Hebrides , or Western Islands (the Ebudoe of Ptolemy and the 30 Hebudes of Pliny), the general name of the islands on the W. coast of Scotland, lying between lat. 55° 26' and 58° 32' N., and Ion. 5° and 8° W.; pop. about 99,000. They are usually classed as the outer and the inner Hebrides. The outer, which are separated from the mainland and the inner islands by a channel called the Minch, extend from the Butt of Lewis on the north to Barra head on the south, forming a kind of natural breakwater 130 m. long. The principal ones of this group, which collectively are called the Long Island, are Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. The inner Hebrides are irregularly disposed along the coast and in the firth of Clyde, the principal ones being Skye, Raasay, Canna, Rum, Eigg, Coll, Tiree, Mull, Ulva, Staffa, Iona, Lismore, Kerrera, Scarba, Colonsay, Oronsay, Jura, Islay, Arran, Bute, and the Cumbrays. The total area of all the islands, of which there are several hundred, is upward of 3,000 sq. m. Of this surface about 200,000 acres are arable, 700,000 hill pasture, and 65,000 in fresh-water lakes; the remainder is morass and peat bogs, barren sands, and rocks. Only about 120 of them are inhabited.
The most are rugged and mountainous, and the coasts, especially of those fronting the Atlantic, are bold and rocky and indented with numerous bays. Arran, Jura, Mull, and Skye have mountains 2,000 or 3,000 ft. high. The lakes are generally small, and none of them are more than three or four fathoms deep. There are many small streams, which in the larger islands abound in salmon. The outer Hebrides are geologically of gneiss formation and have a poor soil. Of the inner islands the more northerly are trap, the southerly ones on the coast are slate, and those in the firth of Clyde are trap, sandstone, and limestone. Marble, limestone, and slate are quarried, the last in considerable quantity. Iron ore is abundant in many of the islands, some copper is found, and lead is worked in Islay to some extent. Coal also exists, but is not mined, peat being used for fuel. The climate, on account of the proximity of the Gulf stream, is exceptionally mild, pleasant, and healthful. In winter the temperature is rarely lower than 27° F., and snow seldom lies long on the lowlands; but fogs and mists prevail and drizzling rains are frequent. In the uplands from 30 to 36 inches of rain falls annually; on the coast about 25 inches.
Violent storms from the southwest are prevalent from August to March. There is little wood on any of the islands, and on many none, although they were mostly clothed with forests several centuries ago; but large plantations have been successfully made, particularly in Skye, Islay, and Mull. Oats, barley, and potatoes are the staple crops, but agriculture is very backward, and nothing is raised for export. In unproductive seasons the harvest is not sufficient for home consumption, and famine has visited the islands more than once. Extensive improvements, however, have been introduced of late years by wealthy proprietors. The principal industry is the raising of kyloes or black cattle. The native sheep are small, not weighing more than 20 lbs., but the Cheviot breed has been introduced with success. The horses are small, hardy, and docile, but not so handsome as the Shetland ponies. Of wild animals, a few red deer, wild cats, and foxes remain, and hares, rabbits, and other small game are plentiful. Many of the islands swarm with wild fowl, and the coasts are rich in fish and mollusks. The tenure of land is unfavorable to enterprise, much of the soil being held by tacksmen, an intermediate class between proprietors and cultivators.
Many tenants hold their farms at will or on short leases, and sublet on the same terms to cottiers and crofters, most of whom pay rent in services. Excepting where the population has been thinned to make large estates, the farms are generally small, renting at from £5 to £50 each. This division of the arable land occasions an excess of population in some of the islands, which the proprietors have attempted to remedy by encouraging emigration. The condition of the people generally is much depressed, and their dwellings, which are clustered along the coast, are miserable. In some of the southern islands, such as Islay, Arran, and Bute, a better system prevails, and agriculture is in an advanced state. Lines of steamers have been established between Glasgow and the Hebrides, which convey large numbers of tourists to Fingal's cave in Staffa, the ruins in Iona, etc. Gaelic is generally spoken, but English is gradually superseding it. Both languages are taught in the schools. Politically the Hebrides are distributed among the counties of Ross and Cromarty, Inverness, Argyle, and Bute. The principal towns are Stornoway in Lewis, Portree in Skye, Tobermory in Mull, and Rothesay in Bute. - The name Hebrides is a corruption of Pliny's Hebudes. The islands were colonized originally by emigrants from Norway about the beginning of the 9th century.
They remained subject to the crown of Norway till 1266, when they were attached to Scotland. They were then held by various native chieftains in vassalage to the Scottish crown, but in 1346 the chief of the Macdonalds reduced them to subjection and assumed the title of lord of the isles. They were finally annexed to Scotland by James V. in 1540; and the abolition of hereditary juris- dictions by act of parliament in 1748 gave a final blow to the nominal independence of the lords of the isles.