|Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
|- Total||3,071 km2 (1,186 sq mi)|
|- % Water||?|
|- Total (2008)||26,200|
|- Density||9 /km2 (23 /sq mi)|
|Comhairle nan Eilean
The Outer Hebrides, (officially known for local government purposes by the Gaelic name, Na h-Eileanan Siar) comprise an island chain off the west coast of Scotland. The local government area is one of the 32 unitary council areas of Scotland.
The island chain forms part of the Hebrides, separated from the Scottish mainland and from the Inner Hebrides by the stormy waters of the Minch, the Little Minch and the Sea of the Hebrides. On the island chain Scottish Gaelic was formerly the dominant language, and remains widely spoken even though in some areas it has now been largely supplanted by English.
The name for the UK Parliament constituency covering this area is Na h-Eileanan an Iar, whilst the Scottish Parliament constituency for the area continues to be officially known as Western Isles. The islands were part of what was known as Suðreyjar ("Southern Islands"; cf. Suðrland) under Norwegian rule for about 200 years until sovereignty was transferred to Scotland in the Treaty of Perth in 1266, which followed the Battle of Largs three years earlier. Colloquially, they are sometimes referred to collectively as An t-Eilean Fada or "The Long Island"; Na h-Eileanan a-Muigh (the Outer Isles), Innse Gall (Foreign Isles) is also heard occasionally in Scottish Gaelic: this name would have been used originally by mainland Highlanders when the islands were ruled by Vikings.
The main islands form an archipelago. With their smaller surrounding islands these are sometimes known poetically as the Long Isle. The major islands include Lewis and Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. Much of the western coastline of the islands is machair, a fertile low-lying dune pastureland. Much of the archipelago is protected habitat, and this includes both the islands and the surrounding waters. There are numerous rare species, including the golden eagle, basking shark, whale, dolphin, otter and corncrake. 
|Island||2001 census population|
|Lewis and Harris (Leòdhas agus na Hearadh)||19,918|
|South Uist (Uibhist a Deas)||1,818|
|North Uist (Uibhist a Tuath)||1,271|
|Benbecula (Beinn nam Fadhla)||1,219|
|Great Bernera (Bearnaraigh Mòr)||233|
|Berneray, North Uist (Beàrnaraigh)||136|
|Baleshare (Baile Sear)||49|
|Grimsay, South East Benbecula (Griomasaigh)||19|
There are numerous uninhabited islands including the Barra Isles, 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. 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.
Small islands and island groups pepper the North Atlantic surrounding the main island group. To the west lies St Kilda, and Rockall, in increasing order of distance. The status of Rockall as part of the United Kingdom remains a matter of international dispute. About halfway between St Kilda and Rockall is the Anton Dohrn Seamount, a large submerged volcano. To the north lie North Rona and Sula Sgeir, two small and remote islands. Not often included as part of the Outer Hebrides, they nevertheless come under the administration of the Western Isles district.
The island and place names have mixed Gaelic and Norse origins. Various Gaelic terms are used repeatedly:
|Gaelic root||derived forms||Anglicised as||Origin and root|
|-aigh||-ay/-ey||generally from the Norse øy meaning "island"|
|beag||bheag, bige, bhige, beaga, bheaga||beg||small|
|dearg||dhearg, deirge, dheirge, deirg, dheirg, dearga, dhearga||derg||red|
|dubh||dhubh, duibh, dhuibh, duibhe, dhuibhe, dubha, dhubha||black; hidden|
|glas||ghlas, glais, ghlais, glaise, ghlaise, glasa, ghlasa||grey, green|
|eilean||eilein, eileanan||from the Norse eyland meaning "island"|
|mòr||mhòr, mòire, mhòire, mòra, mhòra, mòir, mhòir||more||big, great|
|sgeir||sgeirean||skerry||skerry; often refers to a rock or rocks that lie submerged at high tide.|
There are several islands called Orasaigh from the Norse Örfirirsey meaning "tidal" or "ebb island".
Most of the islands have a bedrock formed from Lewisian Gneiss. These are the oldest rocks in Europe and amongst the oldest in the world, having been laid down in the Precambrian period, up to 3000 million years ago. They form basement deposits found in the Outer Hebrides, 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. One of these intrusions forms the summit plateau of the mountain Roineabhal in Harris. The granite here is anorthosite, and is similar in composition to rocks found in the mountains of the Moon.
The Hebrides were originally settled in the Mesolithic era and have a diversity of important prehistoric sites. Eilean Dòmhnuill in Loch Olabhat on North Uist was constructed circa 3200-2800 BC and may be Scotland's earliest crannog. 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 circumference about 13 metres (43 ft) in diameter. Cladh Hallan on South Uist, the only site in the UK where prehistoric mummies have been found and the impressive ruins of Dun Carloway broch on Lewis both date from the Iron Age.
The Outer and Inner Hebrides came under Norse control and settlement before the 9th century AD. The Norse control of the Hebrides was formalised in 1098 when Edgar of Scotland formally 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 the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man in a swift campaign earlier the same year, directed against the local Norwegian leaders of the various islands. By capturing the islands Magnus III subdued the Norsemen, who had seized the islands centuries earlier, and imposed a more direct royal control.
Norse control of both the Inner and Outer Hebrides would see almost constant warfare until being ultimately resolved by the partitioning of the Western Isles in 1156. The Outer Hebrides would remain under the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles while the Inner Hebrides broke out under Somerled, the Norse-Celtic kinsman of both Lulach and the Manx royal house.
After his victory of 1156, Somerled went on two years later to seize control over the Isle of Man itself, and become the last King of Mann and the Isles to rule over all the islands the kingdom had once included. After Somerled's death in 1164 the rulers of Mann would only be in control of the Outer Hebrides.
The Outer Hebrides have historically been a very strong Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) speaking area. Both in the 1901 and 1921 census, all parishes were reported to be over 75% Gaelic speaking, including areas of high population density such as Stornoway. By 1971 most areas were still more than 75% Gaelic speaking – with the exception of Stornoway, Benbecula and South Uist at 50-74%.
It remains a relatively strong Gaelic speaking area in spite of a continued decline. In the 2001 census, each island overall was over 50% Gaelic speaking – South Uist (71%), Harris (69%), Barra (68%), North Uist (67%), Lewis (56%) and Benbecula (56%). With 59.6% of Gaelic speakers or a total of 15,842 speakers, this made the Outer Hebrides the most strongly coherent Gaelic speaking area in the world.
Most areas are between 60-74% Gaelic speaking.
The areas with the highest density are:
The areas with the lowest density of speakers are:
The 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.
The Western Isles have been a unitary council area since 1975. 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 which now cover the whole country. The Western Isles council is officially known by its Gaelic name, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and known locally simply as "the Comhairle" or "a' Chomhairle", having changed its name under the Local Government (Gaelic Names) (Scotland) Act 1997. The council has its base in Stornoway on Lewis.
The Western Isles is a member of the International Island Games Association.
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 Protestant (Presbyterian), and those of the southern islands (Benbecula, South Uist, Barra) predominantly Roman Catholic. There are also small Episcopalian congregations in Lewis and Harris, though many of their members originate outside the islands.
Scheduled Ferry services between the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish Mainland and Inner Hebrides operate on the following routes:
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, and Kyle of Lochalsh – the latter being the closest station to the Isle of Skye, and better positioned for journeys to Highland destinations via Dingwall and Inverness. Plans in the 1890s to lay a railway connection to Ullapool were unable to obtain sufficient funding, in spite of parliamentary approval.
Historical footnote: Many websites of the Outer Hebrides derive content from the Eolas Virtual Hebrides, website. Eolas Media went into voluntary liquidation in 2000 and the Eolas TV company became MacTV. The web design team became Reefnet and the content has largely found a home on GlobalGuide.Org.