Red & Black Cuillin, Sligachan
Red & Black Cuillin, Sligachan

An t-Eilean Sgitheanach

Skye or the Isle Of Skye is the largest & most northernmost of the major islands that make up the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island, which can still be reached by a ferry crossing from either Mallaig or Glenelg, was connected at Kyleakin to Kyle Of Lochalsh on the mainland by a toll bridge in 1995. In 2004 after much local protest, the Scottish Government purchased the privately funded bridge & scrapped the toll.


The Gaelic name for the Isle Of Skye is An t-Eilean Sgitheanach. It has been suggested that the word Sgitheanach means 'winged shape' describing the island's appearance on a map, but there is no definitive agreement as to the name's origins. Eilean a' Cheò, which means 'Island Of The Mist' (a translation of the Norse name), is a poetic Gaelic name for Skye.


Skye is almost 50miles long, & the coastline is so deeply indented that no part is more than 5miles from the sea. The island's peninsulas radiate from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillin, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. North of Portree is the curious basaltic group of pinnacles at the Storr, the most remarkable of which is the Old Man Of Storr, a landmark for sailors.


The island's largest settlement Portree lies at the head of a fine harbour on the eastern coast, & is known for its picturesque quayside. Administratively, Skye lies within the Highland council area, & it is part of the historic county of Inverness-shire.


The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic period, & was settled by Gaelic-speaking Scots from Ireland during the first centuries BC. Its history includes a time of Norse rule between the 9th-12th centuries & a long period of domination by the Clan MacLeod & Clan MacDonald. Dunvegan Castle, home of the MacLeods, the chief clan of Skye, was built in the 9th century & has been occupied longer than any other house in Scotland. The 18th century Jacobite risings led to the breaking up of the clan system & the subsequent Highland clearances replaced entire communities with sheep farms. The crofting system (small-scale tenant farming, mainly for subsistence) is still widespread. During the late 18th & early 19th centuries, the poverty of the crofters was extreme, & large numbers were forced to emigrate. Improvements came after the passage of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts, 1886-1911, & the subsequent introduction of government subsidies for growing potatoes & raising cattle & sheep. Resident numbers declined from over 20,000 in the early 19th century to just under 9,000 by the closing decade of the 20th century. About a third of the residents were Gaelic speakers in 2001, & although their numbers are in decline, this aspect of island culture remains important.


The main industries are tourism, agriculture, fishing & forestry. The sea fishing industry, once a mainstay of the economy, has declined, but commercial fish farming, particularly of salmon, is now an important part of the local economy. The diatomite industry also has died, but a smoky, peaty single-malt Scotch whisky is distilled at Carbost, & this product, as well as the spectacular rugged scenery, keep tourism a major industry.


The abundant wildlife includes the golden eagle, red deer & Atlantic salmon. The local flora is dominated by moorland heather & there are nationally important invertebrate populations on the surrounding sea bed. Skye has provided the locations for various novels & feature films...& is celebrated in poetry & song.

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8 Herbusta, Kilmuir ISLE OF SKYE

Drawing courtesy of Sean Webb © 2018

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Throughout October & November of 1886 the crofters of Kilmuir were forced to take action by refusing to pay the extortionate rents claimed by the landlord. In response the authorities brought in by sea a force of 250 marines & 50 policemen to serve summonses on the crofters. The events that then unfolded are told in the following reports...


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