A scattered group of nearly 500 sparsely populated islands off the west coast of Scotland, the Hebrides were called 'Hebudes' by Pliny the Elder in 77 AD. The Outer Hebrides or Western Isles consist of a chain of islands extending 130 miles (208 km) from the Butt of Lewis in the north to Barra Head in the south, the principal islands being Lewis and Harris, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra. Separated from the Outer Hebrides by the Minch, the Inner Hebrides include numerous islands, the largest of which are Skye, Mull, Islay and Jura.

Microliths found on Jura date the earliest settlement of the Hebrides to the Mesolithic period c.6000 BC while the impressive megalithic standing stones at Callanish on Lewis indicate a ritual landscape dating from around 3000 BC. From c.300 AD monastic sites were established by the Celtic Church introduced by the Gaels from Ireland. The most important of these sites was the foundation established by St. Columba on Iona. Viking settlement from the 8th century introduced Scandinavian place-names and all of the Hebrides came under the rule of the royal house of Man which owed allegiance to the Norwegian Crown. By the middle of the 12th century much of the Inner Hebrides had been restored to Gaelic control under Somerled whose descendants, the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, held sway for over 300 years after the Hebrides had been ceded to the Scottish Crown by Norway in 1266. The Lordship of the Isles, whose administrative seat was at Finlaggan on Islay, was eventually forfeited in 1493. Today the Hebrides form outliers of the local government areas of the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute and Highland Council Area.

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