Parish of South Uist

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: South Uist
1834-45: South Uist

Uist, South, an island and a parish of the Outer Hebrides, Inverness-shire. The island is bounded on the N by a strait which separates it from Benbecula, and is shallow, packed with rocks and flat islets, surpassingly intricate, and nearly dry in one part at low water; on the E by the Little Minch; on the S by a sound from 5 to 7½ miles broad, which separates it from Barra, contains several considerable isles, and is interspersed with sunk rocks; and on the W by the Atlantic Ocean. Its greatest length, from N to S, is 22 miles; its greatest breadth is 7¾ miles; and its area, including interior and intersecting waters, is about 110 square miles. The northern district, measuring about 14 square miles, bears the separate name of Iachdar; forms practically a separate island, divided from the rest of South Uist by the sea-lochs Skiport and Gamaslechan, entering from respectively the E and the W and uniting in the middle; and is a low flat tract, cut into fragments and shreads by slender, long, and forking bays. The eastern district, all southward from Loch Skiport, is predominantly mountainous, hilly, and mossy; it is divided into three sections by the sea-lochs Eynort and Boisdale cutting completely across it at distances of respectively about 7½ and 12 miles S of Loch Skiport; and is further divided into peninsulas by their many and intricate ramifications. The section between Loch Skiport and Loch Eynort comprises between a third and a fourth of the entire land area of the island, and possesses the two highest summits in the island, namely Mount Hecla and Ben More (2035 feet). The section between Loch Eynort and Loch Boisdale comprises an area of about 10 square miles, and is comparatively flat, the hills with a few exceptions not rising much above 500 feet. The section S of Loch Boisdale comprises a land area of about 10 square miles, and consists largely of three or four rounded eminences, rising to altitudes of less than 1000 feet. The principal headland on the E coast is Ru-Ushinish, projecting from the skirt of Mount Hecla. Loch Skiport, Loch Eynort, and five or six smaller sea-lochs in the E form practicable natural harbours; and Loch Boisdale is one of the safest and most capacious harbours in the Hebrides, and offers a favourite retreat to storm-tossed passing vessels. The western district, all southward from Loch Gamoslechan, is low, flat, and sandy; has, near the middle of its coast, the headland of Ru-Ardvula; is skirted along its shore with a fine white sand consisting chiefly of pulverised seashells; and contains numerous fresh-water lakes. These, with a few to be found on the western side, are distinguished for either the quantity or the quality of their fish, and are generally shallow and impregnated with peat, and appear to be the mere repositories of a general drainage which has few outlets to the sea. With inconsiderable exceptions, perennial streams are unknown. The universal prevalence of hard gneiss rock, passing in some places into coarse granite, presents neither subterranean receptacles for water nor fissures to transmit it, and occasions throughout the island an almost total absence of springs. The climate, however, for an Hebridean one, is far from being moist, and the air is generally mild and pure.

The only cave is at Corodale, on the E coast, between Loch Skiport and Loch Eynort. It gave refuge for some days in 1746 to Prince Charles Edward, and is called the Prince's cave. The soil on the uplands is so barren as mostly to afford but poor pasturage; on the tracts between the uplands and the lakes is partly black loam and partly moss; on the western seaboard, from end to end of that tract, over a breadth varying between ½ mile and 1 mile, is all sand; on the most productive arable grounds is an artificial mixture of sand, black earth, and manure. The uplands, are devoted chiefly to the rearing of black cattle, to the improvement of which by the introduction of new breeds, great attention has for some time been paid. The middle tract or belt of low country along the W base of the uplands is partly firm ground, naturally drained by runnels into the lake, and under cultivation, and partly black peaty moss undergoing gradual amelioration from diffusion on it of drift calcareous sand. The low sandy belt along the W shore is all arable, and produces, with aid of ordinary manures, good crops of oats, barley, and potatoes. Agriculture as a rule is conducted on thriftless principles. Some little advantage has been gained by the introduction of the Cheviot sheep. The inhabitants have shared largely in the distress in the Highlands from poor harvests and over population, and the district figured in the Crofters' agitation of 1883-84. South Uist has regular steamer communication with Glasgow and with Loch Maddy, and has a post and telegraph office under Lochmaddy at Howmore.

The parish comprehends the inhabited islands of South Uist, Benbecula, Eriska, Fladda, Grimisay, and Wiay, and some uninhabited islets. Its greatest length, from N to S, is 38 miles; its greatest breadth is 8 miles; and its area is 90,099 acres. About 19,700 acres are arable, and the rest of the land is variously mountain, hill, moor, and moss. This parish is in the presbytery of Uist and synod of Glenelg; the living is worth £278. The parochial church stands near the centre of the parish, was built in 1833, and contains 439 sittings. An Established mission church is at Boisdale, built in 1836, with 230 sittings; and another in Benbecula, built in 1824, with about 270 sittings. There is a Free church within the parish. One Roman Catholic chapel is at Ardkenneth, was built in 1829, and contains 400 sittings; another, in Benbecula, was built in 1881, and contains also 400 sittings; a third is in Eriska, was built in 1852, and contains 300 sittings. There are 8 public schools, with total accommodation for 977 children, an average attendance of 581, and grants amounting to £563, 0s. 8d. Valuation of parish (1860) £5678, (1884) £6740. Pop. of island (1841) 5093, (1861) 3406, (1871) 3669, (1881) 3825; of parish (1801) 4597, (1831) 6890, (1861) 5358, (1871) 5749, (1881) 6078, of whom 5842 were Gaelic-speaking.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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