History in the Outer Hebrides

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Inhabited for over 6,000 years, the Outer Hebrides boasts rich and varied history with many interesting archeological sites speaking of its fascinating past, while the people themselves demonstrate that these world’s oldest islands are rich in culture.

It was in the Neolithic times that the Outer Hebrides saw the arrival of the Beaker people, the first settlers. They had mastered Bronze Age technology and the 5,000 years old famous monoliths of Calanais Standing Stones on Lewis is a great example of the remains of previous generations.

Around 500 BC the Iron Age dwellers cleared the ancient forest and established agriculture also leaving behind great ruins and monuments. One of Britain’s best-preserved Iron Age forts, the Dun Carloway Broch, can be explored on Lewis.

With St Columba of Iona bringing Christianity to these islands in the 6th century and funding several churches, the Gaelic culture in tandem with the Celtic church underwent an expansion supplanting Pictish, Latin and Anglo-Saxon from most of Scotland.

By the 9th century, the Vikings had reached these shores and traces of Norse influence remain, especially in the naming of towns and villages on Lewis, including Tolsta, Bragar and Marvig to name just few. As the heartland of Gaels, Outer Hebrides proudly and widely celebrates the Gaelic roots through many events and festivals across the region.

By 10th century, the Outer Hebrides were ruled on behalf of the Kingdom of Norway by the Norseman, whose reign came to an end around a century later and a dynasty known as the Lordship of the Isles was created.

Following a period of instability, in 1493 King James IV asserted military authority and brought Scottish political control which resulted in various clans developing. Dwell into the past visiting castles and historic homes in the Outer Hebrides and see how the past Scots used to live.

It was until the early 18th century that this system stayed in place. At the start of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, Bonnie Prince Charlie landed on Eriskay from France. Following his defeat at Culloden the following year, the Prince hid out in the Outer Hebrides to avoid capture by government troops, where Flora MacDonald helped to smuggle him back to France. There is a monument commemorating this heroine's birthplace on South Uist.

The tale of the 19th century in these islands - as with much of the Highlands - is that of the Clearances, when many islanders were evicted from their homes to make way for sheep by landowners, sparking a flood of emigration to the New World.

For a detailed insight into the great history of the Outer Hebrides, explore the wide range of historic attractions and see displays and unique artefacts at the many galleries and museum throughout the isles.

  • The annual open art show at the An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
    An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
  • The ruins of Dun Carloway Broch, Isle of Lewis
    The ruins of Dun Carloway Broch, Isle of Lewis
  • The family tree of Mrs Chris Lawson on display at the Seallam! Visitor Centre, Northton, Isle of Harris
    A family tree at the Seallam! Visitor Centre, Northton, Isle of Harris
  • A details of a Gaelic/English stone sign welcoming visitors to Stornoway, Outer Hebrides
    A details of a Gaelic/English stone sign
A couple visit the Calanais Stones on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Historic attractions

Explore historic attractions of the Outer Hebrides, home to many fascinating archeological treasures waiting to be discovered.

The family tree of Mrs Chris Lawson on display at the Seallam! Visitor Centre, Northton, Isle of Harris

Ancestry

Make it the trip of a lifetime and explore your ancestry as you journey round the Outer Hebrides.

Harris Tweed and Knitwear Shop, Tarbert

Industry

Explore the diverse history behind the region’s economic growth and learn about the internationally famous Harris Tweed textile.

The iconic standing Calanais Stones on the west coast of Lewis

Timeline

Follow the timeline of Outer Hebrides back through history and see what happened on the islands over the last 5,000 years.

A detail of a Gaelic/English stone sign welcoming visitors to Stornoway, Outer Hebrides

Gaelic

The Outer Hebrides is the heartland of Gaelic culture and the language is still spoken by many islanders today. You can take part in many events which feature the language and music.