Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Hebrides

Executive summary by darmansjah

The Hebrides comprise a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland. There are two main groups: the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These islands have a long history of occupation dating back to the Mesolithic and the culture of the residents has been affected by the successive influences of Celtic, Norse and English-speaking peoples. This diversity is reflected in the names given to the islands, which are derived from the languages that have been spoken there in historic and perhaps prehistoric times.

A variety of artists have been inspired by their Hebridean experiences. Today the economy of the islands is dependent on crofting, fishing, tourism, the oil industry and renewable energy. Although the Hebrides lack biodiversity in comparison to mainland Britain these islands have much to offer the naturalist. Seals, for example, are present around the coasts in internationally important numbers.

Modern economy

For those who remained, new economic opportunities emerged through the export of cattle, commercial fishing and tourism. Nonetheless emigration and military service became the choice of many[50] and the archipelago's populations continued to dwindle throughout the late 19th century and for much of the 20th century. Lengthy periods of continuous occupation notwithstanding, many of the smaller islands were abandoned.

There were however continuing gradual economic improvements, among the most visible of which was the replacement of the traditional thatched black house with accommodation of a more modern design and with the assistance of Highlands and Islands Enterprise many of the islands' populations have begun to increase after decades of decline. The discovery of substantial deposits of North Sea oil in 1965 and the renewables sector have contributed to a degree of economic stability in recent decades. For example, the Arnish yard has had a chequered history but has been a significant employer in both the oil and renewables industries.

Media and the arts

The Hebrides, also known as Fingal's Cave, is a famous overture composed by Felix Mendelssohn while residing on these islands, while Granville Bantock composed the Hebridean Symphony. Contemporary musicians associated with the islands include Ian Anderson, Donovan and Runrig. The poet Sorley MacLean was born on Raasay, the setting for his best known poem, Hallaig.

The novelist Compton Mackenzie lived on Barra and George Orwell wrote 1984 whilst living on Jura. J.M. Barrie's Marie Rose contains references to Harris inspired by a holiday visit to Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and he wrote a screenplay for the 1924 film adaptation of Peter Pan whilst on Eilean Shona Enya's song "Ebudæ" from Shepherd Moons is named for the Hebrides (see below). The 1973 British horror film "The Wicker Man" is set on the fictional Hebridean island of Summerisle. The experimental first-person adventure video game Dear Esther takes place on an unnamed Hebridean island.

Natural history

In some respects the Hebrides generally lack biodiversity in comparison to mainland Britain, with for example only half the number of mammalian species the latter has. However these islands provide breeding grounds for many important seabird species including the world's largest colony of Northern Gannets. Avian life includes the Corncrake, Red-throated Diver, Rock Dove, Kittiwake, Tystie, Atlantic Puffin, Goldeneye, Golden Eagle and White-tailed Sea Eagle. The last named was re-introduced to Rùm in 1975 and has successfully spread to various neighbouring islands, including Mull. There is a small population of Red-billed Chough concentrated on the islands of Islay and Colonsay.

Red Deer are common on the hills and the Grey Seal and Common Seal are present around the coasts of Scotland in internationally important numbers, with colonies of the former found on Oronsay and the Treshnish Isles. The rich freshwater streams contain Brown Trout, Atlantic Salmon and Water Shrew. Offshore, Minke Whales, Killer Whales, Basking Sharks, porpoises and dolphins are among the sealife that can be seen.

Heather moor containing Ling, Bell Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Bog Myrtle and Fescues is abundant and there is a diversity of Arctic and alpine plants including Alpine Pearlwort and Mossy Cyphal.

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. Over 200 species of flowering plants have been recorded on the reserve, some of which are nationally scarce. South Uist is considered the best place in the UK for the aquatic plant Slender Naiad, which is a European Protected Species.

There has been considerable controversy over hedgehogs. The animals are not native to the Outer Hebrides having been introduced in the 1970s to reduce garden pests, but their spread has posed a threat to the eggs of ground nesting wading birds. In 2003, Scottish Natural Heritage undertook culls of hedgehogs in the area although these were halted in 2007 with trapped animals then being relocated to the mainland.

reference

Rollinson (1997) states that the oldest rocks in Europe have been found "near Gruinard Bay" on the Scottish mainland. Gillen (2003) p. 44 indicates the oldest rocks in Europe are found "in the Northwest Highlands and Outer Hebrides". McKirdy, Alan Gordon, John & Crofts, Roger (2007) Land of Mountain and Flood: The Geology and Landforms of Scotland. Edinburgh. Birlinn. p. 93 state of the Lewisian gneiss bedrock of much of the Outer Hebrides that "these rocks are amongst the oldest to be found anywhere on the planet". Other non-geological sources sometimes claim the rocks of Lewis and Harris are "the oldest in Britain", meaning that they are the oldest deposits of large bedrock. As Rollinson makes clear they are not the location of the oldest small outcrop.

Murray (1973) notes that "Western Isles" has tended to mean "Outer Hebrides" since the creation of the Na h-Eileanan an Iar or Western Isles parliamentary constituency in 1918. Murray also notes that "Gneiss Islands" – a reference to the underlying geology – is another name used to refer to the Outer Hebrides but that its use is "confined to books".

Thompson (1968) provides a more literal translation: "Fire played in the fig-trees of Liodhus; it mounted up to heaven. Far and wide the people were driven to flight. The fire gushed out of the houses".

The transitional relationships between Norse and Gaelic-speaking rulers are complex. The Gall-Ghàidhels who dominated much of the Irish Sea region and western Scotland at this time were of joint Gaelic and Scandinavian origin. When Somerled wrested the southern Inner Hebrides from Godred the Black in 1156, this was the beginnings of a break with nominal Norse rule in the Hebrides. Godred remained the ruler of Mann and the Outer Hebrides, but two years later Somerled's invasion of the former caused him to flee to Norway. Norse control was further weakened in the ensuring century, but the Hebrides were not formally ceded by Norway until 1266. The transitions from one language to another are also complex. For example, many Scandinavian sources from this period of time typically refer to individuals as having a Scandinavian first name and a Gaelic by-name.

There are two inhabited islands called "Grimsay" or Griomasaigh that are joined to Benbecula by a road causeway, one to the north at grid reference and one to the south east at grid reference


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