Old Renewed in the Western Isles

Ann Hills investigates the development of Mingulay a speck of Island at the southern tip of the Western Isles

The speedboat from Barra takes 45 minutes to reach Mingulay, a speck of an island at the southern tip of the Western Isles (known to mainlanders as the Outer Hebrides). There is no harbour, no jetty.

A century ago Mingulay, a mere two and a half miles long by one and a half miles wide, was home to 150 people. They climbed for birds' eggs on the bare face of a vertical 700 feet cliff, crofted and fished. A number left around 1908 to become the 'Vatersay Raiders'. a group of crofters who, suffering from the hardships of the clearances, built abodes between dawn and dusk on the nearby island of Vatersay in defiance of the dreaded owner, Lady Gordon Cathcart. Several were imprisoned, until a public outcry secured their release.

Meanwhile Mingulay's population declined and by 1934 numbered two. Today this spectacular land used for grazing sheep is officially deserted. Several other small islands suffered the same fate earlier this century – most notably St Kilda, just visible on the horizon, which has been owned by the National Trust for 30 years, and is occupied by the Ministry of Defence.

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