Highlands & Islands

Eigg toasts 20 years since community buyout

Isle of Eigg
Image caption Eigg is one of Scotland's Small Isles

Residents of the Isle of Eigg are marking 20 years since a community buyout of the island.

In 1997, islanders completed their purchase of the isle after years of issues with absentee landlords.

Eigg is one of the Small Isles, which lie south of Skye. The other islands are Rum, Muck and Canna.

Over the 20 years, Eigg's population has grown from 64 to more than 100 residents for the first time in its recent history.


Unscrambled Eigg: Quick facts on the small isle

  • The isle measures about five miles by three miles
  • It is one of a group of islands off Skye known as the Small Isles
  • Issues such as lack of home and business security, unemployment and poor housing and infrastructure influenced the decision to launch a buyout
  • £1.5m was raised to achieve the community purchase
  • Islanders took control on 12 June 1997
  • Over the past 20 years the population has grown from 64 to more than 100

The islanders include 19 young people, some whom are of pre-school age and others in primary and secondary education.

Maggie Fyffe, secretary of Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, said people who had grown up on the island before leaving for further education or jobs were also returning.

She said: "I think that is a real testament to Eigg being a successful place where people want to live and work.

"Young folk are the future obviously, but older retired people - and I am of that older generation - have lots to contribute too."

Ms Fyffe said the population had grown slowly, adding that it was unlikely to increase any faster in the future.

She said: "We haven't got enough houses for a sudden big increase in the population.

"It is quite difficult to find somewhere to live and you have to come up with some way of earning a living."

The island's economy is driven by tourism but also boosted by income from more unusual professions.

Ms Fyffe said: "The good thing is that people are coming up with all kinds of innovative ways of making a living.

"Just for example, we have got a graphic designer here who is also a drone pilot, we have got two guys who have set up a brewery, craft workers and people dealing with visitors."

She said the island's "really good" community broadband system had helped open up job opportunities and helped Eigg to thrive.

Eigg is also known for its innovative use of renewable energy.


Historic Eigg

More than 400 years ago, every resident of Eigg, barring one elderly woman, was killed during a clan feud.

About 400 islanders, who were members of the Macdonald clan, were murdered by a raiding party of Macleods from Skye.

The islanders had been hiding in a cave for three days when they were discovered.

Macleods blocked the narrow entrance to their hideout with heather and other vegetation before setting the material alight.

The Macdonalds were suffocated by smoke and their bodies left in the cave.

It is believed that the massacre happened in or around the year 1577.

There is also a strange legend attached to the tiny island.

In 617AD, Christian pilgrim St Donnan was beheaded and his fellow monks murdered.

Legend tells of the killings being carried out by large female warriors who lived on the Sgurr, a volcanic outcrop that dominates the skyline on Eigg.


Renewable energy

Following the community buyout in 1997, islanders worked towards having most of the electricity they use generated by renewable energy projects.

These include micro hydro, solar and wind schemes.

Affordable housing has also been created to answer one of the biggest issues islanders faced before the buyout - being denied leases from the island's landowner to secure tenure of homes and business premises.

John Hutchison, who was working for Highland Council at the time of the buyout, said: "There was a good number of years of oppression and the community had to take some form of action.

"The funding came from what would be called crowdfunding nowadays."

The purchase price of £1.5m was raised with support from the public and Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT). Highlands and Islands Enterprise gave a grant of £17,000.

Wildlife tourism is one of the main reason for visitors flocking to Eigg.

Dr Kenny Taylor, of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said islanders had shown for many years how people could work with nature.

He said: "The community saw the value of natural heritage and that is something they have taken up to the present.

"Nature is not a source of conflict, but a source of potential for the future."

Islanders took ownership of Eigg on 12 June and a series of events are taking place to mark that date.

The anniversary celebrations include a ceilidh on Saturday with performances by musicians, including psychedelic dance-pop artist The Pictish Trail.

The Eigg-based musician is on the line-up with Ja' Ma' Tha Ceildh Band, Dàimh and Friends and DJ Dolphin Boy.

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