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Coordinates: 57°40′16″N 6°57′11″W / 57.671°N 6.953°W / 57.671; -6.953

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Na h-Eileanan Siarcouncil.PNG
Area Ranked 7th
 - Total 3,071 km2 (1,186 sq mi)
 - % Water  ?
Admin HQ Stornoway
ISO 3166-2 GB-ELS
ONS code 00RJ
Population Ranked 30th
 - Total (2008) 26,200
 - Density 9 /km2 (23 /sq mi)
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Control Independent

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.[1] 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. [2]


Populated islands

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
Barra (Barraigh) 1,078
Scalpay (Sgalpaigh) 322
Great Bernera (Bearnaraigh Mòr) 233
Grimsay (Griomasaigh) 201
Berneray, North Uist (Beàrnaraigh) 136
Eriskay (Eirisgeidh) 133
Vatersay (Bhatarsaigh) 94
Baleshare (Baile Sear) 49
Grimsay, South East Benbecula (Griomasaigh) 19
Flodaigh 11
TOTAL (2001) 26,502
The Hebrides (Outer Hebrides in orange)

Unpopulated islands

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[3] 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.[4]

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[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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
ear east, eastern
eilean eilein, eileanan from the Norse eyland meaning "island"
iar west, western
mòr mhòr, mòire, mhòire, mòra, mhòra, mòir, mhòir more big, great
rubha rubhannan promontory
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.[8] These rocks are largely igneous in origin, mixed with metamorphosed marble, quartzite and mica schist and intruded by later basaltic dykes and granite magma.[9] 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.[10]


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.[11][12] 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.[13][14][15] 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.[16][17][18]

The later Iron Age inhabitants of the northern and western Hebrides were probably Pictish, although the historical record is sparse.[19]

The Hebrides under Norse control

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.

As a result of the 1266 Treaty of Perth the Outer Hebrides, along with the Isle of Man, were yielded to the Kingdom of Scotland.[20]

Gaelic in 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.[22][23]

Local government

Eriskay, southern Outer Hebrides

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.

Prior to 1975 Lewis formed part of the county of Ross-shire and the rest of the archipelago, including Harris, was part of Inverness-shire.

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.


Uig - Tarbert ferry

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.[24]

See also


General references
  • Armit, Ian (1998) Scotland's Hidden History. Tempus (in association with Historic Scotland). ISBN 0-7486-6067-4
  • General Register Office for Scotland (28 Nov 2003) Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands
  • Gillen, Con (2003) Geology and landscapes of Scotland. Harpenden. Terra Publishing. ISBN 1903544092
  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish. (2004) The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh. Canongate. ISBN 1-84195-454-3
  • Hunter, James (2000) Last of the Free: A History of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Edinburgh. Mainstream. ISBN 1840183764
  • Li, Martin (2005) Adventure Guide to Scotland. Hunter Publishing.
  • McKirdy, Alan Gordon, John & Crofts, Roger (2007) Land of Mountain and Flood: The Geology and Landforms of Scotland. Edinburgh. Birlinn. ISBN 9781841583570
  • Maclean, Charles (1977) Island on the Edge of the World: the Story of St. Kilda. Edinburgh. Canongate. ISBN 0903937417
  • Ross, David (2005) Scotland - History of a Nation. Lomond. ISBN 0947782583
  1. ^ Murray, W.H. (1966) The Hebrides. London. Heinemann. Pages 171 & 198
  2. ^ Comhairle nan Eilean Siar: Environment
  3. ^ See for example Hunter (2000) pp. 152–158.
  4. ^ See for example Maclean (1977) Chapter 10: "Arcady Despoiled" pp. 125–35.
  5. ^ "Mingulay Boat Song" Cantaria. Retrieved 26 December 2006.
  6. ^ Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 282–83.
  7. ^ WWF North-East Atlantic Programme - Seamounts report Retrieved 21 August 2007.
  8. ^ Gillen (2003) page 44.
  9. ^ McKirdy et al. (2007) page 95.
  10. ^ McKirdy et al. (2007) page 94.
  11. ^ Armit (1998) p. 34.
  12. ^ Crone, B.A. (1993) "Crannogs and chronologies" (pdf) Proceedings of the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland. 123 pp. 245-54. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
  13. ^ Li (2005) p. 509.
  14. ^ Murray (1973) p. 122.
  15. ^ "Lewis, Callanish, 'Tursachan' " RCAHMS. Retrieved 21 April 2008.
  16. ^ "Mummification in Bronze Age Britain" BBC History. Retrieved 11 February 2008.
  17. ^ "The Prehistoric Village at Cladh Hallan". University of Sheffield. Retrieved 21 February 2008.
  18. ^ "AD 200 - Valtos: brochs and wheelhouses" Retrieved 1 August 2009.
  19. ^ Hunter (2000) pp. 44, 49. Hunter opines that in relation to King 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.”
  20. ^ Hunter (2000) pp. 74, 102–05, 111.
  21. ^ Dr Mac an Tàilleir 1901-2001 Gaelic in the Census, PowerPoint Presentation made available via Linguae Celticae Retrieved 01 June 2008
  22. ^ "Directory of Members' DTA Scotland. Retrieved 15 July 2007.
  23. ^ "The quiet revolution". (19 January 2007) West Highland Free Press. Broadford, Skye.
  24. ^ "Garve and Ullapool Railway Bill" Hansard. Retrieved 26 September 2008.

External links

Sites deriving partly from the original Virtual Hebrides

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.

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Outer Hebrides (also know as the Western Isles) are the westernmost chain of islands in the Hebrides, west of the Scottish Highlands.


These are all separate islands, except Lewis and Harris which together form one island.


The Outer Hebrides[1] are a fascinating destination. The scenery is beautiful. The landscape is rocky and mountainous, but also lush and verdant - due in no small part to the large amounts of rain which tend to fall. It is easy to find a quiet peaceful spot.

The Gaelic language and culture is appealing. At a practical level this means that place names on road signs are in Gaelic, but the bus timetables use the English names!

Religion still plays an important part in many people’s lives. In Lewis and Harris this is often in the form of Protestant Free Presbyterian Churches. As a result the Sabbath (Sunday) is respected, so you are unlikely to find shops etc open on a Sunday. Activities happening on a Sunday often are opposed locally. In contrast Barra and South Uist are mainly Catholic, and Sunday opening is much more likely.

Get in

By boat

Caledonian MacBrayne [2] is the national ferry service. Citylink coaches generally connect with the ferries on the mainland. Details for Summer 2006:

  • Oban to Castlebay on Barra daily, taking 5+ hours.

By air

In the Outer Hebrides, there are airports in Stornoway in Lewis, Benbecula and Barra. These airports provide direct flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. The airport in Barra is one of the most spectacular in the world, with planes landing on a three-mile beach at low tide, but this does mean that the flight times vary with the tide.

  • Caledonian MacBrayne, [3]. The national ferry service. Details below are for Summer 2006:

Berneray to Leverburgh on Harris Daily 3-4 per day, taking 1 hour.

Eriskay to Barra Daily, up to 5 per day, taking 40 minutes.

By Bus

There are good bus services during the day Mon - Sat, but little in the evening and no buses on a Sunday.


Many of the islands are linked by road causeways and bridges, which have progressively been built over the last 50 years or so. Most recently causeways have been built to Eriskay from South Uist, and to Berneray from North Uist.

By bicycle

The Outer Hebrides are popular for cycle tourists, generally taking around a week to cycle from Barra to Stornoway.

  • MacLennan's Garage, Balivanich, Benbecula, tel: +44 (0)1870 602191
  • Ask Car Hire, Creagorry, Benbecula, tel: +44 (0)1870 602818.
  • Mackinnon Self Drive [4], 18 Inaclete Road, Stornoway, Lewis, HS1 2RB 01851 702984. From £22.50 per day.
  • Arnol Motors [5], Arnol, Lewis HS2 9DB 01851 710548. From £23 per day.
  • Lewis Car Rentals [6], 52 Bayhead Street, Stornoway, Lewis, HS1 2TU. From £22 per day.
  • Alda Taxis, Lochmaddy, North Uist. tel: +44 (0)1876 500 215.



There are many fine sandy beaches, mainly on the Western shores of the islands.


Historic Scotland Properties [7]:

  • Kisimul Castle on Barra.
  • Callinish Standing Stones on Lewis.
  • Carloway Brooch on Lewis.
  • Black House Museum at Arnol on Lewis.
  • Play Golf at one of the 5 island Golf Courses [10].
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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:



  • (RP) IPA: /ˌaʊtə ˈhebrɪdiːz/

Proper noun

Outer Hebrides (the)

  1. An archipelago of the Hebrides in Scotland, separated from the Inner Hebrides by the Little Minch.

Simple English

Outer Hebrides
(The Western Isles)

Area Ranked 7th
 - Total 3,071 km²
 - % Water ?
Admin HQ Stornoway
ISO 3166-2 GB-ELS
ONS code 00RJ
Population Ranked 30th
 - Total (2006) 26,400
 - Density 9 / km²
Scottish Gaelic
 - Total () {{{Scottish council Gaelic Speakers}}}
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Control Independent
  • Angus MacNeil
  • Alasdair Allan

The Outer Hebrides, often called the Western Isles,[1] make up an island chain off the west coast of Scotland. It is also a parliamentary constituency.

The isles form part of the Hebrides, and are 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.

Formerly the dominant language of the Islands, Scottish Gaelic remains spoken even though it has now been largely supplanted by English in some parts.

Sea transport is crucial and a variety of ferry services operate between the islands and to mainland Britain.



The Western Isles became part of the Suðreyjar kingdom of the Norse, who ruled for over 400 years until sovereignty was transferred to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266. Control of the islands was then held by clan chiefs.

Geology & geography

Most of the islands have a bedrock formed from ancient metamorphic rocks and the climate is mild and oceanic. The Gulf Stream runs nearby. The 15 inhabited islands have a total population of about 26,500 and there are more than 50 substantial uninhabited islands.

Flora and fauna

Much of the archipelago is a protected habitat including both the islands and the surrounding waters. There are 53 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) of which the largest are Loch an Duin, North Uist at 15,100 hectares (37,000 acres) and North Harris, which is 12,700 hectares (31,000 acres) in extent.[2][3]

File:Benbecula Ruabhal
The open landscapes of Benbecula

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.[4]

Other websites

Historical footnote: Many websites of the Outer Hebrides derive content from the Eolas Virtual Hebrides, website. This was once the largest rural website in the world.[needs proof] Eolas went bankrupt 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.

Sites deriving partly from the original Virtual Hebrides

Other Outer Hebrides websites


  1. Although officially known by the Gaelic name, Na h-Eileanan Siar, this name is not understood in English.
  2. "Western Isles transitional programme strategy" Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  3. Rotary Club (1995) p. 10
  4. "Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve: where opposites meet". (pdf) SNH. Retrieved 29 July 2007.


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