The Inner Hebrides (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan a-staigh, "the inner isles") is an archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland, to the south east of the Outer Hebrides. Together these two island chains form the Hebrides, which experience a mild oceanic climate. The Inner Hebrides comprise 35 inhabited islands as well as 44 uninhabited islands with an area greater than 30 hectares (74 acres). The main commercial activities are tourism, crofting, fishing and whisky distilling. In modern times the Inner Hebrides have formed part of two separate local government jurisdictions, one to the north and the other to the south. Together, the islands have an area of about 4,130 km2 (1,594 sq mi), and had a population of 18,948 in 2011. The population density is therefore about 4.6 per km2 (12 per square mile).<ref> General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands.</ref><ref> National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands".</ref>
There are various important prehistoric structures, many of which pre-date the first written references to the islands by Roman and Greek authors. In the historic period the earliest known settlers were Picts to the north and Gaels in the southern kingdom of Dál Riada prior to the islands becoming part of the Suðreyjar kingdom of the Norse, who ruled for over 400 years until sovereignty was transferred to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266. Control of the islands was then held by various clan chiefs, principally the MacLeans, MacLeods and MacDonalds. The Highland Clearances of the 19th century had a devastating effect on many communities and it is only in recent years that population levels have ceased to decline. Sea transport is crucial and a variety of ferry services operate to mainland Scotland and between the islands. The Gaelic language remains strong in some areas; the landscapes have inspired a variety of artists; and there is a diversity of wildlife.
The islands form a disparate archipelago. The largest islands are, from south to north, Islay, Jura, Mull, Rùm and Skye. Skye is the largest and most populous of all with an area of 1,656 km2 (639 sq mi) and a population of just over 10,000.<ref>National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands".</ref>
The southern group are in Argyll, an area roughly corresponding with the heartlands of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata and incorporated into the modern unitary council area of Argyll and Bute. The northern islands were part of the county of Inverness-shire and are now in the Highland Council area.
The ten largest islands are as follows.
|Island||Gaelic name||Area (hectare|ha)<ref name=area>Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 30, 79, 130, 148 and 182 except estimates from Ordnance Survey maps as indicated.</ref>||Population||Highest point<ref name=high>Haswell-Smith (2004) and Ordnance Survey maps.</ref>||Height (m)<ref name=OS>Ordnance Survey maps.</ref>|
|Eigg||Eige||3049||83||An Sgurr (Eigg)||393|
|Jura||Diùra||36692||196||Beinn an Òir||785|
|Mull||Muile||87535||2800||Ben More (Mull)||966|
|Skye|| An t-Eilean Sgitheanach
or Eilean a' Cheò
The geology and geomorphology of the islands is varied. Some, such as Skye and Mull, are mountainous, whilst others like Tiree are relatively low-lying. The highest mountains are the Cuillins of Skye, although peaks over 300 metres (980 ft) are common elsewhere. Much of the coastline is machair, a fertile low-lying dune pastureland. Many of the islands are swept by strong tides, and the Corryvreckan tide race between Scarba and Jura is one of the largest whirlpools in the world.