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Boreray


(Boraraigh)

An island in the Sound of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, Boreray (Gael: Boraraigh) lies 1¼ miles (2 km) to the north of North Uist and 2 miles (3 km) west of Berneray. It is approximately 1½ miles (2.5 km) long by a mile (1.5 km) wide, has an area of 198 ha (489 acres) and its highest point is Mullach Mor in the north, which rises to 56m (184 feet). The sizeable Loch Mor fills much of the middle of the island, separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a narrow shingle bar on the rocky west coast of the island. The sea regularly spills over this barrier in stormy times, with the result that the loch is brackish in nature. A line of dunes lie at the eastern end of the loch, inland of Traigh na Luibe, which is a long sandy beach that comprises much of the east coast of the island. Loch Mor was drained for a time, and Groome records the creation of "47 Scotch acres of good alluvial soil ... at a cost of only £125".

Inhabited from prehistoric times, evidence of cup-marks, standing stones and burial mounds remain. Once the property of the MacDonalds of Sleat, the island was acquired by the MacLeans of Boreray c.1460, who lived here until 1810. Thereafter the island was divided into crofts and the population grew quickly to a peak of 181 in 1841. A community of around 150 was sustained throughout the remainder of 19th century, but over-cultivation and the collapse of the kelp trade brought about a gradual population decline until, in 1923, the last islanders were evacuated at their own request. One family subsequently returned, occupying a croft in the northeast of the island. This was abandoned once again in the 1960s, but rebuilt and reoccupied in 1999 and is now rented to holidaymakers during the summer months.

The remains of as many as thirty-five other buildings, in various stages of ruin, comprise the abandoned village on the island's east coast. These include a Free Church dating from 1880, although the schoolhouse from the same era has been restored and is now home to the island's only permanent resident. The rest of the island is used for common grazing by the islanders of Berneray. Towards the south of the island is Cladh Manach (the monk's field), which was known from the Middle Ages as the burial ground for "all Monks that dyed in the Islands that lye Northward from Egg" (Martin Martin, 1695).


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