History

Skye or the Isle of Skye (Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach or Eilean a' Cheó), is the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island's peninsulas radiate out from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillin hills. Although it has been suggested that the first of these Gaelic names describes a "winged" shape there is no definitive agreement as to the name's origins.

The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic and has a colourful history including a time of Norse rule and a long period of domination by clans MacLeod and MacDonald. The events of the 19th century had a devastating impact on the human population, which declined from over 20,000 to around 9,200 in the early 21st century. Nonetheless, in contrast to many other Scottish islands, this represents a 4 per cent increase from the census of 1991. The main industries are tourism, agriculture, fishing and whisky-distilling and the largest settlement is Portree, which is known for its picturesque harbour. Just over 30 per cent of the residents on Skye speak the Gaelic language.

Prehistory

A Mesolithic hunter-gatherer site dating to the 7th millennium BC at An Corran in Staffin is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Scotland. Its occupation is probably linked to that of the rock shelter at Sand, Applecross on the mainland coast of Wester Ross. Surveys of the area between the two shores of the Inner Sound and Sound of Raasay have revealed thirty three sites with potentially Mesolithic deposits. Finds of bloodstone microliths on the foreshore at Orbost on the west coast of the island near Dunvegan also suggest Mesolithic occupation of the area. These tools probably originate from the nearby island of Rùm.

Rubha an Dùnain, an uninhabited peninsula to the south of the Cuillins, has a variety of archaeological sites dating from the Neolithic onwards. Loch na h-Airde, which is situated close to the ruins of a promontory fort, is linked to the sea by the artificial "Viking canal" and there are remains of prehistoric settlement dating from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages nearby. Dun Ringill is a ruined Iron Age hill fort on the Strathaird peninsula, which was further fortified in the Middle Ages and may have been the seat of Clan MacKinnon.

Early history

Adomnán's life of Columba, written shortly before 697, portrays the saint visiting Skye and Adomnán himself is thought to have been familiar with the island. The Irish annals record a number of events on Skye in the later 7th and early 8th centuries, mainly concerning the struggle between rival dynasties which formed the background to the Old Irish language romance Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin.

The Norse held sway throughout the Hebrides from the 9th century until after the Treaty of Perth in 1266. However, little remains of their presence in the written or archaeological record on Skye. Viking heritage is nonetheless claimed by Clan MacLeod and Norse tradition is celebrated in the winter fire festival at Dunvegan, during which a replica Viking long boat is set alight.

Clans & Scottish rule

The most powerful clans on Skye in the post–Norse period were Clan MacLeod, originally based in Trotternish, and Clan MacDonald of Sleat. The MacDonald's of South Uist were bitter rivals of the MacLeod's, and an attempt by the former to murder church-goers at Trumpan in retaliation for a previous massacre on Eigg, resulted in the Battle of the Spoiling Dyke of 1578.

After the failure of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, Flora MacDonald became famous for rescuing Prince Charles Edward Stuart from the Hanoverian troops. Although she was born on South Uist her story is strongly associated with their escape via Skye and she is buried at Kilmuir in Trotternish. Skye was visited by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell during their 1773 Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. Boswell wrote of their visit to Kilmuir that, "To see Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great champion of the English Tories, salute Miss Flora MacDonald in the isle of Sky, was a striking sight; for though somewhat congenial in their notions, it was very improbable they should meet here. Written on her gravestone are Johnson's words that hers was "A name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour". In the wake of the rebellion the clan system was broken up and Skye became a series of landed estates.

Skye has a rich heritage of ancient monuments from this period, especially castles. Dunvegan Castle has been the seat of Clan MacLeod since the 13th century. It contains the Fairy Flag and is reputed to have been inhabited by a single family for longer than any other house in Scotland.

The 18th century Armadale Castle, once home of Clan Donald of Sleat was abandoned as a residence in 1925 but now hosts the Clan Donald Centre.[49] Nearby are the ruins of two more MacDonald strongholds, Knock Castle, and Dunscaith Castle, the legendary home of Queen Scáthach. Caisteal Maol, built in the late 15th century near Kyleakin and once a seat of Clan MacKinnon, is another ruin.

Clearances

From the latter part of the 18th century up to the mid-19th century, the inhabitants of Skye were devastated by famine and clearances. The "Battle of the Braes" involved a demonstration against a lack of access to land and the serving of eviction notices. The incident involved numerous crofters and about 50 police officers. This event was instrumental in the creation of the Napier Commission, which reported in 1884 on the situation in the Highlands. Disturbances continued until the passing of the 1886 Crofters' Act and on one occasion 400 marines were deployed on Skye to maintain order. The Clearances had a major impact on the population of Skye and the ruins of a cleared village can be seen at Boreraig, Strath Swordale.

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