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Factfile - Cultural Heritage

Introduction

The Islands are rich in Archaeology and History. There is evidence of considerable prehistoric human activity on the Outer Hebrides, as can be seen in an array of archaeological sites including, brochs, cairns, duns and stone circles. The most famous of these sites being the
Standing Stones at Calanais (Callanish), which pre-date Stonehenge.

The earliest written references to the Outer Hebrides are contained in Norse Saga. The influence of Norse invaders and settlers is still evident in many names, which are Scandinavian in origin. The Islands eventually became part of Scotland in the mid 13 th century but the word Hebrides is thought to have originated from the Norse word ‘Havbredey’, meaning 'Isles on the edge of the sea'.

The more recent history of the islands has been strongly shaped by the clan system. To this day, original clan surnames such as MacNeil, MacDonald, MacLeod, MacAulay and Maclver are common in the Outer Hebrides and to a large extent many have retained their ancient geographical distribution.

Native islanders in the Outer Hebrides have a strong cultural identity largely stemming from a unique and eventful history. Life in the Outer Hebrides relates directly to the physical environment and geography of the Islands, the crofting system and specifically, to the Gaelic language. The
Gaelic culture in the Outer Hebrides is more prominent than in any other part of Scotland. Gaelic is still the language of choice amongst many islanders and around 60% of islanders speak Gaelic, whilst 70% of the resident population have some knowledge of Gaelic (including reading, writing, speaking or a combination of the three). All signposts on the islands are written in both English and 'Gàidhlig' and much day-to-day business is carried out in the Gaelic language.

The Outer Hebrides also have a distinctive history combined with a vibrant culture, traditionally recollected in stories and song. To celebrate this tradition a range of cultural events run on the islands annually. The Hebridean Celtic Festival started in 1996 is held in mid-July for three days in Stornoway. The festival includes events such as ceilidhs, dances and special concerts featuring storytelling, song and music with performers from all round the Isles and beyond.