General: The name Eriskay is thought to be derived from the Norse words meaning Erik's Isle - many Hebridean places still bear the names left by Viking invaders who settled in the Islands from the 8th through to the 13th centuries. Hebrides and Uist are thought to be similairly Norse in origin -the former meaning "Furthest Out Islands" and the latter meaning "Far West" Another theory on the name Eriskay is that it comes from the old gaelic "uruisge" - or watersprite, a creature who appears in many old Celtic and Fingalian tales. The Viking origin is probably the most likely as there are numerous other Norse examples throughout the islands.
In the 18th century Eriskay gained some fame in that it was the site of Bonnie Prince Charlie's first landing on Scottish soil. A year later his abortive attempt to win back the Scottish and British thrones had failed, culminating in his Highland army's defeat & massacre at Culloden, the last major battle fought on the British mainland. It was in the aftermath of Culloden that Eriskay became properly populated as people were driven from homes and crofts on neighbouring South Uist in the infamous Highland Clearances. Many were shipped overseas, mostly to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and various parts of America, but some managed to survive and eventually thrive on what was a beautiful but uncultivated little island.
Two centuries later, Eriskay was briefly spotlighted again, as the scene of an exciting WW2 shipwreck which became immortalised through the comedy classic film, Whisky Galore. The SS Politician, a Harrison lines freighter, ran onto the rocks at Calvay in the Sound of Eriskay and it was no time before the word went out that it was carrying 24,000 cases of finest whisky. Being wartime, whisky was so scarce as to be non-existant, so immediately boatloads of "salvagers" from Eriskay & Uist got to work and made the best of their opportunity before a large contingent of mailand customs officers descended to take matters in hand and spoil the sport that was being had.
Eriskay today has a permanant population of about 170 -180 people, but with visiting family members and additional holidaymakers, that number can swell to as many as 600 in the Summer months and holiday periods. Fishing was once the mainstay of the island's economy but although still important, the depletion in stocks has affected the industry in the Hebrides as it has elsewhere. The local produce, particularly that of lobster, crabs and scallops is widely regarded as among the world's best, with most catches each week heading for the haute cuisine tables of Paris, Madrid & other European capitals.
Shopping: There is one shop on the island itself, a community Co-Op store & Post Office, and it is very well stocked and efficiently managed by Mary Flora & her friendly staff.
Community Hall: Beside the shop, Eriskay Community Hall has seen many a lively night (and early morning) with ceilidhs and dances going on till the cock crowed. Many talented local musicians & bands perform there, and a night like that of the Vatersay Boys' annual gig in August has to be experienced to be believed. The Hall has a licensed bar for these occasions, which the patrons support with great enthusiasm. It's also used for many other activities, e.g. cafe, youth club, nursery, bingo etc.. and is a great focal point for the island community.
Pub: The island's only pub is the world famous "Am Politician", (the politician) named for the Harrison Lines freighter which foundered on the island of Calvay in the Sound of Eriskay during WW2. For anyone who doesn't know the story, it is well worth learning more about the shenanigans that followed the news that the vessel had something like 24,000 cases of whisky on board. The resulting story inspired the Ealing comedy Whisky Galore, and many artefacts from the real event can be seen in the Politician bar. Management, staff & punters are very friendly and welcoming, so a visit (or ten) to the Polly is a must - excellent meals are served all day though booking is sometimes advisable.
Church: The island's only church is the Catholic Chapel of Saint Michael, standing prominently above the village of Baile. Church of Scotland and other denomination's services can be found on neighbouring Uist, at Daliburgh, Howmore, and Eochar.
Beaches: Traigh Leis as it's locally known, or Charlie's Bay to visitors is the most visited spot on the island. The sands are sparkling white, and the Atlantic Ocean which washes it is beautifully clean - a great place to paddle, swim, build sandcastles or just laze the day away. At the bay's Southern end is the jetty & breakwater from which the Barra car ferry operates, so a day trip or longer visit to there and Vatersay is highly reccommended. Just behind the Polly pub is the Village Beach, also very popular and a good source for harvesting the delicious local cockles.
The Ben: Beinn Scritheann (pronounced Ben Scrian) is the tallest peak on Eriskay, and although only 600 odd feet in elevation is well worth the climb. Fine views are your reward, from Skye to the East, Uist to the North and Barra to the South & West.
Transport: Community buses run to & from from Uist and Benbecula each day, providing links with flights and ferry services, plus access to shops and waypoints on those neighbouring islands. Timetables are available in the shop and at this link. A car ferry connects to the neighbouring island of Barra several times per day.
Fishing: Eriskay once thrived on fishing, but the commercial business is now greatly reduced. For recreational fishing, there are are several good spots around for casting from the shore - your best bet is always to ask for some local knowledge at the time you're there. There is no freshwater fishing on Eriskay itself, but neighbouring Uist has some of the most acclaimed trout angling in the world. If flycasting for brownies is your fancy, check this link.
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