From ScotsWiki
Jump to: navigation, search



An Sgurr

Population: 83

Main settlement: Cleadale

Area: 3,049 hectares (11.8 sq mi)

Highest elevation: An Sgurr 393 metres (1,289 ft)

Island group: Small Isles

Local Authority: Highland

Country: Scotland

Eigg (Scottish Gaelic: Eige), is one of the Small Isles, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. It lies to the south of Skye and to the north of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Eigg is 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) long from north to south, and 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) east to west. With an area of 12 square miles (31 km), it is the second largest of the Small Isles after Rum. After a long history of problematic landlords the island entered community ownership in 1997 and is now regarded as an example of the success of this model, with an increased population and a series of community initiatives.


The name Eigg is Norse. It means 'the island of the notch'.<ref>Angus and Patricia Macdonald, The Hebrides, An Aerial View of Cultural Landscape (Birlinn, 2010) 132</ref> It was also traditionally known as 'Eilean nam Ban Mora': 'the island of the big women'.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 132</ref>


Early History

Along with the other 'small isles' Eigg is first thought to have been settled in the Mesolithic period.<ref>Denis Rixson, The Small Isles, Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck (Birlinn, 2001) 1</ref>The Scurr of Eigg is known to have been the site of a fort and a Crannog, which were attested to be still in use in the sixteenth century.<ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 3</ref>

Michael Martin, in his Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (c.1695) observed that the Scurr provided a natural fort.<ref>Denis Rixon, The Small Isles, Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck (Birlinn, 2001) 4</ref> No buildings however, remain today.<ref>http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/22190/details/eigg+an+sgurr (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

An early christian presence has been attested by the presence of a name beginning with 'Kil' from 'cille' meaning church at Kildonnan. This means the 'church of Donnan'.<ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 28</ref> There is thought to have been an early monastery at Eigg<ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 28</ref> and there are the remains of stone monuments and carvings with early christian symbology.<ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 28</ref>Archaeological finds have also been found on Eigg from the Viking period in Kildonnan and also Laig, to the northwest of the island.<ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 28</ref> In prehistoric and early historic times the island would have been owned by a tribe or community.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 133</ref>

Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

However, as the Hebrides moved towards feudalism under the influence of the Scottish monarchy, Eigg became part of the feudal tenure of the Clanranald branch of Clan Donald.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 133</ref>James IV gave two charters for the island in 1498.<ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 72</ref>Eigg became unusual in that it remained in the ownership of the same family from the medieval period until the nineteenth century.<ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 123</ref> However the association with Clanranald would latterly prove disastrous for the islanders, as Reginald George Macdonald of Clanranald was the epitome of a rapacious and incompetent absentee landlord, being forced to sell the island to meet gambling debts in 1827.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 133</ref>

During the sixteenth century there was a lengthy feud between the Macleod and MacDonald clans, which may have led to the massacre of the island's entire population in the late 16th century.

According to Clanranald tradition, in 1577 a party of MacLeods staying on the island became too amorous and caused trouble with the local girls. They were subsequently rounded up, bound and cast adrift in The Minch but were rescued by some clansmen. A party of MacLeods subsequently landed on Eigg with revenge in mind. Their approach had been spotted by the islanders who had hidden in a secret cave called the Cave of Frances (Scottish Gaelic: Uamh Fhraing) located on the south coast.<ref>Some sources translate the Gaelic Uamh Fhraing as the Cave of Francis. (Macpherson, Norman. Notes on antiquities from the island of Eigg, Edinburgh University.)</ref>

The entrance to this cave was tiny and covered by moss, undergrowth and a small waterfall. After a thorough but fruitless search lasting for three to five days, the MacLeods set sail again but a MacDonald carelessly climbed onto a promontory to watch their departure and was spotted. The MacLeods returned and were able to follow his footprints back to the cave. They then rerouted the source of the water, piled thatch and roof timbers at the cave entrance and set fire to it at the same time damping the flames so that the cave was filled with smoke thereby asphyxiating everyone inside either by smoke inhalation or heat and oxygen deprivation.

Three hundred and ninety five people died in the cave, the whole population of the island bar one old lady who had not sought refuge there. There are however some difficulties with this tale and in later times a minister of Eigg stated that "the less I inquired into its history... the more I was likely to feel I knew something about it".<ref>Banks, Noel, (1977) Six Inner Hebrides (David & Charles, 1977) 56-7</ref> Nonetheless, human remains in the cave were reported by Boswell in 1773, by Sir Walter Scott in 1814 and Hugh Miller in 1845. <ref>Rixon, Small Isles, 117)</ref>By 1854 they had been removed and buried elsewhere.

In the eighteenth century, the support of Clanranald for the Jacobite rebellions led to further disasters. The chief hid in another cave at the north of the island and fled to France, but the islanders who followed him were taken prisoner by the Navy and sent to London for trial. Nineteen died in prison, eighteen were transported to Jamaica and only two returned to the island.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/history.html 9 (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

Nineteenth Century

Map of Eigg

The Clanranald owners benefited from and exploited the early nineteenth century kelp boom. Contemporary travelers recorded the miserable conditions endured by the islanders in gathering and burning kelp.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 134</ref> Following the collapse of the kelp industry and Clanranald's gambling debts the island passed into the hands of a succession of absentee landlords, with brief exceptions described as 'detrimental to the wellbeing of the long suffering inhabitants'.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 134</ref>Many islanders emigrated to Canada.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/history.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref> Reliance on the kelp industry to raise rent weakened the diversity of the island economy.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 135</ref>

The island was purchased by a new owner whose main source of wealth was British colonial India, Dr, Hugh Macpherson.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 135</ref>This period was one of the worst for the islanders, as Macpherson rarely visited the island. Eigg was struck by the potato famine in 1846 and 1847 and the islanders were subjected to punitive 'relief' measures by Macpherson and the British Government.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 135</ref>

Following the death of the last tacksman, Angus Og Macdonald, the island was tenanted to a sheep farmer from the Scottish Borders.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 137</ref>The small tenants of the island were 'cleared'- that is, evicted, and most of them emigrated to North America.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 137</ref> By 1871 the island's population had fallen by half to 290.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 137</ref> The remaining islanders lived in fear of the landlord's factor.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 135</ref>Today there are remains of deserted settlements on Eigg, and crofting only continues at the north of the island.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/history.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

In the 1890s the island was bought by Robert Lawrence McEwan, an international arms dealer.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 138</ref>McEwan was prevented from pursuing further evictions by the recently passed Crofters Act which gave tenants the right to remain.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 138</ref>Instead he invested in Eigg as part of attempts to turn it into a shooting estate, building new housing, reorganising farming and paying cash wages.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 139-140</ref>

Twentieth Century

From 1925 until 1949 Eigg was owned by a politician and tycoon- Sir Walter Runciman. He invested heavily in the estate and his ownership is considered one of the happier periods in the island's history. The islanders enjoyed an 'unprecedented standard of living' due to his innovations which included a new dairy and pier, as well as amenities.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 140</ref>

During World War II the island was used for commando training, while many islanders served in the Navy.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/history.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

Following its sale by the Runciman family in 1966 Eigg was owned by a succession of absentee landowners, who began by announcing investment and improvement and ended with a familiar souring of relations with the islanders<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 140</ref> amid financial recriminations. The last two are said to have been the 'most bizarre' and their tenures brought the private ownership of the island to an end.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 140</ref>

Between 1975 and 1995 Eigg was owned by Keith Schellenberg, an eccentric businessman. His attempts to revive the island are described as going 'horribly wrong' as various projects floundered, Schellenberg insulted individuals and accused incomers of hosting 'acid house parties'. <ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 141</ref> He was also unable to finance his various schemes effectively and the islanders were dependent on his employment and accommodation.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 140</ref>Schellenberg continued to hold lavish parties for wealthy associates while debts went unpaid.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 140</ref>

In 1995 the island was sold to 'Maruma' -a German artist of doubtful credentials.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/history.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref> It has been suggested that Maruma was simply the 'front man' for a consortium of landed investors who wished to foil community ownership.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 143</ref>

Community Buyout

Wind turbines on Eigg

The island was bought in 1997 by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, a partnership between the residents of Eigg, the Highland Council, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Maruma was forced to sell the island by creditors.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 143</ref> Since the return to community ownership the Trust has become fully self-supporting.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 143</ref> They have successfully diversified the island economy, constructed new buildings and wind turbines to generate electricity.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 143</ref>

The island's population had grown to 83 as recorded by the 2011 census,an increase of 24%. During the same period Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702. Many of the new residents are young people who have returned to the island or who have moved there to make it their home and set up in business.


The main settlement on Eigg is Cleadale, a fertile coastal plain in the north west. It is known for its quartz beach, called the "singing sands" (Tràigh a' Bhìgeil) on account of the squeaking noise it makes if walked on when dry.

The centre of the island is a moorland plateau, rising to 393 metres (1,289 ft) at An Sgurr, a dramatic stump of pitchstone, sheer on three sides. Walkers who complete the easy scramble to the top in good weather are rewarded with spectacular views all round of Mull, Coll, Muck, the Outer Hebrides, Rum, Skye, and the mountains of Lochaber on the mainland.


Impressive geology can be experienced on the island. Hugh Miller, the pioneering Scottish geologist, made an important contribution to that history with his discovery of plesiosaur remains on Eigg during his visits to the island in 1844 and 1846.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/geology.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

During the Jurassic epoch, Eigg was a shallow lagoon inhabited by aquatic dinosaurs.The deltas formed by this lagoon are now the north coast of Eigg which is famous for its reptile beds and Singing Sands beach, made of quartz.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/geology.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

Millions of years later volcanic activity built up Eigg's terraced landscape.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/geology.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

Economy and Transport

Pier at Galmisdale

Tourism is important to the local economy, especially in the summer months, and the first major project of the Heritage Trust was An Laimhrig, a new building near the jetty to house the island's shop and post office, Galmisadale Bay (cafe restaurant and bar) formerly known as Eigg tearoom, craft shop and the toilet and shower facilities which are open 24 hours a day. There is a variety of accommodation available on the island.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/accommodation.html (accessed 7th July 2014)</ref>

There are two ferry routes to the island. A’Nead Hand Knitwear is a new island business making garments such as cobweb shawls and scarves.<ref>http://www.isleofeigg.net/shopping.html (acceessed 7th July 2014)</ref> There is a sheltered anchorage for boats at Galmisdale in the south of the island. In 2004 the old jetty there was extended to allow a roll-on roll-off ferry to dock. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry Lochnevis sails a circular route from Mallaig around the four "Small Isles" - Eigg, Canna, Rùm and Muck from the fishing port of Mallaig. Arisaig Marine also run a passenger ferry called the MV Sheerwater from April until late September from Arisaig on the mainland.