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 in the United Kingdom. The local government area is one of the 32 unitary council areas of Scotland.
The islands form 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. Formerly the dominant language of the Islands, Scottish Gaelic remains widely spoken even though it has now been largely supplanted by English in some parts.
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 although it is almost always written as Western Isles (Eilean Siar). The islands were 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) is also heard occasionally in Scottish Gaelic.
|Island||Population (2001 census)|
|Lewis and Harris||19,918|
|Berneray, North Uist||136|
|Grimsay, South East Benbecula||19|
Small islands and island groups pepper the North Atlantic surrounding the main island group:
To the west lie the Monach Islands, Flannan Isles, 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.
It remains a relatively strong Gaelic speaking area in spite of a continued decline. In the 2001 census, each Hebridean island overall had over 50% speakers: Lewis 56%, Harris 69%, North Uist 67%, Benbecula 56%, South Uist 71% and Barra 68%. With 59.6% of Gaelic speakers or a total of 15,842 speakers, this made the Western Isles the most strongly coherent Gaelic speaking area in the world.
The areas with the highest density are:
Most other areas have between 60-74%.
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.
The Western Isles is a member of the International Island Games Association.
The northern parts of the Western Isles (particularly Lewis and Harris) have been described as the last bastion of fundamentalist Calvinism in Britain with large numbers of inhabitants belonging to the Free Church of Scotland or the still more conservative Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Services in the Free Church, the Free Presbyterian Church and some congregations of the Church of Scotland do not use instrumental music or any songs other than the metrical Psalms. In 2006 controversy arose over the decision of a local ferry company to sail to Harris on the Sabbath.
It has also generally been considered unacceptable for people to appear in church improperly dressed, although this is slowly changing. Violations of this nature might include the failure by women to wear a hat, or trousers being worn instead of a skirt, or the wearing by worshippers of either sex of informal clothing such as jeans. The local council refused in December 2005 to conduct formal ceremonies for same-sex couples wishing to register under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, though would accept all registrations of couples as required by law.
South of Harris, Sunday observance is less strict.
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.
Sites deriving partly from the original Virtual Hebrides
Other Outer Hebrides websites