The history of the Hebrides is the history of Scotland. The waves of those coming to this part of the world are the same, and the colonists may apply slightly different strategies, but the firmest proof that Hebrides is Scottish lies in the comings and goings of humans.
Islay, so-called “Queen of the Hebrides”, was probably inhabited first, as evidenced by a nearly 13,000 year-old flint arrowhead found there. Not much more of significance has been found from the Stone Age on Islay, but findings through the Iron Age indicate continuous habitation from a period far beyond that of Orkeny’s Skara Brae village dating to 3000 BCE, for example.
Archaelogists generally place the dates of widespread habitation of the islands at around 6500 BCE, due to findings made in the early 1990s on the island of Rùm.
Various travelers and hstorians made note of the Hebrides in the first three centuries CE. The kingdom of Dál Riata was established, ostensibly by the legendary Fergus the Great in the 400s and ultimately incorporated islands as well as parts of Scotland and Ireland. The Pictish king Óengus I, already ruler over the Inner and Outer Hebrides north of Dál Riata, led the conquest of this kingdom in 741.
Óengus’s descendants wouldn’t last long, though, because by the end of the 8th century, Vikings were regularly carried out. A victory by the fantastically-named Harald Fairhair in 872 led to his co-lordship over the islands along with the interestingly-named Ketill Flatnose. The Norse formalized control over the Hebrides when Scotland’s King Edgar signed them over to Norway’s King Magnus III in 1072.
A defeat of King Haakon IV in 1263, however, put the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Man back under Scottish control in the Treaty of Perth signed in 1266.
King James VI apparently didn’t exactly approve of the ways of the clan leaders running things in the Hebrides and so seen troops to Lewis in 1598, 1605 and in 1607.
And with the establishment of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, the British were suddenly in charge of the Hebrides. While British presence on the islands wasn’t stifling, it was definitely repressive enough to raise the ire. Hebrideans were well behind efforts at Jacobean restoration until 1745 and the decisive Battle of Culloden quashed further notion of such uprising.
The British, masters of classic empire building, applied their usual strategies to the “reeducation” of Hebrideans. The clan system was effectively dismantled as a means of social, political or economic power, replaced with modern currency, land ownership and English language-based education systems.
In similar fashion to other ends of the empire, the effects of this cultural devastation were utterly disruptive for centuries. By the mid-20th century, population growth through the Hebrides was dangerously low to the point of near-unsustainability for many communities. Happily, the North Sea oil finds of the 1960s brought some economic stability – and even prosperity – to the islands which still benefit today … or at least until the whole Brexit thing shakes out. In fact, the Hebrides may be looking forward to an era of relative independence not seen since before James’s time…
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