55||[Note 8]?||Cnoc Mor||11|
|Great Bernera||Beàrnaraigh Mòr||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||2,122||252||87|
|Grimsay (North)[Note 9]||Griomasaigh||Uists and Benbecula||833||169||22|
|Grimsay (South)[Note 10]||Griomasaigh||Uists and Benbecula||117||20||20|
|Lewis and Harris||Leòdhas agus na Hearadh||Lewis and Harris||217,898||21,031||Clisham||799|
|North Uist||Uibhist a Tuath||Uists and Benbecula||30,305||1,254||Eaval||347|
|Scalpay||Sgalpaigh na Hearadh||Harris||653||291||Beinn Scorabhaig||104|
|South Uist||Uibhist a Deas||Uists and Benbecula||32,026||1,754||Beinn Mhòr||620|
This is a list of islands with an area greater than 25 hectares (approximately 37 acres). Records for the last date of settlement for the smaller uninhabited islands are incomplete, but most of the islands listed here would have been inhabited at some point during the Neolithic, Iron Age, Early Historic or Norse periods.
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. 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 the more remote islands lacked the essential services of a modern industrial economy.
Some of the islands continue to contribute to modern culture. The "Mingulay Boat Song", although evocative of island life, was written after the abandonment of the island in 1938 and Taransay hosted the BBC television series ‘’Castaway 2000’’. Others have played a part in Scottish history. On 4 May 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie hid on Eilean Liubhaird with some of his men for four days whilst Royal Navy vessels patrolled the Minch. They camped under a sail stretched over a "low pitiful hut" while it rained torrentially.
The difficulties of definition are considerable in some cases. For example, Haswell-Smith (2004) treats Eileanan Iasgaich[Note 11] as a single island of 50 ha, although during high tides it becomes several tidal islets—none of which is ever connected to the "mainland" of South Uist. Despite its name Eilean an Taighe (English: "house island") in the Shiant Isles does not qualify for inclusion as it is connected to Garbh Eilean by a natural isthmus.
|Island||Gaelic name||Group[Note 12]||Area (ha)||Last inhabited[Note 13]||Highest point||Height (m)[Note 14]|
|Barra Head or Berneray||Beàrnaraigh Cheann Bharraigh||Barra Isles||204||1980||Sotan||193|
|Boreray||Boraraigh||North Uist||198||1960s||Mullach Mòr||56|
|Calbhaigh||Calbhaigh||South Uist[Note 15]||26||Unknown||10|
|Ceabhaigh||Ceabhaigh||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||25||Unknown||20|
|Ceallasaigh Beag||Ceallasaigh Beag||Loch Maddy||55||Unknown||10|
|Ceallasaigh Mòr||Ceallasaigh Mòr||Loch Maddy||55||Unknown||10|
|Ceann Ear||An Ceann Ear||Monach Islands||203||1931–33||17|
|Ceann Iar||An Ceann Iar||Monach Islands||154||1931–33||Cnoc Bharr||19|
|Eilean Chaluim Chille||Eilean Chaluim Chille||Lewis (Loch Erisort)||85||Post-16th century||Creag Mhor||43|
|Eilean Chearstaidh||Eilean Chearstaigh||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||77||No census records||37|
|Eileanan Iasgaich||Eileanan Iasgaich||South Uist||50||No census records||20|
|Eilean Liubhaird||Eilean Liubhaird||Lewis (Loch Sealg)||125||Early 19th century||76|
|Eilean Mhealasta||Eilean Mhealasta||Lewis (Park)||124||1823||Cnoc Àrd||77|
|Eilean Mhuire||Eilean Mhuire||Shiant Isles||30||18th century||90|
|Ensay||Easaigh||Sound of Harris||186||1971||49|
|Fiaraidh||Fiaraigh||Sound of Barra||41||No record of habitation||30|
|Flodaigh||Flodaigh||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||39||1827||48|
|Flodaigh Mòr||Flodaigh Mòr||North Uist||58||No census records||28|
|Flodday[Note 16]||Flodaigh||Barra Isles||35||Inhabitation unlikely||43|
|Flodday[Note 17]||Flodaigh||Sound of Barra||40||1851||41|
|Fuaigh Beag||Fuaigh Beag||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||35||1827||48|
|Fuaigh Mòr||Fuaigh Mòr||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||84||1840s[Note 18]||Mullach na Beinne||67|
|Fuday||Fuideigh||Sound of Barra||232||1901||Mullach Neacail||89|
|Fuiay||Fuidheigh||Sound of Barra||84||Mid-19th century||107|
|Garbh Eilean||Garbh Eilean||Shiant Isles||143||1901||Mullach Buidhe||160|
|Gighay||Gioghaigh||Sound of Barra||96||Early 19th century||Mullach a' Chàrnain||95|
|Groaigh||Groaigh||Sound of Harris||28||Unknown||26|
|Hellisay||Theiliseigh||Sound of Barra||142||1890||Beinn a' Chàrnain||72|
|Hermetray||Theàrnatraigh||Sound of Harris||72||1840s||Compass Knoll||35|
|Killegray||Ceileagraigh||Sound of Harris||176||1970s||45|
|Kirkibost||Eilean Chirceboist||North Uist||205||Unknown||10|
|Lingeigh||Lingeigh||Barra Isles||27||Inhabitation unlikely||83|
|Little Bernera||Beàrnaraigh Beag||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||138||1861||Tordal||41|
|Muldoanich||Maol Dòmhnaich||Barra Isles||78||No census records||Maol Dòmhnaich||153|
|Orosay||Orasaigh||Sound of Barra||c. 30||Unknown||38|
|Oronsay||Orasaigh||North Uist||85||19th century||25|
|Pabbay||Pabaigh||Barra Isles||250||1911–20||An Tobha||171|
|Pabbay||Pabaigh||Harris||820||1970s[Note 19]||Beinn a' Chàrnain||196|
|Pabaigh Mòr||Pabaigh Mòr||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||101||1827||Beinn Mhòr||68|
|Ronay||Rònaigh||North Uist||563||1920s||Beinn á Charnain||115|
|Sandray||Sanndraigh||Barra Isles||385||1934||Carn Ghaltair||207|
|Scarp||An Sgarp||Harris||1,045||1971||Sròn Romul||308|
|Seaforth Island||Eilean Shìophoirt||Lewis (Loch Seaforth)||273||No record of habitation||217|
|Sgeotasaigh||Sgeotasaigh||Harris (East Loch Tarbert)||49||1921||57|
|Shillay||Siolaigh||North Uist||47||No evidence of habitation||79|
|Soay Mor||Sòdhaigh Mòr||Harris||45||1890s||37|
|Stromay||Stròmaigh[Note 20]||Sound of Harris||66||Unknown||16|
|Stockinish Island||Eilean Stocainis||Harris||49||No record of habitation||44|
|Stuley||Stulaigh||South Uist||45||19th century?[Note 21]||40|
|Sursaigh||Sursaigh||Sound of Harris||30||Unknown||27|
|Tahay||Taghaigh||Sound of Harris||53||1850s||65|
|Torogaigh||Torogaigh||Sound of Harris||28||Unknown||13|
|Vacsay||Bhacasaigh||Lewis (Loch Ròg)||41||1869||34|
|Vallay||Bhàlaigh||North Uist||260||19th century?||Ceann Uachdarach||38|
|Wiay||Fuidheigh||Benbecula||375||1901||Beinn a' Tuath||102|
The Eileanan Chearabhaigh are a complex group of islets off the east coast of Benbecula, the area of which changes as the tides rise and fall. The total area is circa 49 hectares and largest part that might be considered to be a genuine island is circa 32 hectares.
Smaller islands, tidal islets only separated at higher stages of the tide, and skerries that are only exposed at lower stages of the tide pepper the North Atlantic surrounding the main islands. This is a continuing list of these smaller Outer Hebridean islands.
Many of them are obscure and few have ever been inhabited. Nonetheless, some have a significant degree of notability. The islet on which Kisimul Castle stands is the ancient seat of Clan MacNeil and Shillay in the Monach Isles had a manned lighthouse until 1942. The tiny Beasts of Holm of the east coast of Lewis were the site of the sinking of the 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 Barra provided the inspiration for Compton MacKenzie's 1947 novel Whiskey Galore after the SS Politician ran aground there with a cargo of whisky. Unusually for an island without permanent inhabitation, Eilean na Cille (NF847459) is connected to Grimsay (south) by a causeway.
Various Gaelic names are used repeatedly. The suffix ay or aigh or aidh is generally from the Norse øy meaning "island". Eilean (plural: eileanan) also means "island". Beag and mòr (also bheag and mhòr) mean "little" and "big" and are often found together. Sgeir is "skerry" and often refers to a rock or rocks that lie submerged at high tide. Dubh is "black", dearg is "red" and glas means "grey" or "green". Orasaigh is from the Norse Örfirirsey meaning "tidal" or "ebb island".
Smaller islands grouped geographically:
Ceann Loch Resort to Aird Dhrolaige: Liongam, Staca Liath
There are various small archipelagos within the Outer Hebrides. These include:
|Barra Isles (or Bishop's Isles)||South of Barra|
|Flannan Isles||32 kilometres (20 mi) west of Lewis|
|Monach Islands||9 kilometres (5.6 mi) west of North Uist|
|Shiant Isles||7 kilometres (4.3 mi) southeast of Harris|
The St Kilda group is 64 kilometres (40 mi) west-northwest of North Uist.