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St. Kilda / Hirta

St. Kilda / HirtaSt. Kilda / Hirta ('western isle' or 'shield shaped'), (pictured left, click to enlarge), The group of islands consist of St Kilda or Hirta proper, which is three miles long and extremely hilly, rising to over 1400 feet. The island has spectacular cliffs rising up to 1000 feet straight out of the Atlantic. Soay is a small island, about one mile long, to the west of Hirta. Boreray is a small island four miles to the north east of Hirta, and is one mile long. The islands are home to huge numbers of sea birds, including the largest gannetry in the world (60,000 pairs).

Hirta was home to an isolated community for many hundreds of years, although it does not appear to have been permanently inhabited until medieval times. Viking burials have been found here. St. Kilda was part of the Lordship of the Isles, then a property of the MacLeods of Dunvegan from 1498 until 1930. There were three chapels on St. Kilda, dedicated to St Brendan, St Columba, and Christ Church, but little remains. There are also the remains of a beehive house, known as the 'Amazon's House'.

The islanders had a tough life, and survived by exploiting the thousands of sea birds which live on the islands. There are a large number of 'cleits', huts used for storing dried sea birds, fish, hay and turf. The islanders had a very democratic system, and decisions were taken by an island council, made up of all the menfolk. The present village was set out in the 1830s above village bay, but in the 1880s much of the population left for Australia, and the remaining inhabitants were finally evacuated in the 1930s because of hardship and storms which had cut off the islands for weeks.

The island was bequeathed to The National Trust for Scotland in 1957 and was designated as Scotland's first World Heritage Site in 1987. It is possible to visit the island. The Ministry of Defence established a base on Hirta for tracking missiles fired from the station on South Uist.

You will find more about St. Kilda in the archive of the old Virtual Hebrides here

Following a trip to St Kilda we have added a small article - St Kilda and, following recent research we will be taking a further look at this unique island which has been presented unfairly in most of the available literature as, by comparison to other nearby islands, the St Kildans has it pretty easy at times!

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