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Pictures of Eriskay --- updtd - 22-12-2003

The Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides consist of a chain of hundreds of islands lying some 50 to 80 miles off the West Coast of Scotland which runs for about 130 miles from the Butt of Lewis in the north down to Barra Head.  Most are uninhabited except perhaps for sheep and bird life but the main ones that make up this group, with varying populations, are Lewis & Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra.  There are, of course, many other smaller ones too, of no less importance.
The principal Hebridean town is Stornoway on the east coast of the northern island of Lewis.
More information can be found at
http://www.w-isles.gov.uk/

One of the smaller ones is Eriskay which is situated between South Uist and Barra and is approximately 2½ miles long by 1 miles at its widest point at the north end of the island.  It is dominated by the 610 foot Beinn Scrien and also the 403 foot Beinn Stack.  The present permanent population numbers no more than about 130 and the vast majority have the Gaelic as their first language.  There are now three harbours on the island, a deep water one on the east side at Acairseid Mhr, a semi-tidal one at the north end at Haunn from where the old ferry was based and the new one that was built at Ceann a Gharaidh for the ferry that runs to and from Aird Mhòr on Barra.  We have a shop, a pub, a church, a few cars, beautiful white beaches, wandering sheep and ponies, lots of quiet, even more sheep and our sanity.

am_baile
The village of Am Baile on Eriskay looking north over to the Isle of South Uist
Map of Eriskay

The island has undergone a major transformation in recent times which has changed our way of life forever.  In May 2000, the long-awaited causeway was started to link us with South Uist, a mile and a half away to the north.  Work on it started from both ends and the initial link-up was made on November 20, 2000.  It has now been completed and traffic was allowed onto it on July 12, 2001.  As with everything, there are pros and cons but it has made our lives easier and we aren't be dependent on the tides any more.  Unlike Vatersay which has a solid causeway linking it to Barra, Eriskay is still, strictly speaking, an island as our causeway includes a bridge!

The official opening ceremony of the causeway was conducted by the Earl and Countess of Wessex on September 11, 2002.  This opening date, beyond the control of the islanders, was seen by many as somewhat insensitive and was the cause of some controversy.  The day went very well, however, with their arrival by helicopter which landed on the football field after which, the were driven over the causeway to South Uist and back and on to the Community Hall where the islanders were all waiting.  The original plan was to have had the ceremony at the Eriskay end of the causeway but this was abandoned because of bad weather and held in the Hall instead.An hour-long film called Cabhsair Eirisgeidh (the Eriskay Causeway), which was all about the making of the causeway, was broadcast a week later by the BBC on September 19.  It isn't known whether there are any plans to release it on video yet but if and when they become known, I'll let you know.  Stay tuned. In addition to the causeway, work on the new harbour just south of Tràigh Leis on the west side of the island was also been completed.  The new car ferry link from there to Barra started on March 4, 2002 thus completing the whole link from Berneray in the north to Vatersay.  However, the ferry itself was the same one that was used between Eriskay and South Uist and could carry only 5 cars and was used purely as a temporary measure until the "Loch Bhrusda" was able to take over on June 7, 2003.

Apart from all the goings-on to do with the upgraded road across the island and the causeway, Eriskay is not just another island but is famous for being the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed from France in 1745 to start his ill-fated Jacobite Rebellion.  Its other claim to fame arose when the "SS Politician" ran aground off the north east coast of the island in 1941.

She wasn't just any old ship either for she was carrying a large cargo of whisky and the events that followed spawned the book by Compton MacKenzie called "Whisky Galore" which was later made into the film of the same name.  The film was directed by Alexander Mackendrick who, together with Scotland in general, also features in a new book came out in September 2006, called "50 Great Escapes: A Global Guide to Creativity" by Jonathan Lee.

50 Great Escapes

As well as our wandering sheep, the wild Eriskay ponies keep us company too.  They're a little bigger than their Shetland cousins, very friendly and sturdy and were used for carrying peat etc. in the old days.  Sadly, only a few remain on the island now but they are still breeding so that's good news.  Eriskay is also the home of the unique Eriskay jumpers.  There are about 15 main pattern designs and each of them can be varied which enables its origins to be identified.

And finally, can there be anyone who has not heard of the well known "Eriskay Love Lilt" sung by Fr. Sydney MacEwan and others?  I managed to find two links relating to this on the web, one showing the words and the second listing this and other songs by him.

So you see, small though it may be, Eriskay is certainly not 'just another little island'.